When I logged on this morning for work, I saw several tributes to Freddie Mercury were peppering the interwebs. Today (September 5th) would have been his 65th birthday. Admittedly I had no idea until I read it online. Despite the fact that he’s one of my childhood heroes who I continue to love and admire into adulthood, and the fact that I remain an avid fan of his music, I’d managed to overlook his birthday this year, and many years past.
When John Lennon’s 70th birthday came upon us last year, I spent most of the day online pouring over the tributes, videos, animations, and montages of music and interviews. John Lennon, along with Mercury, is another musical hero of mine. I grew up listening to these artists. I’m beyond thrilled to see the same outpouring of love for Mercury as was given to Lennon. In my eyes, Mercury is just as much a “˜rock god’ as Lennon. Just as talented, just as intelligent, just as compassionate, and every bit as much of an activist.
I’ve talked about the fact that my parents are both avid music lovers and that my father was a radio deejay for many years in other articles I’ve written. Because of them, I was able to get an incredible musical education from a very young age. Many of my parents favorites became MY favorites. Both of my parents are huge fans of Freddie Mercury, so I grew up idolizing him beyond measure. If ever there was a BAMF, it was Freddie Mercury.
By the time I was 9 years old I was listening to songs like “Killer Queen,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and my personal favorite, “Keep Yourself Alive.” I loved Queen’s sound – how they managed to be a little bit opera, a little bit rockabilly, a little bit pop and a little bit metal, with Freddie maintaining the cool demeanor of a true class act all the while. Brian May’s incredible guitar complimented his perfect voice. They treated songs as their babies, working tirelessly to get them perfect. They loved performing live, and they loved each other. The members of Queen were so close that after Freddie died, bassist John Deacon quit the music business. He has only performed twice since, both at tribute concerts for Freddie.
As a child and an adolescent I loved Freddie because he was cool. I thought he had a beautiful voice, and the music spoke to me. As an adult, I love Freddie Mercury because he was brave. In addition to his incredible talent, undeniable charm, and ability to bring music lovers of all genres together, he was courageous. Freddie knew that he was facing adversity – as a homosexual man in a world where homosexuality wasn’t quite accepted, where people were still largely uneducated and unaccepting, he chose to do something incredibly brave – he told the world he was dying of AIDS. He didn’t have to do it; he could have gone quietly, amongst family and friends, and let his death stay shrouded in mystery. But no, Freddie did not do that. He knew that his celebrity would lend a kind of notoriety to his death, and because of that, people might become educated about what he called “this terrible disease.” He chose to forego his privacy, and to risk judgment and prejudice, to help increase awareness. Up until the very day before he died, Freddie Mercury used his powers of celebrity for good.
I’ll never forget his tribute concert. It was 1992, and I was 10 years old. I watched the entire show with wide eyes, finding it unbelievable that 72,000 people would show up to celebrate this man’s life. I watched with the world as massive celebrities in their own right, such as David Bowie, Elton John, Annie Lennox and more, celebrated the life and music of this incredible man. The crowd surged, and the emotions were high. Even after 20 years, the emotion and outpouring of love can be felt for anyone watching the tribute on YouTube or DVD.
The love for Freddie Mercury is strong. It has carried on along with the decades. There is even a movie about his life set to be released within the next year. His influence continues, inspiring many talented artists today. Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, would be the awareness he raised about HIV and AIDS, and the work he did to dispel negativity and prejudice towards the GLBT community. Freddie was fearless, compassionate, and committed. He gave his life, his music and his work everything he had. Even 20 years after his death, there is nobody that can fill his shoes.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Fahrenheit.
Read about Freddie’s organization, the Mercury Phoenix Trust, here.