My apology to Freddie Mercury
Encouraged by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Accolades
During the late 70s and early 80s, I covered entertainment. I was fortunate enough to have experiences I only appreciate now, such as hanging backstage with the Beach Boys and eating pasta (which she made!) with Pat Benatar after she filmed the “You Better Run” video on an old railroad track in New York City at 2:00 am.
I was the kid in Almost Famous, still in my teens, having fallen into a great gig with the now-defunct New York Nightlife Magazine, and picking up some additional freelance gigs before my 18th birthday.
One of the other things I did in those days was write entertainment for my college newspaper. For the CW Post Pioneer, I had free reign to write what I wanted. There weren’t any restrictions like there were in my print publications. It wasn’t about just interviews and facts. I was allowed to interject my opinion.
This is where my ode to Freddy Mercury really begins.
It was actually one of my first stories and, at the time, I was quite proud of it. I loved Queen. Actually, I was a fan of all the top bands of the day… Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Foreigner, the Bee Gees. I never turned down the opportunity to cover music and there was plenty of it coming to Long Island, New York. (I would also occasionally take the train into Madison Square Garden.)
The Queen concert in question was on November 1978 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. I had seen them there the previous year on their “News of the World” tour and the concert was one of the best.
When it was announced they were returning, after a year in which they had topped their own stardom with hits such as “Bicycle Race,” “Fat Bottom Girls,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” from Jazz, the concert quickly sold out.
I had my press badge and was in the front for the concert. I was young and not very experienced in press matters so I knew more about being a fan then an objective reporter, but it didn’t take a seasoned journalist to know something wrong.
It’s hard to have a great event when the lead singer doesn’t have much of a voice. Especially when that performer is Freddy Mercury, known for one of the most miraculous voices of the time.
Mercury kept the tone lone, but his voice still began to falter, even disappearing at times.
As I wrote in my review, “The real crush for Queen came when Mercury began to sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ During the groups’ most celebrated song, Mercury completely lost his voice. In what must have been an awkward moment for the whole band, they had the lights dimmed and left the stage. A tape was turned on to play the majority of the song, however the group reappeared to finish it.”
I went on to explain the lackluster continuation of the concert, ending my review, “Whether the loss of Freddy Mercury’s voice was due to illness or lack of rehearsal, it was the cause of an unpleasant concert for both fans and the group. One thing is certainly sure, next year the Coliseum’s box office won’t have such long lines to get tickets for Queen. In all likelihood, no one will be passing the word about this years (sic) Queen concert.”
If only I had known. If any of us had known. Freddy Mercury didn’t have a cold or the flu. It was the beginning of his AIDs symptoms. He wasn’t going to get better and there wasn’t any point in “postponing” anything.
Fortunately, he learned to put enough rest in between that there were still some unbelievable Queen performances left in him, such as Live Aid, but not for me to see, or write about. My only story on Queen was a negative one.
In 1978, no one was thinking much about an “AIDs epidemic.” We weren’t imaging this disease, with little to help it at the time, was going to start taking people we knew, albeit through celebrity.
I felt a lot of guilt the first time I read that Mercury had AIDs. I couldn’t help thinking about that review and what I would have written differently had I known.
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody actually gave me some closure. I realized I wasn’t alone. People didn’t know. He wanted it that way. At the time, he might have been shunned more than sympathized.
When Rami Malek picked up his award for playing Freddy Mercury in the movie, he thanked him and talked about how great it was to be a part of telling a story that was years in the making. At the same time, I whispered what I had been wanting to say to him for years, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry for what I wrote without all the facts, but, mainly, I’m sorry you lived in a time where you couldn’t give people all the information without changing their perception of the phenomenally talented person you were.