lyrics

The Fan, The Lyric and What Freddie Meant - Fan Feature by Eleanor Gray

The Fan, The Lyric and What Freddie Meant   

by Eleanor Gray
 

I have finally come to terms with the idea that I'll never know what Freddie Mercury meant.

I fell in love with Queen as an eight year old and Freddie Mercury still has the honour of being my most important musical influence. Given all the personal meaning I invested in his creative output, I thought that Freddie would think about it in much the same way. However, when it came to talking about his music and lyrics, Freddie was vague. And flippant. Annoyingly vague and flippant. He boasted about the disposability of his music, famously likening his songs to Bic Razors. It was an irksome message: "You listen to it, like it, discard it, then on to the next. Disposable pop."

In his earliest interviews, he spoke of the difficulty and irritation associated with lyric writing. In later interviews, he spoke of the routine nature of creativity, the analogy that struck me most was that making music was much like churning out sausages in a factory. He consistently avoided disclosing any personal meanings and associations, urging listeners to develop their own interpretations. At the same time, there was a tantalising suggestion that there was some autobiographical meaning there: "People are always asking me what my lyrics mean. Well I say what any decent poet would say if you dared ask him to analyse his work: if you see it, darling, then it's there."

I've spent a lot of time with Freddie. I've read a lot of books and listened to a lot of interviews. I have talked to a lot of people about his attitude towards lyricism and musical creativity: from musical collaborators, biographers, documentarians to representatives from Queen Productions. Some fascinating revelations came from that research, one contributor even theorised that Freddie's reluctance to disclose the nature of his creative process was due to a superstition. Apparently, he feared that if he described his working process, he would lose that ability to create... and here I imagined that he just wanted to keep it all to himself, not make his feelings conversational fodder for untrustworthy music journalists.

I was in this never-ending search for this lost sound byte, where Freddie gives up the coy bravado and reveals something consequential. I'd find flecks of honesty here and there, a re-imagining of Freddie pulling up a piano to his bed, to play melodies if inspiration ever struck during the night. Of course there's that immortal anecdote of Crazy Little Thing Called Love being composed in a tub at the Munich Hilton. It was not because it particularly affected my relationship with his music, but I just never bought his dismissive "forget this, it means nothing" routine. Given the passion and complexity of his work and the immense effort it took to create it, I fail to see how he honestly believed his music was disposable.

But perhaps it was just me, perhaps it was just me! Perhaps I had just spent so much time with this music and I had theorised about it so much that I wanted to feel as if he invested something personal in his art. There was always that possibility that he only viewed music as a money-making venture, but I was forever hopeful that he had approached it as a sentimental artist. While everybody else I talked to could accept what he said at face value, it was harder for me to accept that maybe, he just didn't care as much as I did and maybe, just maybe, I didn't know him as well as I thought I did.

Ironically enough, there was once a time when I didn't really care what Freddie thought of his own lyrics. As a teenager, I wrote wildly preposterous online essays interpreting various Queen lyrics. I employed provocative techniques to get readers enraged and engaged. I wanted them to tell me I was wrong: "That was not what Freddie meant!". For me, it was not about being right, as such, it was about motivating listeners to articulate their personal understanding of these songs. The passion and the authority with which readers spoke about his lyricism really inspired me. Even though there was no citations for any of it, I was often moved by the insight and eloquence of these people who took the time to study his music so carefully.

All those essays, that research and production work invariably led to the invention of this series. Consequential Lyrics is a project which celebrates the meanings we independently create, as lovers and listeners of pop. We are naturally pre-disposed to create personal meanings, in such a way that provides comfort, wisdom and insight. For all the songs we do love, it's rare that we get that opportunity to faithfully articulate that significance in a properly ordered way. I suppose this project as an opportunity for you to express those private meanings, to record your voice, describing the significance of those songs in such a way that it legitimises the process of personal identification.

I may never find that sound byte, that phantom interview where Freddie reveals exactly what I want him to reveal. Frustration lies in the fact that nobody really asked the right questions, not the questions I would have wanted to ask, anyway. I comfort myself at the thought that he would have extremely unimpressed at my preposterous suggestions and my tenuous theories, connecting lyrical fragments to a varied succession of internal conflicts. Yet now it doesn't even really matter, I see now that his reluctance inspired to something far more personally meaningful. Whatever his feelings were about his music, life and words, I'm grateful to him for all the love and curiosity he inspired within me.

Consequential Lyrics #1: Queen

The Night Comes Down

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

The March of the Black Queen

In the Lap of the Gods (Revisited)

Spread Your Wings

The Show Must Go On

Download (53.3 MB)

Eleanor Gray is a Melbourne-based Queen fan of twenty years standing and a producer who creates podcasts, essays and online content for the music blog, Cassettes & Chocolate Milk. She has produced many radio programs, television programs, interviews, documentaries, vox pops and commercials for stations SUB FM, SYN FM, SYN TV, Triple R and the SBS program, Alchemy, frequently shoehorning Freddie Mercury into almost every project. She loves notebooks, mochas and London.  facebook.com/cassettesandchocolate 

Share this Article

30 Comments

The Fan, The Lyric and What Freddie Meant - Fan Feature by Eleanor Gray

Shadowblade

As I am an Old Fogie, I am a Queen fan of 40 year's standing, ever since seeing "Seven Seas of Rhye" on Top of the Pops.

This is interesting, but you DO realise that "Spread Your Wings" was written by John Deacon? Nothing to do with Freddie at all?

It did occur to me that Bohemian Rhapsody may have been about AIDS, "shivers down my spine, body aching all the time" etc. And I always did wonder who exactly got shot. But I do not think he had symptoms in 1975, or even could have been diagnosed. The first I heard about HIV AIDS was about 1979/1980, and I am a medical molecular biologist.

The lyrics of My Fairy King are pretty good. I think about his emerging homosexuality, as he'd been pretty bi-sexual until the early '70s.

martin banham

The lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody referring to Freddie already knowing he was sick?? Do me a favour! Bo Rap started life probably in '74 with Freddie starting the creative process- lyrics,music- the composition in general. Are you seriously suggesting that Freddie was already ill with HIV back in the seventies!! To me, to even suggest this, is to incredibly defame Freddie's memory. For shame!!

Don

Get a life, love! Enjoy the songs for what they're for,to entertain . Read into them what you will . Now I'm Here is about Brian and first wife when he was on tour in US. So some might have meaning but to try and figure out every lyric is daft. Put the disc in, crank it up to 11 and annoy the folks next door!

JohnRichardDeacon

Freddie wrote in a lot of formats...Love songs,relationships,anything really...his 'disposable pop' attitude was simply that he wanted to move on with the next idea,even he didn't realize how much these songs meant!

Jennifer

I used to think "Bohemian Rhapsody" was one of those songs that was just a bunch of words.
Now that I'm older, I believe it was actually refering to "Freddie Mercury" comming to terms with the man he was; homosexual, & possibly knowing already he was already sick.

His voice was a gift .....from God. He really did matter!! Of the many concerts I've seen, 2 of my favorite's will no longer be possible..Freddy Mercury era...."QUEEN" ....and "THE BEATLES"!:'(

Jeffrey

The most beautiful voice I have ever heard....and I smile every time that I hear it. Thank you Freddie!

Saj ditta

We love you freddie so much even today can't believe your not here in body buy@live in spirit jannah for freddie inshallah x

Robert A

Isnt Fairy feller based on a picture/painting he saw in a gallery and would go visit often?
March of black queen, I would have to say is rooted very much in an S&M theme.
Spread your wings is a John Deacon song, and show must go on is really a Brian May song

charlie

Long live Queen!

Zanzibar

He was an enormous bullshitter and great pretender, a shy sensitive guy on the inside.

Veronika Bujoková

Freddie Mercury! I admire and listen to him for 30 years! Nothing better I have not read it, thank you very much, perfect!

isabelle

Thanks Eleanor ! i really enjoyed myself listening to you - When i first became a fan i thought my english was definately not good enough to understand what the songs were all about but like most of us Queen fans, i still managed to identify to them and made (my own) sense out of them. Anyway, what i like about Queen music (not only Freddie's) is that it always takes me on a wonderful journey - Time stops when i listen to Queen - i basically can t do anything else - it s never background music but fully attentive listening, and that way i always hear new stuff or get new meanings or actually understand some words i missed out on previous listenings. and i think the reason why Queen music ages so well is because comprehension and discoveries go on with time. i always feel i listen to something new. Do i make sense here lol ?

Borachio

I remember the C.S. Lewis claims that his Narnia series (which I've recently re-read) was written simply as children's stories to be taken at face value and no one should try to look for anything deeper in them. Yet anyone who has read sees quite readily that Lewis simply was being a bit sly there. The Narnia series is obviously bursting with layers of meaning to be interpreted, but the author seemed to think coming clean on the score might spoil some of the fun.

Despite ferocious public persona, by accounts Freddie was a somewhat shy person. Yet in the service of his art, he was at times willing to put a lot of his interior life out there. (Perhaps not everything on the short song list above.) His willingness to share is in part what so many listeners respond to, I think. A soul singer for the ages, willing to tell you who he is, (sometimes even when interpreting his mates' writing).

But we can't expect him to come clean on everything. That might have spoiled the fun.

CJ

As a Queen fan of almost 40 years (ouch!), I want to thank you for articulating many of the sentiments I have felt over the years.

I took my own meanings from many of his songs and they have their own special place in my heart. Some I connect to specific memories, some I have analysed to death, and some I just enjoy!

CPT

You just take words and you stick them together, and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do and some of them don't.
John Lennon

JFS

Yeah, I agree that the interviews that were made to him were usually very bad, asking wrong, superficial questions. You can hardly ever find an interview where he's actually asked about music. Of course if you ask him "what's the secret meaning of X song" you're not gonna get the best of him. That's too bad.

Márcia

It transformed my day in a wonderful day.
I´m with you in all details. Queen is my life. I LOVE!

Nathan Krawitz

It would seem that by forcing Freddie to analyze his lyric process it would ruin the process, it is akin to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Theorem. Brian May would get a kick out of this observation.

Although his lyrics might not mean anything in particular, Delilah is clearly about one of his cats. There are no hidden meanings here.

Danny Bertou

His lyrics are definitely very personal and not disposable at all and Freddie knew that damn well. In my opinion he didn't want to reveal what the lyrics where about, because by doing that he would also reveal something of his private life. And he wanted to keep his private life private. Maybe because some aspects of it were painful and maybe because some aspects of it just were nobody's business.

If you watch the bonus footage of The Great Pretender and you see how hard and unconvincingly Freddie tries to not explain to David Wigg what My Love Is Dangerous is all about, you know that his songs (well, not all of them, but certainly most of them) do have a personal meaning, that Freddie just wanted to keep to himself pretty badly. And I think he was right in doing so, as that gives the listener the opportunity to create his own interpretation of the song.

Adrienne

Freddie just wanted to have fun, plain and simple. If he was having a good time it showed in his music.

I feel as though personally that he genuinely loved the art of performance and looking for the next 'big' thing. There was really no set method to his madness it just seemed to flow out him naturally. He did what felt right to him at the time.

But to categorize his lyrics and have it all laid out for everyone to see would be silly. There are so many interpretations of the written word, really the sky is the limit.Who was he to take that away from us? To rob us of our own vision? He wanted us to think.

Community

Social Channels