Combining theatrics and an outrageously flamboyant stage persona with his fine natural-born talent, he possessed one of the greatest voices in all of music and penned some of the most enduring and instantly recognizable compositions, he was certainly one of rock’s greatest all-time entertainers and showmen. Known as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the British rock band Queen, the man always finds himself in any list of the top rock stars in history. The man was the sensational and affable Freddie Mercury.
Born Faroukh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi Indian parents, Mercury did his schooling in Bombay, until his family fled Zanzibar following the Zanzibar Revolution. His parents were Bomi and Jer Bulsara, who hailed from Gujarat. The surname. ‘Bulsara’, is derived from Bulsar from where Mercury’s ancestors hailed. In modern India, this place is known as Valsad.
Freddie Mercury had one of the most distinctive and greatest voices in the history of rock music. His voice covered an amazing four octave range, a feat very few, if any rock musicians have accomplished. He was the driving force behind Queen and characterised all that the band stood for. His artistic expertise was not limited to music alone. It was Mercury who designed and drew the Queen Crest logo, using the zodiac symbols of the members of the band. Mercury strongly believed in the importance of flamboyance and style and he chose to be the king of all that.
Mercury’s outrageous talents were noticed and brought to fore, right from his school days at St. Peter’s in Bombay. He was a member of a popular school band, and after migrating to England, joined several bands in his musical quest. In 1970, he joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor and started a new band, which Mercury himself christened, Queen. They were soon joined by bassist, John Deacon. Together, these four men formed one of the greatest rock bands in human history, led magnificently by Freddie Mercury.
Freddie Mercury was a songwriter of great repute and is known to have penned a lot of songs for Queen. In their Greatest Hits Album, Mercury wrote ten of the seventeen songs, including all time great hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, We are the Champions and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. He made use of a whole lot of genres in the songs he wrote, mixing rock with heavy metal, disco, progressive rock and gospel among the others. Mercury’s songs were reputed to be musically complex, involving heavy use of complex musical manoeuvres. His writing style too was complex and it involved various styles of structures usually found in other verse devices such as poetry.
Mercury was one of the greatest live performers ever. He was highly theatrical and was fond of singing duets with the crowd, bonding with them and involving them in his concerts. Many have described him as operatic, as his compositions include strong elements of harmony, layered vocal arrangements, and complex melodies. Freddie Mercury delivered his music with a stunning voice – he had more power, range, and control than any of his contemporaries. In fact, one could say that he sold his voice on stage, stretching it to the maximum and delivering a stunning aural feast. Amazingly, Mercury suffered from vocal fold nodules and claimed to never have had formal vocal training. As a live entertainer, Freddie Mercury was simply superb. He would feed from the crowd’s energy, amplifying and projecting it back to them. His 1985 performance at the massive multi-band ‘Live Aid’ concert at Wembley Stadium is a perfect example of his stage prowess. With a super-charged Mercury playing maestro to the audience, Queen drove the crowd of 72,000 into a frenzy with a tight set that stole the show.
In 1987, Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS, but he chose to keep it a secret until 1991. Mercury feared that if people came to know that he had AIDS, they would buy his albums primarily out of pity rather than the quality of the works. Mercury even denied having the disease in several interviews, until in 1991 he revealed all to the whole world.
Freddie Mercury is often referred to as Britain’s first Asian rock star. In 2006, Time Asia ranked him among the most influential Asian heroes in the past sixty years. Mercury continues to find himself in any list of the greatest rock artists of all time. He was both, the critic’s and fan’s favourite all throughout his career.
Freddie Mercury lived in an age when homosexuality was only starting to get accepted by society and still a lot of taboo surrounded the issue. Freddie Mercury chose to tell the world that he was ‘gay’ (I am as gay as a daffodil, dear being one of his most famous quotes), but refused to talk about it or analyse the behaviour. He refused to preach and associate himself with the various movements in favour of homosexuality. His style was ‘I am what I am. So what?’, which was a statement in itself.
After Mercury’s death in 1991, the rest of Queen set up a tribute concert in London in 1992. Singers and performers from around the world were invited to perform at the event. The line-up featured some of the biggest names in music. Some of the more famous performers included Metallica, Extreme, Def Leppard, Guns n’ Roses. Elton John, Roger Daltry, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Axl Rose, Seal, Lisa Stansfield and Liza Minelli. The artists rendered Queen song after song, almost competing with each other as to who could cover a Queen track the best.
Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest figures in rock music who ever lived and his legacy is sure to be in and around every fan for years to come. His death was a huge loss to the world of music, an irreplaceable loss. He has left a void that will not be filled any time soon.
Aju Basil James