The Ghost of Freddie

When a supergigantic star dies, it creates a black hole in the universe – a quantum singularity.  The star collapses and implodes, and gravity becomes so dense that nothing can escape, not even light. When a true icon dies, their death creates a black hole in our hearts.  All the love and grief collapses in on itself and is locked in forever.  That black hole makes our grief so intense that the icon can take on a god- (or goddess-) like quality.  They are forever at their most perfect, suspended in time.

Also, icons always seem to die too soon and in a tragic way.  It isn’t new; it’s gone on for decades; thousands lined the streets for the funeral of Rudolph Valentino in 1926, but all of us can recall when this has happened in our own lifetimes – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Diana Princess of Wales… and Freddie.

Freddie was a rock giant; a highly complex character, he burst into our lives like a flaming comet, with his regal robes trailing behind him.  He sang, strutted and totally commanded the stage, and we were in awe of his stunning performances.  His voice was like no other at the time; the Queen sound was unmistakeable and took us through every mood, from the high camp of Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, the hard funk of Another One Bites the Dust and finally to the intense and heartbreaking Show Must Go On, when all of them knew they were running out of time.

Eighteen years of immense music and then Freddie’s star burnt out.  The world was empty except for that black hole of grief – and Freddie’s ghost. Freddie’s been back to haunt us all many times; every time we listen to his voice on an old recording or watch one of their arena performances, he’s there, still larger than life and frozen in time.  He will never grow old for any of us and listening to him brings pain and pleasure all at once.

Queen mad

But however painful the loss of Freddie was to us as fans, we can’t even begin to understand what it was like for Brian, Roger and John.  For several years, they quietly sat on the knowledge that he was ill, and that he would not recover.  They worked frantically with him as it became apparent that he was entering the end stages of full-blown AIDS, to get down the material for Innuendo and Made in Heaven.  Then he died and their worlds must have fallen apart.  The grief that they all suffered has been well-documented and there is a very insightful interview with Brian May which appeared in the Daily Telegraph in 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopmusic/8371458/Brian-May-interview-Freddie-is-in-my-thoughts-every-day.html

The initial reaction of all of the remaining band members was to walk away from Queen when they had finished producing those final recordings; they were all deeply depressed and exhausted by sharing in Freddie’s final illness.  The grief endured; they had been so close, closer than most families and now there was an essential part of the jigsaw that was missing, yet present every time they heard his voice.

However, they have all had to learn how to cope with the memories, one way or another. Freddie was a big part of the proceedings at the Wembley tribute concert in 1992, which was an intense, highly-charged occasion.  That must have been enormously difficult for all of them as their grief must have still been raw.

After the release of Made in Heaven, there were other musical projects going on, and Queen didn’t perform again under that name until the collaboration with Paul Rodgers began in 2004; by that time John Deacon had opted to retire permanently.  Freddie featured on some of the video footage during these live shows to rapturous audience reception, but Queen + Paul Rodgers sounded very different to Queen.  This collaboration in some ways was an entirely different animal to Queen, although it was billed as Queen+ – the live sets included some Free and Paul Rodgers songs as well as Queen’s own, and this was more about a bunch of long-established rockers coming together.  And at that time I think everybody needed it to sound different, and maybe this didn’t disturb Freddie’s ghost so much as peoples’ ears weren’t being challenged by a sound that reminded them – maybe painfully – of him.

Freddie Live Aid

Not long after the Q+PR collaboration ended, Brian and Roger took up the invitation to appear on American Idol, leading to their now very important first meeting with Adam.  They were clearly captivated with his voice but it was a full two years before they performed on the MTV awards, and then another year before the Kiev concert.

I wonder at what point they all started to consider the risks of the QAL venture – and how much courage would be required to go ahead with it? Adam clearly knew that he could get his voice round these difficult vocals – this was well in his capabilities, but dealing with the ghost of Freddie must have been a huge challenge, and I wonder whether this was one of the reasons why he took a long time to make the decision to work with Brian and Roger? It’s difficult enough to step into a “normal” frontman’s shoes, but almost impossible to step into the shoes of a dead rock icon.   I suspect a lesser person would have turned it down.

There was an enormous amount of risk on both sides, and this was made more acute by the similarities between Adam and Freddie; they both had astonishing voices, both had a huge sense of style and showmanship – and they were both gay.  It’s true that Freddie didn’t wear his sexuality on his sleeve (unless you knew the signals) and was very coy in interviews about where his preferences lay.  On the other hand, Adam is flamboyantly and extravagantly gay; four decades can make a lot of difference to how comfortable we are in our own skin.

Queen + Adam Lambert Glam it Up in Vancouver **NO Canada**

For Brian and Roger, I’m sure they were very confident that Adam could sing the music, and I suspect they’d been following what he did post-Idol and will have seen that he could successfully do the frontman role, but what about the fans’ reaction?  It could have imploded, could have seen QAL completely rejected as an attempt to replace Freddie with a young singer who was performing with Brian and Roger as a tribute act.

I’m aware that some of the “anti” comments about Adam have levelled the accusation of being “just a karaoke singer” at him, and amongst some of the hardcore Freddie fans – the ones who have been entirely drawn into the black hole of grief – there have been howls of indignation.  For them, Freddie’s ghost is just too powerful and to quote a line from Highlander, “there can be only one”. Brian and Roger must have known this would be the reaction from some fans, so I’m sure the large-scale acceptance of Adam has been an immense relief.

I think the guys tried to manage the risk with careful planning of how to put the whole collaboration together in terms of touring as they would all have been aware of Freddie in the background, and everything had to be “appropriate”.

For Adam, he’s done the thing he needed to do, which is to be himself and not to even attempt to be Freddie.  He’s very successfully trod his own path through these songs; there are times when the similarity between their voices is remarkable and other times when they’re very different.

I’d love to know whether Brian and Roger expected he would be able to perform to the level we’ve seen over the last couple of months.  If they did, it was remarkable foresight of them to give him the opportunity; if they didn’t, they must be amazed at the levels he has achieved with their music.  He has been utterly brilliant in the face of the pressure of having to pull off some of the greatest rock music ever written; he has considered every detail of his performance and strived to do it better every time.

There has also been some very intelligent work done by the guys together, in planning the set, their interactions with the audience and also acknowledging Freddie’s memory.  I’m going to write in more detail in another blog with my views of how the sets were put together, but there were a few things from the UK/European tour that really stood out:

  • Brian had to do Love of My Life – I know some Adam fans were very wistful about it and would have loved to hear Adam sing it (and he would do it beautifully). But it was Brian’s tribute to his brother-in-music and every performance of it was deeply moving
  • When it was included in the set, Roger singing Days of Our Lives was wonderful. Again, this was a song that either Brian or Roger had to do as they were there; it was the days of their lives
  • Adam’s interactions with the crowd were just right – we were left in no doubt that he loved Freddie as much as we did, and his sense of wonder at being able to sing with Queen was palpable. In doing this he did faced the issue head on, which was very courageous
  • The on-screen “Freddie” moments were perfect places for him to join the show and I think they inspired and moved everyone
Pic credit: thatssoabby.com

Pic credit: thatssoabby.com

Watching the shows and the videos from both the UK/European tour and the 2014 dates, it’s obvious to me that Brian and Roger are now infinitely happier with their memories of Freddie and the tremendous music they made together.  Performing as QAL has bought them great joy; through working with Adam they have maybe finally been able to come to terms with Freddie’s ghost and remember the good times.

And just as a postscript – I think Freddie would have loved Adam, and what he’s doing with the music.  He appreciated great performers and great artistry.  I bet he’s up there laughing his ass off.

Freddy-6

 

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11 thoughts on “The Ghost of Freddie

  1. Thank you again for this amazing entry. And for posting that interview – havent read it before.

    I am glad too, that Brian did LOML with “just” the audience and Freddie. It was such a special moment, especially for Brian and Queenies.

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  2. Thanks for the interview link – I have found some other interesting articles there too. But to your post: I´ve heard Brian said he even put himself for two months into a sanatorium because of his depressions. So it was realy bad for him.

    I hate calling people gods. It means that someone is untouchable and perfect in everything. How many “gods” were lost in the centuries just because the person who knew them died too? They were humans – extraordinary but humans. We are blessed that today technology enables to watch and listen to them after their own death. I like to appreciate a person in the time of his livetime not just after his death. The people calling death gods are mostly the people they hate any other person to be as good as “the god” was or even similar. They are mostly blind. They are just those talking: He´s not Freddie. No – if he could be Freddie they would hate him even more just because it would caused that “the only one” is no more the only one. So they are haters in both sides – he is not Freddie and he musn´t be like Fredie. Anything he does is just wrong from principle.

    I think that Adam – as a Queen fan – knew everything what he could start partly just from his own feeling. What would he thought if someone stepped in the place od Freddie? And Brian & Roger knew he would be good but they are still amazed by that amount of how good he really is. They changed the setlist a little bit for their Europian tour to give him more time to rest – more breaks – and carefully planed appearance in X-Factor (UK) and in Hellen Fisher show (Germany) – two biggest markets in Europe – to let know he is really good. (In our country we have no promo – no advertisement at all – it is still a wonder that the concert was sold out.) And Brian said that the promo was just because of Adam. If they didn´t knew exactly what they were doing than – they know it these day to the latest point.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for the link to the great 2011 interview with Brian. There is no doubt that Freddie’s bandmates loved him dearly and he is still sadly missed by them and his millions of fans. Freddie’s legacy as a music icon is well deserved and will endure. However, Brian and Roger are still alive and they still have an obvious passion for the amazing music they helped create. Queen’s music is their legacy as well as Freddie’s and I’m thrilled that they found someone who works so incredibly well with them and can also perform their catalogue to the standard synonymous with Queen. I attended two of the Q+AL concerts and the sheer joy of performing together radiated from everyone on stage and that spirit of love and joy enveloped the audience as well. It was truly a magical experience. I was also thrilled that Freddie’s memory was tastefully incorporated throughout the night in fitting tribute to his unforgetable contribution to the Queen legend.

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  4. You are a brilliant, open-minded writer and true Queen fan. I love reading your posts. As an old-time Queen fan (I’m 56) who fell over dead hearing Adam Lambert on American IDOL 6 years ago, I couldn’t believe this collaboration could really happen. It is perfect for someone like me. I worried every day that Adam wouldn’t be accepted, that there would be tons of empty seats, and God forbid, booing. But instead I got the other extreme. Cheers and admiration for a young guy with a great voice and great stage presence. My pride for him cannot be overstated. Yes who wouldn’t jump at this chance, but in doing so Adam took a big chance that he’d be ridiculed and mocked by Queen fans and rock websites. He has completely played his cards right and I think he is such a great guy and a professional, that he couldn’t fail. I saw two shows but dream of attending many more if my busy life and lack and limited finances didn’t deter me. This has been one of the best years of my life for music, and I hope it continues. The radio and TV world has snubbed Adam in my opinion, but not the fans who are paying big money to see him perform in sold-out arenas. He deserves to be a huge star on radio and TV, but I suspect he will continue to be snubbed. I hope I’m wrong.

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  5. Wonderfully written. Thank you, and also for the link to the interview with Brian. I’d read it before but was good to do so again, with this more current perspective. I wish more people would remember that, in the beginning, the future Queen was just Brian and Roger. They are the originators. Maybe that would help people who seem to have such a hard time accepting Adam. The very same team that saw the potential in Freddie have seen it also in Adam. And I think we have seen that we can trust their judgment. 🙂

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    • That’s a very good point about Brian and Roger being the original two people. It was my respect for them as musicians convinced me that they wouldn’t choose a substandard frontman, which is why I took the chance on buying tickets for the QAL tour before I had even heard Adam sing. And of course, they were right!

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  6. Thank you for such an articulate and thoughtful essay. After some years of floundering, Brian and Roger quite suddenly found “the one,” and made the magic happen again, “quite organically,” as Brian would say. I understand the emotional turmoil of those Freddie fans who cannot face any perceived threat to his legacy. Adam is the only one since Freddie’s death who is in the same league, and it must hurt to see Brian and Roger embrace him and love him so much. But Adam has brought the magic back, and it’s obvious that world-wide audiences have felt the same way. He is part of the Queen family now. And even more to his credit, Adam has persevered and triumphed even in the face of mindless criticism and rudeness. He has responded with grace and poise and humility. A class act.

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    • Hi Kitty – I suppose it’s a mark of what an exceptional voice Freddie had that it took two decades for Adam to come along. And you’re right; he has bought the magic back, and that’s priceless to the long-term fans like me, and also the fans who were too young ever to have seen them perform live. QAL has given them a unique opportunity to hear this awesome music live. Queen have always sounded great on recordings, but live they are incomparable. I think the QAL tour has ruined us for any other music!

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  7. Really enjoy reading your beautifully written posts. My impression on one point is that it was Brian and Roger who were slow and thoughtful about Adam performing a full out tour with them. I’m just not sure Adam hesitated in the way you suggest. Adam made it clear after the Idol finale when the Queen frontman rumors were swirling that he had his eye on a solo career and that occupied front of mind for him. Likewise, it was only after the iHeart performance, Brian remarked at the announcement of the QAL tour, that he and Roger saw that Adam was a truly great fit and that their few collaborations had seen sufficient positive evolution to consider a full blown tour. I think it didn’t hurt also that the enthusiasm for them and their frontman at iHeart was palpable.

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    • Hi Andrea – from the news articles I’ve read (and I realise that media reporting isn’t necessarily accurate all the time!) I got the impression that Brian and Roger asked Adam if he wanted to do some work with them (rather than full-scale touring) fairly early on. It’s been reported that he thought about this carefully. As far as the whole thing of touring went, I’m sure they all spent considerable time working it out and planning it because of the risks involved. Also, I think they planned the tour locations very carefully as well; starting with the US meant that Adam was performing on home ground first, which would be a good confidence builder for him as it was familiar ground. It then gave them time to hone everything before they went into the much more difficult territory of the UK.

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