September 5, 2009
If FREDDIE MERCURY (Farrokh Bulsara, born 1946) had been born a century earlier, audiences would have flocked to see him hit high Cs at La Scala or Opera de Paris instead of belting out the last movement of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at Wembley or Madison Square Garden. But there’s much more to Mercury and Queen than the rock-opera bombast they embraced so heartily in their 1970s heyday, and which also produced the the wonderfully hard-driving sports anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” There’s the hard bass groove underlying Mercury and David Bowie’s duet, “Under Pressure”; the gleeful transvestite kitsch of “I Want to Break Free”; the rockabilly debt called in for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “The Great Pretender”; and the soaring vocals of “Somebody to Love.” All of these leave an indelible impression, especially live in concert. Yet the performance I keep reloading on YouTube is “Barcelona,” the anthem Mercury wrote for an Olympics he wouldn’t live to see. He flails his body and arms around and — amazingly — matches Spanish opera superstar Montserrat Caballe note for note (albeit an octave lower.) In those five minutes, Mercury’s flamboyant past and stolen future merge into one.
Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more HiLo Hero shout-outs.