How many times have you sung along to “We Are the Champions” or “I Want to Break Free” or, the most likely candidate, “Bohemian Rhapsody” – and I don’t just mean “sung along,” I mean belted out, full-on harmonized, sang like your heart might depend on it?
Probably quite a few. You’ve probably (hopefully) made Freddie Mercury, Queen’s original front man, proud.
Freddie Mercury, born Farrohk Bulsara, would have turned 65 this past Tuesday (September 5). However, he succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia 20 years ago, at the age of 45, in November of 1991. He was gone before most in our generation could ever appreciate not just the talent he had, but what he embodied as an artist and musician.
Mercury more or less came out in an article with the New Musical Express in 1974, at one point stating he was “gay as a daffodil.” Yet, at the same time, he kept a low profile, adding at the end of the same interview that he wouldn’t elaborate on his personal life. He constantly denied having AIDS once he was diagnosed with the disease in 1987.
He died only one day after officially announcing that he had AIDS.
In the wake of his death, the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness was held, and this launched the Mercury Phoenix Trust – an organization that promotes AIDS awareness worldwide and remains active to this day (a number of celebrities tweeted about the foundation on Tuesday in memoriam including, of course, Lady Gaga).
While Freddie Mercury can no longer make music for us, though, he did leave behind something important, something that many may not realize: He left a door open that lets gay musicians have the spotlight. Critics favored Queen not just because they had an interesting leader, but they liked Queen because Freddie Mercury was talented. Homosexuality was “legalized” in England in 1967 (I KNOW), and Mercury was performing not even ten years later. He was making strides almost as early as was possible.
And the current artists I’m talking about aren’t limited to the obvious ones, like Adam Lambert of American Idol fame.
Have you ever listened to Bloc Party (you should)? Did you know that their lead singer, Kele Okereke, is openly gay? Okereke is another musician who is incredibly talented; his sexual preference hasn’t made him a subpar musician or made critics pay attention to him just for some sort of spectacle (in addition to Bloc Party, he has a solo album, The Boxer, that came out over the summer). Mercury paved the way for Okereke just as much as he paved the way for Ricky Martin or Clay Aiken.
Plus, if you listen to “I Still Remember,” it’s basically a love story between Okereke and an unnamed (but apparently real!) man. You should probably listen to it here.
Okereke isn’t the only artist I can think of, either. I’m going to pick your brain for a few more indie darlings. Edward Droste, of Grizzly Bear, is gay, as is Jónsi from Icelandic group Sigur Rós. And, though not a front man, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend is also openly gay.
Now, I’m not saying you should just listen to these bands because they have gay-oriented lyrics or because they promote gay themes or whatever you might be thinking. If Nickelback’s lead singer were gay, I STILL wouldn’t encourage you to listen to them, regardless of his personal preferences.
However, I’m trying to make sure that you don’t ignore a band just because they have a gay member/singer/writer/producer/etc. Can you imagine what would have happened to the music world if Queen had been written off as too gay or Freddie Mercury as just flamboyant and not talented?
It would certainly be a different scene, I can tell you that much.
We’re much more open-minded in 2011 than they were in 1967 or 1974 or even 1991, but we still have a long way to go. Again, you don’t need to listen to an artist or a group because they’re gay, but please make sure you don’t blow them off simply because of the way a member of the group was born.
And, of course, please continue singing along with “I Want to Break Free,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and any other Queen song of choice.
Keep Freddie Mercury proud.
Featured image courtesy of mkolodziejski