Queen Gambit (Melody Maker 1984)Queen Gambit
If you live in Munich you will sooner or later find yourself in the same room as a member of Queen. This is unavoidable. Although they bought Montreux Studios a few years back from the old manager of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the group are never there. Sleepy little lakeside town, Montreux's total population would not look like a crowd at a typical Queen rally. Fishermen in waders in Lake Geneva do not constitute the sort of nightlife that set Freddie Mercury's soul on fire, one imagines.
Ah but Munich is bacchanalia around the clock for those with the appetite. The extras prancing through the video for 'It's A Hard Life' are all stalwarts from Munich's gay crowd. Easily identified because they all resemble Mercury, in cropped hair and moustaches. No wonder he feels at home here.
Mercury has spent most of 1984 in Munich. If the clubs, discos and bars provide one argument for his continued presence, another is an engineer called Mack (his surname, his Christian name being a closely guarded secret). Fred describes Mack variously as an 'absolute treasure' and 'a jewel.' The feeling is apparently mutual since Mack's son is named after of various Queen members.
Anyway!Mack has co-produced much of Queen's music in Munich and Brian May also co-produced the debut album of Scottish Heavy Pettin' here and, currently, Mack and Mercury are working on the Queen's singer's first solo album.
A gentleman in cropped hair and moustaches (not Fred) welcomed us to the P.1 Discotheque, a mock baroque confection that grows out one side of the Haus der Kunst (the Art Museum to you). He tapped the microphone and explained that Queen were holding their 'European Media Meeting' in Munich because it was their favourite European city.
He was delighted that we were all present and suggested a few questions we might ask the band. For example we could talk about the massive festival they were playing in Rio De Janeiro - 'The world's biggest rock event since Woodstock' - where they would be headlining over such otherworld class attractions as (if memory serve) AC/DC and Men At Work. I was distracted by a fleet of mini-dressed waitresses of dazzling beauty proffering trays of drinks and canapÃ©s and further distracted by Queen videos going all the way back to 'Killer Queen'. A twinge of nostalgia for the days when MM had prompted outbreaks of apoplexy at EMI by suggesting that Queen were 'Supermarket pop'
Now, going into a 'media meeting', things are more upfront: you're actually given a plastic supermarket shopping bag. Inside are: three very hairy-chested photos of Freddie, labelled "as seen in Vogue"; a photo of John Deacon with a nest of French poodle curls; and two photos of the whole band in various frills and ruffles.
Plus, a sticker, a sweatshirt and an 'It's a Hard Life' picture disc; tour dates, a bio and a programme with the foursome wrapped up in bondage gear, arms outstretched and fists clenched!presumably to look like Christopher Street machos?
Short-hair-and-moustaches was still talking. The current Queen tour was not as extensive as had been planned, he explained because there were simply not enough halls in Europe sufficiently big to house the group's stage and lights. That's how monumental and sensational their new production is!
The great thing about Queen is that they make one's critical barbs thoroughly redundant, so hell-bent are they on self-parody.
Finally crewcut/'tache concluded we should all stay put after our interviews were done, as there was to be a little cabaret for our delectation. (To put you out of your suspense this turned out to be a mime `-dancing transvestite in a pair of fishnet stockings)
Here German efficiency took over. Journalists were scattered into clumps around the tables keyed up to four simultaneous press conferences and the group were escorted in. Periodically each member would be moved to the next table so theoretically, every journalist had a chance to talk to each musician.
On my table nobody seems to converse in English. At the time this seemed like a stroke of luck. Only later it occurred to me that a clutch of Belgians, Frenchmen, Italians and Scandinavians would all be making money out of my interviews.
Well, I can't keep the group from the reader much longer. Like it says above the comic strip called 'Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies' in the Village Voice: all conversation guaranteed verbatim.
MM: A Rolling Stone article about Queen in Argentina once described you as 'the first truly fascist rock band' Does that say anything to you?
Freddie Mercury: Oh dear, Oh dear. Noooooo okay explain it to me. What does it mean?
MM I was asking you
A whole lot of journalists came form all over the world to see us play in Argentina. It had never been done before, and we just happened to be popular enough with them. In Sao Paulo we played to 120,000 one night and 130,000 the next night. It was very new to them. It was not like North America. There was no such thing as any organisation. It could have turned out to be a totally unruly crowd, so they had the Death Squad doing the security.
MM: The Death Squad?
The heavy, heavy police who actually kill people at the drop of a hat. They were called in to protect us. We were actually taken from one place to another in armoured vehicles that are used for riots. And when the journalists watch that it becomes political. The music's got nothing to do with it. I mean, before we came on stage the whole military was up front with bayonets. Just in case. They thought that if anybody could get such a vast audience it could become political. They pleaded with me not to sing 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'
MM: How do you feel in the middle of a scene like that?
Oh, very powerful. You feel like the devil. You feel you could run riot with all these people. Somebody else with a different mentality could really use it to their political advantage. Or disadvantage.
MM: You like to have thousands of people chanting your name?
Of course, It's wonderful. The adrenalin's there. Absolutely wonderful. But I suddenly think 'I've got all this power, I can DESTROY!' It's not a destructive thing I'm too wonderful for that DARLING. I'M TOO GOOD.
MM: Ands now you're off to South Africa. No qualms, no crises of conscience about that I suppose?
John Deacon: None whatsoever. Throughout our career we've been a non-political group. We enjoy going to new place. We've toured America and Europe so many times that it's nice to go somewhere different.
Everybody's been to South Africa it's not as though we're setting a precedent. Elton John's been there, Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard. I know there can be a lot of fuss but apparently we're very popular down there.
MM: With the whites or the blacks.
Mainly white but we also sell to a black audience. I think 'Another One Bites The Dust' crossed over. Basically we want to play wherever the fans want to see us.
Mercury: and there's lots of money to be made, and I'm in this business to make money also.
MM: Roger you recorded Bob Dylan's 'Masters Of War' on your recent solo album. Is that not a little hypocritical when your group makes a point of playing for the most vicious and repressive governments in the world?
Roger Taylor: Bollocks! Come off it! In Argentina we were Number One when that stupid war was going on and we had a fantastic time there and that can only be for the good. Music is totally international
MM: You don't consider that you're the puppets of the government when you go there?
We were in a way. But we weren't playing for the government. We were playing to lots of ordinary Argentinian people. In fact we were asked to meet the President, President Viola and I refused. Didn't want to meet him, because that would have been playing into their hands.
We went ther to do some rock music for the people. I can't see much wrong with that. In fact, it seems to me that you hurt the average fan more by not going than by going.
MM: Who would 'Masters of War' be directed at then, If the Argentine generals don't apply?
People who make military equipment, people who make money out of the arms race.
MM: Freddie, I understand you were upset about a story in The Sun that claimed you had 'confessed' to being homosexual.
Freddie: I was completely misquoted. But from the beginning, the press have always written whatever they wanted about Queen, and they can get away with it. The woman who wrote that story wanted a total scoop from me and didn't get anything. I said: "What do you want to hear? That I deal cocaine?" but for God's sake, If I want to make big confessions about my sex life, would I go to The Sun, Of all Papers, to do it? There's no fucking way I'd do that. I'm too intelligent.
MM: But this is a good time to be gay. It's good for business.
Isn't it? Isn't it? But it's wrong for me to be gay now because I've been in the business for 12 years. It's good to be gay or anything outrageous if your new. But even if I tried that, people would start yawning 'Oh god here's Freddie Mercury saying he's gay because it's trendy to be gay'
MM: Haven't you always played with that image though?
When I started off, rock bands were all wearing jeans, and suddenly here' Freddie Mercury in a Zandra Rhodes frock with make-up and black nail varnish. It was totally outrageous. In a way |Boy George has just updated that thing, the whole glam-rock bit. George is more like a drag queen. It's the same outrage it's doubled.
MM: John aren't you fed up with Queen's manipulation of a flamboyant, camp image for more than a decade?
John Deacon: I don't think about it much. We just go on stage and we are who we are. Obviously most of that comes from Freddie. He's always been that way. I do sometimes but that's just a personal opinion. I don't much like the 'It's A hard Life' video. For me that's too contrived, too dressed up.
Roger Taylor: Yeah, I tried to get most of my scenes out of that one.
MM: Brian they like you at Guitar Player magazine. Wouldn't you prefer it if Queen was more musical and less theatrical?
Brian May: That's a very loaded question. Not easy to answer. I like the dramatic side of it in terms of dramatic accompaniment to the music. Because the music is dramatic. I don't think we end being less musical because we get involved in the theatrics. If your asking what kind of theatrics I like that's a different question, I prefer rock theatrics to showbiz theatrics. We all have different feelings on that.
MM: You mean you'd like to throw away the camp end of it?
You can't throw it away because there's four of us in the band and we all have to have some kind of outlets.
MM: And when the 'showbiz theatrics' dominate?
Sometimes it can be too much. Or maybe that's just an inside view, The man in the street loves all that stuff. Like if you have two consecutive tracks on an album and one is more musical and the other is more!..camp or just more easy to assimilate, there's no question which one the public will go for. I sometimes get the feeling that the musical details I concern myself with are only noticed by me and a few other guitar players. I consider myself a craftsman really and approach studio work in that way.
MM: Freddie Mercury says that the reason Queen albums take so long to record is because you can spend a year working on one song, while he likes to do one a day.
That doesn't really explain how he's spent months on his solo album so far, does it?
I was in Munich's Musicland studios when Mercury was beginning to work on his solo project and surprisingly enough, he was turning out songs at a pace of one a day. Under the authoritarian direction of engineer Mack he was walking in, blank, each morning and leaving in the evening with melodies set up, lyrics improvised and instrumentation sketched out via Fairlight and Linn drum.
I heard a week's output and - however one might assess the fellows personality, politics and so on - it was perfectly clear that he can write hit singles ad infinitum. Each of the songs (I'm leaving personal taste out of this) seemed guaranteed to clean up. These were all terrifyingly infectious dance tunes closer to Queen in the Chic-influenced 'The Game' period than recent rockist efforts.
That was a couple of months ago. At that stage Mercury was planning to do the whole album himself, in the manner of Howard Jones or Thomas Dolby or Steve Winwood, But he has relented and drafted in a few local players.
The reason his album has taken longer than he expected is that having got the taste for churning out pop songs at a rate of knots, he now cannot stop. A curious talent.
'Golden Wally' he may be - in fact I think he'd relish the description, any insult preceded by 'golden' matching his taste - but his licence to print money on the strengths of his songwriting abilities (which plainly coincide with mob taste worldwide) is obviously going to be a thorn in the side of rock critics for some time to come.
Mercury has a succinct explanation for the success: "we're a greed bunch of c**ts basically . People like to think artists don't have brains, and certainly a lot of them are very easily separated from their money. We're more cunning than that ."
But does Freddie Mercury need Queen at all?
"You!rat! I suppose so, yes. I used to think we'd probably go on for five years, but it's got to the point where we're too old to break up." (laughter). "Can you imagine forming a new band at 40? Be a bit silly wouldn't it?"
A journalist from Italy suddenly pipes up with a last question: "A-what-a-you-a a-gonna do-a in-a 20 years time?" What am I going to do in 20 years time!" squeals Fred shrieking in mirth. "I'll be dead, darling! Are you mad?"