Monday, February 25, 2019

We Will Mock You - Thoughts on Queen's Performance at the Academy Awards

A band that calls itself Queen + Adam Lambert opened up the Academy Awards ceremony last night playing truncated versions of their anthems We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. If you’ve been in a coma for the past year, the reason they were booked on the first host-less Oscar night since 1989 is because a movie entitled Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen’s rise to success, has been nominated for several Oscars, and ended up winning one for best actor for Rami Malek in the role of Freddie.

In full disclosure I haven’t seen the Queen movie, and probably never will. I was such a fan of Queen that I don’t really want to see other people kill their mystique by pretending to be them. This is why I’ve never seen Queen in any of their incarnation: I was too young when they originally stopped touring in 1986, and I really don’t want to see the post-Freddie approximation of the band. I’m glad they’re out there playing those songs, and they are legitimate in doing so, but I don’t want to see it. To me Queen ended at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Show on April 20th 1992.

I remember staying up all night listening to the live broadcast of that show on the radio and obsessively playing the tapes I’d made in the following weeks. Almost all of my favorite artists were there: Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie (with Mick Ronson!), Metallica, members of The Who, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin… and awesome performances by artists I didn’t care for like George Michael, Def Leppard or Annie Lennox.

I clearly remember the day Freddie died. I had heard the announcement of his AIDS diagnosis on the radio on the car ride to school. By the time I arrived, news of his death had already reached some of my classmates. I clearly remember how bummed my friends and I were all day. I clearly remember one of the supervisors telling me how it was to be expected because he had been doing things with his body that God hadn’t intended. Bear in mind this was a public, secular school… But some people feel their agendas are above the laws of the Republic.

Ignorance wasn’t relegated to school staff: that evening, when watching a segment on Freddie on the evening news, my grandparent were aghast at the vision of Queen performing I Want To Break Free in drag for the video. There was a really uncomfortable conversation about their fear of me turning gay because I was subjected to that. And they were relatively open-minded, reasonable people.

Innuendo was already one of my favorite current records (although it had been replaced on my turntable by the Use Your Illusion albums) but after Freddie’s death songs like These Are The Days Of Our Lives and The Show Must Go On would take on even greater resonance. A few years later, they released a new album with Freddie Mercury outtakes but for me it was already over. There are some good songs on it but something about the whole project felt a little distasteful. Even the title was a bit much.

The idea of Queen (now minus John Deacon) teaming up with Paul Rodgers was intriguing, and I liked the fact that he was anything but a Freddie clone. But the album was uninspired (despite great production) and hearing the voice of All Right Now singing We Are The Champions just didn’t appeal to me. The Adam Lambert guy is a much better fit, but I am just not interested. The Reality TV connection doesn’t help things, that’s for sure. But the repertoire deserves and needs to be played, and Brian and Roger are the ones to play it with authenticity and legitimacy.

So last night they took the stage in front of stuffy overdressed celebrities, and there was absolutely nothing rock and roll about the whole thing. Whatever magic, prestige, glamour and cinephilia used to be at the core of the Oscars is long gone, and the same can be said for Queen: they are now a glorified tribute band, playing cover versions of their own songs and capitalising on their noble legacy by diluting it in today’s celebrity pop culture with undignified artefacts like Broadway musicals, Vegas residencies, Twitter accounts and hagiographic biopics.

In all fairness, it’s always a thrill to see and hear Brian May and for half a second, when that curtain dropped and Brian stepped out playing his iconic Red Guitar, I did get chills. But the awesomeness ended there. Adam Lambert has a good but extremely generic voice and his performance is as much of an act as Rami Malek’s impression of Freddie. Granted, he doesn’t ape his illustrious predecessor (thankfully) but everything about him is affected: his wardrobe, his mannerisms, his inflexions… He has no real presence apart from his clumsy gesticulations and annoying mugs. 

But the real cringe is when the camera cuts to the audience of celebrities that passes for Hollywood royalty these days. The sight of these people pretending to rock out was an absolute embarrassment and the thought of Queen becoming a shameless caricature of themselves to pander to them was infuriating and sad.

But here’s how I washed out the foul taste of this awkward pageant: I popped in the BluRay of Queen’s Live at the Rainbow in 1974. This was right before they exploded and became the blockbuster band we know today, back when they were a young and hungry hard rock band with glam tendencies and when the more baroque side of their music was still just a quiver. It was fresh, it was honest and it was real. That is how I prefer to remember them.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your post. I like your honesty. Thanks for sharing.


Feel free to comment on this post: