There are a billion reasons to admire Freddie Mercury and the Queen. His songs are only one of them
Words PARESH RAWAT
Farrokh Bulsara was a humble baggage handler at London’s Heathrow airport. Born in Zanzibar to Parsi parents, he had been schooled in India before the family moved to the UK in search of better opportunities and a better life. Farrokh’s story could have been one among a million, just another immigrant story, lost in the multitude that was the British middle class in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Except, Farrokh had a gift. Four extra teeth at the back of his mouth that let him access to a four-octave vocal range.
In the years to come the talented Farrokh, whose favourite singers included Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin and who had a fondness for fashion, would meet three other guys – Brian and Roger and John, and form a rock band. You of course know that this is the story of Queen and Freddie Mercury. The Freddie Mercury. And no, we’re not going to tell you his story again. Just go watch the Rami Malek starrer Bohemian Rhapsody if you want an insight into Freddie’s life. Instead we want to tell you why we think he’s such a big deal.
There’s no way you can ignore Freddie’s background when you look at his transformation story. It’s something that the film actually didn’t delve too much into. Farrokh was a Parsi, a community that values its traditions and legacy with fierce pride. His family was firmly entrenched in conservative middle class values. For Farrokh to break out of that and become the mercurial personality that was Freddie is in itself a story that is high on drama, courage and conviction.
The second thing that you just can’t overlook in this story is the socio-economic setting against which Freddie rose to the very pinnacle of success. This was the ‘60s and the ‘70s and not the era of globalisation and open border policies. Racism wasn’t a bad word and in America black simply wasn’t as good as white. The divides between the British middle class and the British immigrant middle class was also fairly sharp. It could not have been easy for a first generation immigrant, which is what Farrokh certainly was, to chase success in such a society. Let alone reach the heady heights that Freddie did. In fact, if you ask us, a lot of the pathos and the depth of Queen’s iconic songs came from this sense of being the eternal pariah. For Freddie was indeed a pariah, close neither to the community he hailed from nor to the society he adopted.
Freddie was also a fashion icon. In a world that was split straight down the middle on what could be construed as male and what was female, Freddie effortlessly introduced androgyny. The costumes he donned on stage and in his videos drew inspiration from everywhere. Leotards from the circus or gymnasts, studded armbands, just a vest or a crown, nothing was off limits.
Then there were the songs, and what songs! Here too Freddie drew his inspiration from everywhere. The opera, the neighbourhood, his own life, his cats. Anything. If his voice wasn’t weaving magic into our ears with Bohemian Rhapsody, he was telling us that We Are The Champions.
Freddie left his fans to weep forever on November 24, 1991. His last indelible message, that the Show Must Go On.