Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The ultimate artifact collection

Just when I thought the Sutcliffe book couldn’t be topped in terms of distilling the Queen history down to a single publication, along comes this ultimate box set of artifacts and reproductions from their 40-year career. (In Sutcliffe’s defence, however, even he couldn’t compete with the private collections of Brian and Roger.)

The tactile quality of this book reminded me of my kid’s books on dragonology, piratology, Greek mythology, UFOlogy, and the myriad other esoteric themes that have been packaged up in book form to cater to a sensory-deprived readership who seem to be acquiring their knowledge through digital means only. 

Someone who was born into this digital generation is Sarah L., one of my information design students. For a young adult surrounded by the likes of dub step and NKOTBSB, she’s developed a remarkable appreciation for classic rock and analogue technology, as her LP collection and USB turntable will attest to.

While she and I have had lengthy discussions about bands from my era — The Who, Rainbow, Zeppelin, Meat Loaf, Floyd, Boston, etc. — she admits her musical taste is due to her dad’s influence. His Queen CD collection — primarily his Greatest Hits disc — piqued her interest in the band and she began scoping out their other tunes on YouTube. The GH disc, as she discovered, is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the appeal of the band’s oeuvre goes.

Her own Queen collection now includes her first book, the 40 Years of Queen box set that she is holding here. It’s the same collectible I picked up about a month before she emailed me to say she found it at a local bookstore for cheap. The fact that it features reproductions of actual Queen paraphernalia is something that she values more than just a book with photos and text . . . she’s also a designer who finds inspiration in posters, tickets, backstage passes, and such.

When I asked her what her favourite Queen song currently is, I was surprised when she responded with Fight From the Inside, a tune she even nominated for her high school’s grad song. Coincidentally, this was the song that drew me into the world of Queen back in 1977-78 when I heard it on my friend’s dad’s 8-track player.

It would seem that this particular Roger song is responsible for at least two Queen adherents.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Twenty years before Freddie’s death, November 24th was an anniversary of a different kind

One is famous for giving and the other for taking. 

On November 24th, 1971, Dan (D.B.) Cooper, an American aboard Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 hijacked the plane, pocketed $200,000 in ransom money, donned a parachute, and jumped into the history books as one of the most popular unsolved crimes in America.

On November 24th, 1991, Freddie Mercury died less than 24 hours after the world learned he had AIDS.

For the twenty years between Cooper’s escape and the end of Mercury’s life, one could assume Cooper spent the $200,000 on Queen collectibles over those two decades.

That would explain why no one has heard from him. Like a crazed fan, he no doubt isolated himself in a remote cabin the American Pacific Northwest and immersed himself in a mystery more far-reaching than his own . . . how Farrokh Bulsara, born in East Africa, rose to become arguably the most celebrated Asian entertainer in popular culture. 

A quick look at their Facebook pages shows their relative popularity in contemporary terms:

Sure, Freddie kicks Cooper’s ass in Likes and people talking about them, but what about their respective popularity across the entire Internet? Here are some statistics I managed to pull from a variety of search engines:

  Mercury Cooper
Alexa (web traffic) 1,096 23
AltaVista (web search) 10,100,000 1,890,000
Bing (web search) 9,060,000 1,620,000
Blinkx (videos) 44,000 88
BlogScope (blogs) 626 284
BTJunkie (bit torrent items) 152 0
Gigablast (web search) 151,302 10,746
GOO (Japanese search) 2,440,000 194,000
Google (web search) 18,500,000 1,350,000
Google Books 23,800 24,800
HotBot (web search) 10,100,000 1,920,000
IceRocket (blogs) 11,061 717
IsoHunt (bit torrent items) 734 45
Lycos (web search) 10,100,000 1,920,000
OMGILI (forums) 832 33
REDIFF (Indian search) 1,510,000 258,000
Technorati (blogs) 7 0
The Find (shopping) 2,329 130
The Pirate Bay (bit torrent items) 65 0
Torrentz (bit torrent items) 127 3
Yahoo (web search) 8,660,000 1,650,000
YouTube (videos) 86,200 734

Again, no contest. One stat is not like the others, though . . . Google Books. Cooper is referenced in a thousand more books than Mercury, which is curious. Is it the nature of Cooper’s fame that has generated more written discourse and scholarly debate about what happened? I suppose if Cooper had twenty years of creative output and public spectacle like Mercury, we might see his Internet numbers correspond to his increased digital presence.

Nonetheless, for a guy whose identity is limited to a couple of FBI drawings and the evidence of his crime being a few bundles of $20 bills found in a river, he’s managed to generated an inordinate amount of cult-like attention. The likelihood that he died from the jump is the official FBI opinion, although his case has remained opened all of these years and the recent discovery of a French Canadian comic book that describes how a character named Dan Cooper hijacks a plane and absconds with ransom money has reignited the interest in his cold case after 40 years.

One other interesting parallel exists between Cooper and Mercury and that is a legacy of copycats. Cooper inspired at least 15 similar hijackings — nothing to be proud of, I’m afraid — but Freddie kicks Cooper’s ass here, too, with those countless musicians, singers, and performers he’s inspired.

Although I like the tune, it’s too bad Freddie didn’t write a song based on D.B. Cooper instead of Leroy Brown. If he did, November 24th would then be that much more aligned between the two individuals.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Queen’s reign over Antarctica

Media Moment: Happy Feet Two
Queen-related: Queen songs featured

I subscribe to Roger Ebert’s movie reviews and happened to catch his two-line RSS description of Happy Feet Two a couple of days ago where he briefly mentioned Queen. Not thinking much of it, I deleted the RSS message but discovered another Queen reference to HF2 just today when I was watching the iTunes trailers for the movie.

In addition to the official trailers for HF2, there were also a few teasers and featurettes with one that showed the cast performing their lines in a recording studio. With Brad Pitt as the voice of Will the Krill, one teaser shows him singing — rather poorly, I might add — the chorus of We Are The Champions, presumably as his krill character will sing it in the movie (below). 

Hey, maybe that’s the Queen reference that Ebert was alluding to in his truncated RSS review. I went to Ebert’s website, found his review for HF2, and he does indeed mention Queen a few times:

“Happy Feet Two” is handled as a musical with a startling range of tastes; we get numbers all the way from Queen’s “We Are the Champions” to a solo aria, “E lucevan le stele,” from Puccini’s “Tosca.” You wonder how these penguins found out about Puccini. Then you realize it’s just as inexplicable how they found out about Queen. No matter. Younger viewers, who have no idea what an aria is, may simply enjoy the music.

Because HF2 debuts today in most theatres, there aren’t many early reviews on IMDb. One external review by Kathryn Schroeder at Film Fracture, however, does mention Queen in its summary of the movie’s song choices:

“For adults the use of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” is a great inclusion for the finale…” 

Curiously, Schroeder doesn’t mention WATC in the song list. Maybe its appearance in the film is too short to warrant a full-on credit? Not so, according to the American iTunes store that is currently selling the soundtrack (I can’t get the soundtrack on Canada’s iTunes store just yet). There is definitely a full-length recording of WATC by John Powell, the film’s original music composer but no evidence of Pitt officially covering the song. So maybe his krill character has nothing to do with the song and he was just goofing off in the studio. That could say something about his personal taste in music.

Under Pressure, as sung by Pink’s character, is also on iTunes for this soundtrack although it’s mashed up with Rhythm Nation in the same track. 

 I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised that a song or two by Queen makes an appearance in this sequel . . . the original, Oscar-winning penguin movie featured Somebody To Love which, in my opinion, was the highlight of the film’s musical numbers.

George Miller, the writer and director for both movies, is an Australian who’s worked closely with Brian May. No, not our good doctor but the composer from Australia who scored those Mad Max and B horror movies from the 80s and 90s. 



Monday, November 7, 2011

Sing-off does more than Queen medley

Media Moment: The Sing-off 
Queen-related: Queen medley

Ever since the classic MTV reality series Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica went off the air in 2005, I’ve been so despondent that I can’t bare to watch Nick Lachey in anything else. So it wasn’t my intention when I unknowingly caught him as the host of The Sing-off the other night. I was hoping to catch a Queen reference during the reality show and got more than I expected. 

I fast-forwarded through Nick’s hosting duties and the preamble that led up to the actual performance of each team so I could test my theory about Queen being one of the chosen artists for a medley of their songs. I had to get to almost the mid-way point of the two-hour show before I stopped fast-forwarding a few seconds into the Dartmouth Aires set. I pressed play and heard the unmistakable lyrics of Killer Queen

There it is, I thought to myself. 

I rewound back to Lachey’s intro for this group so I could catch the footage of their rehearsal. Maybe I’d hear some further Queen references. Sure enough, a few of the members mentioned being huge Queen fans. One singer, in particular, stated that he grew up listening to Freddie due to his mother’s obsession. Interesting, coming from a predominantly R&B vocalist.

The group started with Killer Queen and then segued into the operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody, and followed that with the last minute or so of Somebody To Love. I don’t know whether KQ added much to the performance but their rendition of BoRhap’s multilayered middle section was actually pretty good. One guy even nailed the high bits that Roger does in the original.

Rounding out the set list with STL gave them a strong finish as well. The dude that acknowledged Freddie as an influence in the rehearsal footage made the song his own and had a slightly different arrangement for the end solo (see right photo). All of the judges felt the group’s performance was remarkable given the complexity of the original material. The lone female judge, Sara Bareilles, claimed she was a huge Queen fan herself and thought their did the songs proud. (The fact that she’s associated with Maroon 5, whose lead singer did a Queen medley on The Voice a few months ago, probably speaks to that connection.)

There have been a couple of other Queen covers on The Sing-off. Here’s a run-down:
Season One: Under Pressure (opening song), Somebody To Love
Season Two: We Are The Champions (victory song)
Season Three: Queen medley (Killer Queen / Bohemian Rhapsody / Somebody To Love)

As an aside, I think Freddie is being channeled through more than the Dartmouth Aires. A quick glance through the group names made me wonder what’s really going on: Delilah (really?). Beelzebubs (hmmm). Or what about The Yellow Jackets? Surely that group wouldn’t have gotten punted at the end of this episode if they had all been wearing Freddie’s Magic Tour jacket.

The season’s not over yet, so maybe there’ll be more Queen to come.