Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Queen of the Night Time World

One of my Christmas gifts this morning was a deck of cards that were a tribute to the greatest rock ’n’ roll musicians of all time. Needless to say, I was expecting Freddie to be hiding in there somewhere, probably on one of the Queen cards. That would make sense, right? But would it be the Queen of Spades, the dark(est) queen?

Nope. It turns out Freddie is the Queen of Clubs. Well, at least it’s a black queen, so there’s a subtle reference to a Queen song. But apart from that, I’m sort of surprised that he wasn’t paired with the Queen of Diamonds since that would be an obvious tie-in to the Crown Jewels, royalty, etc. (All things considered, I’d just be happy if they could get his named spelled right. Doesn’t anyone proof these things before they go to press?)

Although Gene Simmons was featured on the Jack of Clubs, I would have thought that he’d rank higher given the “king” connotations that Kiss has acquired over the years: King of the Night Time World, or “Kings in Satan’s Services” (i.e., acronym of KISS).
Seeing Gene next to Freddie in this card line-up reminded me of when I saw the members of Queen made up to look like Kiss characters; and not just one image, but I’ve seen at least three . . . all courtesy of Michael Rutherford, the Niteowl.

I’m not sure how Niteowl chose which Queen members to transform into which Kiss characters, but he definitely didn’t select them based on instruments. John as Ace Frehley? Shouldn’t the “Space Ace” be Brian, the guitarist? I guess Brian’s hair matched Gene’s the closest so that trumped the instrument match-up.
The Freddie/Gene combo takes a weird turn as we can see in these penguin characters that apparently are being featured in Runescape, the world’s most popular online medieval fantasy game.
If you’re a hardcore fan of the individual musicians in the Hero Decks card collection, Final Score Products would like to sell you single cards from the deck as acrylic-encoated paperweights. I wonder how many of these they’ve sold. I wonder if they get a bulk sales discount from Hero Deck before they wrap them in plastic?


Friday, December 21, 2012

“People get shot by people, people with . . .”

“Anti-firearm” is a term being thrown around a lot recently due to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last week.

Brian was calling attention to the issue of gun control way back in the early ’80s, when he penned Put Out the Fire in 1982. Was he trying to make a point about gun access in response to the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan a year earlier? The timing would be about right but perhaps there was another shooting incident in the UK that sparked Brian’s outrage. Wait a minute, it was probably Lennon’s murder that prompted Brian’s song, just like Freddie’s homage to Lennon with Life is Real.

As for the United States, I’m surprised that with their undying allegiance to the 2nd Amendment, the National Rifle Association hasn’t lobbied to get this anti-gun statue removed from the steps of the United Nations.

Photo by Patrick Brooks 
The shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT has again triggered the debate about gun control in the United States. Are the innocent lives of 20 children lost to a deranged gunman a stronger argument for restricting gun access than, say, those adults killed in Aurora, Virginia Tech, or Columbine?

If the shooter’s mother hadn’t had a stockpile of the damned things around the house, would her son have had the same opportunity to mow down as many lives as he did? The NRA’s initial response was simple and unapologetic: if the teachers at Sandy Hook were adequately armed, they could have reacted to the threat with equal force. In a twisted way, that logic does makes some sense . . . a gun is called the “great equalizer” for a reason, is it not?

And when a culture of fear converges with the Second Amendment and an obscure Stand Your Ground law, you get a dead teenager. Does the NRA blame Trayvon Martin for not carrying a gun and denying himself his [God-given] right to defend himself against trigger-happy neighborhood watch volunteers? Based on their statements concerning the Sandy Hook tragedy, it would appear so. What is this, the wild west? The minute you leave your house it becomes High Noon so you’d better bring your firearm?
This stats meme on handgun deaths has been making the rounds since the Sandy Hook shooting. As a matter of fact, to keep making the point, a current set of statistics like this are circulated whenever any mass shooting occurs in the United States. Unlike Congress-backed changes to implement more rigorous airport screenings due to one attempted shoe bombing, there is virtually no change to the laws for preventing similar catastrophes when it comes to guns and gun violence. Unbelievable.
Speaking of the wild west, here in Calgary we have something that comes close to it every July when the city puts on the Calgary Stampede. Locals and visitors alike dress as if it were the old west although but no one carries a holster and gun (fake or otherwise).

An American visitor to the Stampede last summer made the news when he and his wife were walking through Nose Hill Park (an open field green space) and were approached by two male youths who asked whether they had been to the Stampede yet. The visitor happened to be a Michigan cop and took exception to their questioning and through a letter to the editor, publicly acknowledged that he felt unsafe without his state-issued firearm to protect him for random encounters like this. (Maybe someone should remind/explain to him that police in the UK are still not armed during routine patrols and their annual handgun deaths are meagre, to say the least.)

The local media picked up on the story and it quickly became a talking point about the cultural differences between Canada and the United States, as this Calgary Herald writer explains:

And so, Americans, unaware of just how sick their handgun mentality is, continue to fight like crazy to prevent any kind of handgun-control legislation from being implemented. A 9 mm handgun, purchased legally, was the weapon of choice in Oak Creek, Wis., on Sunday when six people were killed and three more wounded by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple. One might argue that if the worshippers had carried guns, they could have killed the guy first. But sitting in a temple armed to the teeth while listening to a sermon about brotherhood and peace is ridiculous.
The same could be said about teachers at Sandy Hook if they were armed and ready for combat while reciting Dr. Seuss to First Graders.


Monday, December 3, 2012

O’Brien May?

Well, Movember is over and yours truly raised $1,120. It would have been more if I had time to guilt friends, family, and co-workers into honouring their promise to donate, but the end of the month came quickly and fundraising ended. While I was powering through Movember, however, I had plenty of time to think about my next Queenville blog and wouldn’t you know it, Rocky Horror appeared on my radar.

The Music, Theatre and Speech department at my university is currently in rehearsals for a production of Rocky Horror that’s set to debut in January. As part of a first-year visual communications class, design students were asked to pitch a poster idea for it. Out of the 30 or so entries, one would be selected as the official promotional poster for the upcoming show.

Not only was I asked to weigh in with my top two choices from the poster submissions, I remembered that I had the Director's Cut of the 1975 movie recorded on my PVR that was begging to be watched (again!) once I had a free moment. So the combination of Rocky Horror poster judging and Rocky Horror movie watching, I got to thinking that the Queen community and the Rocky Horror community have a lot in common.

At one point back in the mid-70s, Tim Curry and Freddie Mercury seemed to be cut from the same slab. Curry appeared as a shoo-in to play Freddie if a biopic was ever produced on his life, and Freddie probably could have pulled off the Frank-n-Furter character if a few circumstances were different — like Freddie being able to act, I suppose.

Not surprisingly, I’m not the first to raise the issue of Freddie playing Frankie. This Amazon album reviewer had this to say about the movie soundtrack:

“. . . the popular songs from the first half of the record (Dammit Janet, Sweet Transvestite, Time Warp, etc.) aren’t even the good ones. As the film develops the music telecopes in its ambition; the corny fifties throwback feel of the first three tracks is enveloped by swaggering, operatic pomp of which Freddie Mercury would have been proud. Achieving this was no mean feat by Tim Curry — outside the Queen singer I can’t think of anyone else who would have come close to pulling it off. By the time of the Floor Show medley and then the genuinely beautiful I'm going home, it’s impossible to not to be swept away by it all.”

Richard O’Brien, the creative mastermind behind the RHPS phenomenon, has actually crossed paths with Queen. In 1980, he had a bit part in Flash Gordon as Fico, an Arboria native and friend of the Baron. I wonder if he and any members of Queen partook in small talk at the film’s premier back in the day.

We know that Brian and Meat Loaf (Eddie from the RHPS) have done more than cross paths, they’ve actually collaborated on at least three occasions:

  • Brian plays guitar on the vocal version of A Time For Heroes, the theme song to the 1987 Special Olympics World Games (the instrumental version was performed by Tangerine Dream, whom Brian teamed up with at the Starmus Festival in June 2011);
  • Brian was a guest on Bad For Good, a Steinman-penned song that Meat covered on his Bat Out Hell III album from 2006;
  • Brian also lent his expertise to two songs on the latest Meat Loaf effort, Hang Cool Teddy Bear from 2010.

There’s even a fun little clip of Meat selling Brian’s book, A Village Lost and Found. I’d be curious to know the circumstances behind this video. My guess is, it was during Brian’s guest appearance on Hang Cool Teddy Bear as it would have been around the time Brian’s book came out.

Brian manages to pay tribute to both Richard O’Brien and Meat Loaf at the same time when he did a cover in 1995 of Whatever Happened to Saturday Night. I have this CD and actually prefer Brian’s version to Meat’s from the original 1975 movie.

In 2006, Meat tears down a Queen II poster in the opening sequence of Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, which I talked about in an earlier blog. Was the Queen II poster Meat’s idea or Tenacious D’s? It would have been around that time that Brian guested on Bat Out of Hell III and since Queen II (or the band for that matter) never really gets talked about in the actual movie (compared to other metal acts from that era), so I wouldn’t be surprised if Meat suggested the poster idea for that scene.

Remember when Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf made a guest appearance on Glee when the theme was Rocky Horror? It would have been super cool if Brian and Roger made a guest appearance on the episode where Bohemian Rhapsody was played at the Nationals.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mo Bros & Angry Birds

Well, we’re one day shy of Movember, — that time of year formerly known as November — when Movember Brothers (Mo Bros) make money for male health issues by growing manly moustaches. (Yours truly has even set up a Mo Space here for this very purpose.)

As their official website describes, Movember went from “. . . 30 Mo Bros . . . in 2003 to 854,288 Mo Bros in 2011.” Quite an achievement considering it really started with two drinking buddies in Australia and spread to likeminded countries within a few short years.

From what I have discovered online, 2011 was their most successful year to date for fundraising which comes as no surprise given the momentum generated by their recent campaigns. Most Google searches for Movember produced results from 2011 . . . along with an abundance of commentary on who owns the most famous moustache . . . ever.

It is at this point that Freddie makes a repeated appearance in the official Movember effort. He was initially included in a series of famous ’stache owners alongside Joseph Stalin, Mr. Miyagi, Super Mario, Hulk Hogan, Salvador Dali, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Che Guevara. 

All famous personalities, indeed, with equally famous moustaches. But for some reason, Freddie was elevated to unofficial poster boy status for moustache season as we see with this fun cartoon that sums up Movember:

I’m confused. When did Freddie go from being someone who represented the gay community through the outward expression of facial hair, to a symbol of manliness in its most basic sense . . . the ability to grow a mane of hair on the upper lip, an activity normally associated with the male of the human species? 

His adoption of a moustache is curious timing. If we look merely at the chronology of Queen albums, Freddie grew his ’stache some time between the photo shoot for The Game cover and the photo shoot for the liner notes to Flash Gordon, when we first see him sporting a moustache on a Queen album.

According to A moustache timeline found on the New Zealand History online website, “For some in the gay community coming out in the 1980s, moustaches were an iconic symbol of identity. Inspired by singer Freddy [sic] Mercury or bearded ‘Bears,’ gay men wore their facial hair with pride.”

Apart from the misspelling of Freddie’s name, I wonder if this statement is entirely accurate. If Freddie led the charge for homosexual men to identify themselves as gay through facial hair in the early ’80s, I think Glenn “Leatherman Biker” Hughes of The Village People deserves more credit than Freddie for inspiring a gay male identity. 

Freddie mimicked Hughes’ outfit way back in 1979 and Rob Halford of Judas Priest worn a similar S&M outfit before Freddie. (I know Halford accused Freddie at one point of stealing his look but I’m wondering if Halford was mimicking Hughes as well?) And then there is speculation that Freddie adopted Hughes’ moustache look more than a year later, but I’m guessing it had more to do with Freddie indulging in Germany’s gay underground while recording The Game in Munich, than following Hughes. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Freddie adopt the whole Hughes look instead of just the leather S&M attire? 

Perhaps Freddie wasn’t ready to make such a public announcement back in 1979? Or maybe the moustache — that symbol of gay masculinity — wasn’t truly in vogue until after 1980?

Whatever the case, Freddie’s moustache is now considered so epic that its power to persuade is undeniable. He’s remained in the public spotlight long enough that his stellar achievements as a musician and all-round rock god status are inextricably linked to his physical attributes such as his moustache, overbite, and vocal range. His moustache, in particular, is now imbued with a connotative quality that goes waaayyy beyond gay symbolism to that of sheer manliness. 

Even Jess below (a male given the tone of writing?) feels that Freddie’s homosexuality was separate from any sex appeal he held for the masses. Apparently, his moustache belongs on all best-of lists and not just Movember lists, as this online quote will attest to:

Obviously, this cover is not ‘scientific proof’ of Freddie’s effect on women, although I would be curious to hear what his ladyfriend here would say about working with Freddie for that shoot. 

Now that Freddie For a Day is gaining in popularity every year as a fundraiser for the Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT), dressing up as Freddie is as easy as donning a fake moustache and a Magic Years concert jacket. 

Even Rovio, the makers of the mega-popular Angry Birds video game, got in on the action when they recently paid homage to Freddie by introducing an “Angry Freddie” character in Magic Years attire and crown. But they also added the epic moustache. This strikes me as proof positive that his ‘stache’ is perhaps the single most outward symbol of Freddie these days. 

In an effort to support the Freddie For a Day campaign, I purchased one of the Angry Birds shirts online for my four-year-old who has taken a liking to the Angry Birds characters, not the game so much. The FFAD online store is based in Finland but the fulfilment house is in California and when I received the shipment, I was annoyed that the invoice got Freddie’s name wrong. Bad optics people.

And what if Freddie were still around today to seeing his outward identity morphing from one stereotype to another. I’m sure he’d take it all in stride since he didn’t take himself or his moustache too seriously. He did shave it off in the late ’80s, right?
'A moustache timeline', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Aug-2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An escape from reality

Being Facebook friends with your students has entertainment value. Sometimes being privy to their weekend indulgences explains why they missed class the following Monday. Other times, you can see them use Facebook for what it was originally meant to allow post-secondary students to share ideas and exchange in meaningful dialogue.

Well, meaningful dialogue is open to interpretation sometimes, I guess.

Sometimes a status update will prompt a surprising discussion, which is what happened today when my (now former) student Alexis began quoting the opening line to Bohemian Rhapsody. Needless to say, I was floored but amused. And then Hayden chimes in with the second and third lines to the song, at which point I joined in and jokingly laid down the law. The thread then takes on a Queen-ish life of its own as you can see.

Okay, enough goofing off on Facebook everyone. Back to work.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Phreddie’s phrenology

It is just about Halloween and the third season of The Walking Dead has begun, so what better topic for discussion than Freddie’s skull.

If you’re a fan of the io9 website, “…a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future,” then you’ve probably come across this series of skulls based on famous deceased artists, activitists, and politicians, all courtesy of Romanian artist, Istvan Laszlo.

Perhaps there were more in his series but here are the famous 20th century figures Laszlo chose for a public release:

•  Mahatma Gandhi
•  John Lennon
•  Freddie Mercury
•  Mother Teresa
•  Moa Tse Tung
•  Andy Warhol

In order to make these skulls retain any recognizable likeness to their owners, Laszlo had to intentionally blend physical characteristics of the individual (e.g., Freddie’s overbite) as well as any external adornments that that person was known for, such as eyeglasses or a piece of clothing. Certainly, without the nod to her unique Missionaries of Charity headscarf, Mother Teresa’s skull probably wouldn’t be read as being hers. Throw in some subtle references to hair, such as Mao’s receding hairline or the dark shadow above the upper jaw on Freddie and Gandhi, and voila, you’ve got an otherworldly portrait.

Without those defining external characteristics, a skull is just a skull as any episode of Bones or Dateline NBC will tell you. It’s really not recognizable until the skin and muscle tissue is methodically reconstructed  that the likelihood of their likeness is finally revealed.

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of the io9 article is in the comments section where people began labelling the drawings as racist, in particular the implied epicanthic eyefolds on Mao’s skull. While I agree that if Mao’s portrait was generically labelled as “Chinese” instead of “Mao,” there would be an element of racism to the portrait because mongoloid skulls do not have eye sockets shaped like this.

Introducing racism into the cranium discussion inevitably draws phrenology into the debate as there have been numerous attempts from across the ethnicity spectrum to have science validate a hierarchy in the races based on skull measurements and other phenotypical attributes.

Is there a scientific basis to race superiority? Jean Philippe Rushton, a recently deceased University of Western Ontario professor, made it his life’s work to prove that there was. To the frustration of his many critics, he was tenured at UWO and couldn’t be muzzled for his unpopular and dangerous views.

As happens with discussions about race and “the other,” a sampling of a few members of an identifiable group — as we have seen in this series of drawings — can be interpreted as a generalized perception or stereotype of that particular group. Was Laszlo’s portrait of Mao meant to represent all Chinese people? Of course not. Is it meant to represent a single, Chinese individual? Yes, but with artistic license to borrow and manipulate certain stereotypes assigned to his ethnicity.

One could wonder how Laszlo decided on which historical figures to include in this series. Where’s Einstein (as activist of sorts)? Martin Luther King? Whitney Houston? Hitler? Were the final selections based on his own personal list or was it simply which larger-than-life figures could offer the best source material (i.e., photographs) to work from?

Whatever the case, Freddie gets first billing on the io9 article which could be interpreted as the editors at io9 believing that his persona would be the most favourable in capturing readership. They could easily have mentioned John Lennon right out of the gates for that story, but they went with Freddie. I’d wager, though, that Mao’s skull is probably more immediately recognizable than Freddie’s but would giving Mao more airtime, to so speak, sit well with most readers?

What I find curious is that out of the six historical figures Laszlo portrayed in this series, three of them are associated with India. How would phrenology explain away the individual triumphs that these three have accomplished on such a grand scale?


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

FM on ET

I haven’t watched Entertainment Tonight in a long time — ET Canada, yes; regular ET, no — but caught a mention of Freddie by co-host, Chris Jacobs, as they went into a commercial break. He mentioned something about lost interviews with Freddie, don’t want to miss it, etc.

Sure enough, after the break there was a lengthy (4–5 minute) segment that was a response to the newly released video documentary called Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender (TGP), and the companion photo book called Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender, a Life in Pictures.

Amongst the other biographical details mentioned in TGP, the lost interview they were referring to prior to the commercial break was taken during the period Freddie collaborated with Michael Jackson in the early ’80s. There was an audio clip of the two of them singing together and at one point Freddie claims that if the timing had been better, he might have been on Thriller.

On thing that apparently irked Freddie about Michael’s recording routine was his propensity for bringing farm animals into the studio. I guess Freddie wasn’t accustomed to having a recording session turned into a petting zoo. But just when you think Freddie’s excesses were noteworthy, even his idiosyncrasies pale in comparison to Jackson’s.

All-in-all a positive look at Freddie’s latest posthumous effort. Chris Jacobs even made the comment that he loves Freddie and he loves Queen, so that was a nice wrap-up to the segment. As a car enthusiast, perhaps I’m in Love With My Car caught his ear as a kid and he’s been hooked on Queen ever since.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Separated at birth?

I see that there was a brief In Memorium on The Emmys tonight and they showed a clip of actor Ron Palillo from Welcome Back, Kotter.

Back in the early ’80s when John’s hair was straight out of a Fritz Lang video and reruns of Kotter were still going strong, for some reason I always made the connection that Palillo was the spitting image of John Deacon.

Palillo suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead at the hospital after paramedics removed him from his Florida home on August 14, 2012. He was 63.


Friday, September 21, 2012

How about some “dust” flavored soda?

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the original London cast recording of We Will Rock You, it reminded me of when my wife surprised me with tickets to the long-running Toronto show a few years ago.

I was struck by some of the merchandising that I saw in the lobby of the Canon Theatre; take this bottle of fufu berry-flavored Jones Soda for example.

I think that if Queen Productions were going to fully capitalize on the Jones’ label marketing angle, they should have issued a unique label for each character in the show instead of limiting it to the standard WWRY theatrical logotype. Yes, it’s a keepsake (until I drank it!), but I would have been prepared to buy a whole caseload of the silly things if it were a set of the cast.

Speaking of Jones Soda, their unique labeling business model really encourages crowdsourced image submissions from pretty much anyone on pretty much anything. As for who ultimately decides on which ones are selected, I think Jones has a voting system set up on their site so the general public can determine the images that swing them the most. Kinda like a huge focus group to figure out what appeals to that demographic.

Apart from taking crowdsourced image submissions, their site also encourages community discussion on the labels, flavors, and photos themselves, so they’ve really taken the social networking model and linked it to a tangible product. Too bad the stock for this Canadian-born company is taking a tumble.

Maybe they need to put out more of their time-honored flavors like “Turkey & Gravy,” “Perspiration,” “Sports Cream,” “Natural Field Turf,” “Dirt,” “Sweet Victory,” “Sweet Potato,” “Dinner Roll,” “Pea,” or “Antacid” (which has no medicinal qualities, apparently).

I wonder what kind of crazy Queen-inspired flavors they could come up with?


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Probst probes his past

Survivor host Jeff Probst has landed a new daytime talk show aimed at women but with some decidedly “manly” themes.

While the jury is still out on whether Probst’s new show will have any staying power (ala Oprah), he and his producers are certainly aiming for a lively discussion of issues related to men but knowing they have a predominantly female audience.

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock made a guest appearance on the show the other day promoting his latest documentary called Mansome, a humorous look at the trend of manscaping while discussing what constitutes being a “man” in today’s society.

For fun, Probst admitted that much of his youth was spent playing the part of being a “man” back in the day; manly things like having a moustache (ala Tom Selleck) and playing in a band at some point. For Probst, though, both of those endeavours converged at the same time as this old family photo proves:

When the photo was shown to the audience, Spurlock commented that that was Probst’s “Freddie Mercury” phase.

I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that Spurlock made reference to Freddie since he did use Fat Bottomed Girls in the opening few minutes of Super Size Me as I wrote about here.

I wonder how much of a Queen fan Spurlock is in real life. I wonder if Probst’s band did any Queen cover tunes.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Freddie featured in mötley metal mural

Like my blog on The Queen Boutique a while back, I discovered another unconventional Queen sighting here in Calgary. I drove past a utility trailer in the heart of Calgary’s corporate district that was muraled up for a music promotion of some kind. Here’s a look at one side of the trailer which featured '80s metal bands:

The other side featured classic rock icons from an earlier era and there was Freddie, leading the charge near the front of the trailer.

As I drove by, there wasn’t much time to determine the purpose of the trailer or who put it there. So I did a simple Internet search when I got home and found a few items on this specific trailer, such as this Calgary Herald newspaper article from a few days ago.

The Rock Guitar Shelter is the brainchild of J.R. Fleet, a retired musician committed to sharing the magic of guitar playing to youth that haven't experienced it or cannot afford their own instrument.

The RGS actively solicits for guitar donations and refurbishes them with the intent of donating them back into the community to support and inspire young new guitarists. To date, more than 800 guitars have been donated back to the youth of Calgary.

The mandate of RGS is bigger than this, though, as their website explains:

  • We accept donated guitars and other musical instruments from the public and re-gift them to qualified children and youth;
  • We aid our clients in learning how to restore and maintain the instrument they have received;
  • We teach youngsters how to play guitar, and provide a sound stage on which they can edit, mix and record their music;
  • We provide a safe, drug-free environment where youth can form new friendships and share in their love of music

And they provide a bit of a music history lesson, too, it would seem.

The Rock Guitar Shelter Facebook page has some interesting photos of the mural being repainted after it was vandalized one night. More than any other rock god on the trailer, however, it’s Freddie who is shown coming to life in pictures:

To learn more about E.J. Negre, the artist who remuraled the trailer, feel free to check out his blog here or his Facebook page here.
Freddie mural painting photos: © Tony Martin Blass


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Piracy is more than a pile of lifeless CDs

Freddie gets top billing in a recent campaign by TBWA Italy to bring attention to music piracy and the damage it causes to an artist’s creative spirit, not to mention his or her career.

Also in this series of deceased rock legends are Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Jim Morrison, and Bob Marley.

Symbolically, these effigies are interesting on many levels. The fact that they are all dead musicians speaks to the metaphor of how music piracy can suffocate a career. The fact that CDs are used to execute their likenesses also adds another dimension to the message. They could have used guitar picks for Hendrix, for example, but using the medium of their industry underscores the point even more.

Apparently it took roughly 200 hours to construct each one. I’d be curious to know how they approached the composition; did they work from a super-lifesized outline of the photo it was based on? Did they choose the outfit for each according to the available CD labels connected to each artist? Just like the Lego portrait of Freddie, these likenesses must have taken some spatial problem-solving know-how.

To see the other musicians, check out NME’s article on them here.

Photo courtesy of TBWA Italy


Monday, August 27, 2012

Good luck, Mr. Gorsky!

Remember when it took great effort and talent to achieve worldwide recognition, to garner international fame? Before Jersey Shore, Bachelor Pad, and The Simple Life? Before Hollywood socialites sought fame and courted tabloid rumours?

Neil Armstrong was none of these. Through old-fashioned hard work, he became a household name by doing something that was indeed a “first” in the history of humankind and then shunned the limelight. (And if you’ve ever wondered how much time and effort goes into being an astronaut, check out Dr. Roberta Bondar’s credentials as an example of the level of skill required.)

Assuming, of course, that the lunar landing wasn’t a fabrication pulled off by Stanley Kubrick in a sound studio, can you even compare Armstrong’s achievement with anyone’s achievement from the last 40 years? He was a real trailblazer who happened to end up at the Sea of Tranquility instead of an earthly destination.

Surely Brian’s passion towards celestial bodies and outer space made Armstrong an early hero of his. Did they ever cross paths? It turns out that they did. It was at the Starmus Festival in the summer of 2011, the same one that I blogged about here.

Not only did they cross paths but Brian even had one of his questions for Armstrong answered by the retired navy pilot during his closing speech at the Festival. (The video of Armsrong’s speech with references to Brian can be found here.) With Armstrong’s passing a year later, Brian offers his condolences on his soapbox here.

If he were indeed still alive (and real!), I wonder what Armstrong’s childhood neighbour, Mr. Gorsky, would have to say at the eulogy in a few days?


Sunday, August 12, 2012

London 2012 Closing Ceremonies

Media Moment: London 2012 Closing ceremonies
Queen-related: Various Queen sightings

I missed the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics a week and a half ago but had heard through the grapevine that a snippet of Bohemian Rhapsody was used at one point in the show. This bit of news didn’t surprise me as the word on the street was that British culture was going to be front and centre throughout the games. I checked YouTube to see if a video had been posted regarding Queen’s bit but I couldn't find anything on it.

So when news broke in the Queen community that Brian and Roger would be performing tonight during the closing ceremonies, I was sure to record it to see what they’d do. The much anticipated music segment of the ceremonies was kickstarted with the opening vocal canon of Bohemian Rhapsody.

About two-thirds of the way into the musical performances Freddie appears on the video monitors. It was concert footage of him doing his famous audience singalong, although it was hard to tell on the television broadcast if the audience response was from the concert video footage or from the London crowd on hand.

After Freddie whispers “thank you” at the end of his “Day-Oh” sequence, the silence segues into some loud power chords signalling a Brighton Rock solo from Brian. He appears on one end of the stage decked out all in black.

At closer inspection, his overcoat was obviously custom made for him. It was a curious blend of military regalia, Queen symbolism, as well as his Save Me campaign against badger culling and fox hunting (as his shoulder patches clearly show).

I suppose with a world-wide audience of, what, the whole world, he might as well capitalize on the moment.

The back of Brian’s jacket seemed to have an embroidered design but it was difficult to tell what it was exactly because his guitar strap covered the centre of it.

Was it a stylized Queen crest? Something with an Oriental theme given the colour palette of the jacket and the dragon tail-looking bit peeking out from under his guitar strap?

Towards the end of this segment, he walks over to Roger who’s in the centre of the stage and then the familiar boom-boom-clap rhythm begins. At this point, 24-year-old London native Jessie J begins walking towards Brian and Roger from the opposite side of the stage and arrives just in time to start singing the words to WWRY.

Unfortunately, that was all there was to Queen’s involvement in the closing ceremonies. If ever there was a moment that begged for We Are the Champions, you'd think tonight’s ceremony would have been it. London was obviously patting themselves on the back for an Olympics well done and celebrating British culture at the same time, so what better song to top it off with?

Postscript (August 14, 2012) — Brian’s jacket was given full view here on the site today. The back design is indeed a derivative Queen emblem reflecting animals instead of astrological symbols. As well, We Are The Champions may not have been utilized to full impact by the Olympic organizers for the closing ceremonies, but Entertainment Tonight certainly adopted it for their post-Games story on American athletes bringing home the most medals from a non-American host city. It was played no less than three times in their half-hour broadcast last night.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Here’s why the *%@$ Brian May is still in the competition

Brian is on his way to being crowned the greatest guitarist of all time. At least that seems to be the growing sentiment after three rounds of voting at Guitar World’s online poll of the World’s Greatest Guitarist.

Jeff Beck & Brian May
Brian and Tom Scholz of Boston were paired up in Round One. (Coincidentally, I compared Tom and Brian here in an early blog entry.) Brian defeated Tom and advanced to Round Two against The Guv’nor, Jeff Beck. To the surprise of most GW readers, Brian knocked out Beck, and in an even bigger upset for many he trounced George Harrison by a margin of 73 percent to Harrison’s 27 percent.

Brian’s winning streak is leading at least one poll reader to ask: “Who’s doing this voting? It’s gone from ridiculous to absurd to just plain obvious . . . May over Beck, now May over Harrison, what a fiasco.” And this reader is equally perplexed: “Could someone, anyone, please tell me why the *%@$ Brian May is still in this competition??!!”

In a way I agree with them. Brian typically doesn’t crack the top 10 of the world’s best guitarist polls in all the years I’ve come across them. The marquee players always dominate: Hendrix, Van Halen, Clapton, Page, Blackmore, Beck, Iommi; and later joined by the likes of Vaughn, Vai, and Satriani.

Brian, Bert Weedon, G. Harrison
I think it’s safe to say that Brian enjoys tremendous respect from all of these players (as these two photos suggest) but since pre-Internet reader polls relied on hardcore guitar aficionados and not the general public in supporting their idols, it was the hard rock and heavy metal fanboys that took the time to vote. So no surprise that the names stayed the same year after year.

So what has changed? Why is Brian being positioned as one of the front runners in this Internet-based poll? Well, let’s look at GW’s suggested criteria for voters to consider:

Ability. How good a player is he or she at their given style?
Influence. Who inspired more kids to beg their parents for a guitar for Christmas? Who inspired a wave of copycats?
Chops/Versatility. Is the guitarist in question a one-trick pony or a master of many styles?
Body of Work. Who had the more consistent career? Who has played on more classic albums?
Creativity. Who pioneered new techniques? Who sounds the most radically different from what came before them?

Brian should rank highly in all of these categories I would think. Let’s see.

Ability — He’s better than me . . . which is not saying a lot, I admit. Obviously, he’s competent enough to alternate between rhythm and lead seamlessly and can play two- and three-part harmonies by himself. Is he a good rock guitarist, assuming we pigeonhole him into that style? Sure, no debate there. The interesting thing is I remember an interview with him years ago where he stated he felt his guitar playing isn’t any better now than it was when he was 16 years old. From a purely academic point of view, this is probably true. Like any other passionate teenager discovering the guitar, he no doubt mastered the blues scales, copied popular riffs and licks at the time, and different picking techniques fairly quickly before mastering songwriting and musical theory later on.

Influence — This is probably the most ambiguous category to comment on. When I took up the guitar at 15 it definitely wasn’t because I wanted to play like him; I wanted to play Randy Rhoads riffs and the hammer-ons and pull-offs of Van Halen, both hugely popular metal guitarists at the time. Queen was still my favourite band but I didn’t even consider emulating Brian because Queen songs were so effing complex. The intro to Crazy Train is a piece of cake compared to Ogre Battle. Does Brian influence pre-teens nowadays to take up the guitar? I have no idea. Lots of them like to do their best air guitar to the solo on We Will Rock You or Bohemian Rhapsody, so maybe that’s an indicator. I have come across people like Malmsteen citing him as an influence and even David Lee Roth claimed in a radio interview that the first Queen album was the blueprint for how Van Halen approached many guitar sounds.

Chops/Versatility — Is Brian a one-trick pony? Logic would say no. Queen covered so much musical territory that Brian has proven time and again he can adapt to diverse styles. Does the guitar orchestration on Love of My Life sound remotely similar to his work on Crazy Little Thing Called Love? What about his playing on Procession versus the vaudeville strumming on Bring Back That Leroy Brown? How about the Spanish guitar in Innuendo vs. the blues playing on See What A Fool I've Been? How about disco  with Another One Bites the Dust? Granted, Brian didn’t get much into country although he gets close to folk in many of his songs like Long Away or Let Your Heart Rule Your Head. Let’s not forget he’s composed for film, theatre, and computer games and has guested on a rap song by Dappy. Speaking of guest appearances, he’s in demand as a studio musician. He’s added a Red Special touch to songs by Meat Loaf, Jeffrey Osbourne, Lady Gaga, and the 50 other artists who saw value in his contribution.

Body of Work — Which Queen albums are considered “classic”? It’s probably a safe bet that all of their ’70s records would qualify, maybe even 1980’s The Game given its singles’ success. But I must say that listening to the guitar work on Dancer, Chinese Torture, or even the recent Cosmos Rockin’, it’s obvious that Brian continues to push for new sounds and challenges. Has his career been consistent? Compared to whose? Sure, Queen proper ceased once Freddie died but Brian (and Roger!) continue to try new things musically themselves at the same time creatively shoehorning the Queen catalogue into new opportunities in all media formats.

Creativity — Again, looking at Queen’s diverse body of work, Brian used his guitar not only for strong rhythm and solo work but as an instrument for obtaining unique sounds. His multi-tracking efforts are famous enough — not unlike what Tom Scholz was doing in his basement recording studio — but Brian experimented very early on and created a sound unique in the world of rock music. What about the sound effects on Get Down, Make Love or simulated bagpipes on Gimme The Prize? No shredding here, but what Brian does always suits the mood or spirit of the song.

And what about the fact that Brian built his own guitar? What kind of creativity does that require? Let’s see any of the other 127 guitarists on this GW poll do that.

So, back to my theory as to why Brian is getting the lion’s share of online votes for each successive round in this competition . . . well, I think he’s shown himself to be much more than just a competent, innovative guitar player. That alone should be enough to garner a strong following amongst hardcore guitar players responding to the poll. But I also believe Queen songs have garnered a new generation of fans who appreciate their music as a whole: the strength of their songwriting, the staying power of their melodies, the constant reminder in pop culture that a lot of current musicians look to what Queen did as an example of what is possible.

So when GW runs a poll like this, social media kicks and hordes of Queen fans respond, not just the guitar players in the crowd. In addition to being an amusing read, it’s also encouraging to see the passion in the comments people make about their favourite musicians. Music is about making an emotional connection and from what I’ve been reading, guitar playing and rock music isn’t burning out or fading away anytime soon.

Final thought — I think there should be a poll to determine which famous person has explored their fullest potential in all aspects of his or her life. Brian would certainly be in the top 10 for that list, wouldn’t you think? How many world-renowned professionals in any discipline have attained a PhD in an unrelated field, written three books, is an active supporter for charitable causes, and — best of all — built a musical instrument that is as good, if not better, than anything commercially made? Not too many.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brian draws inspiration from Spain

Media Moment: Musicians as Artists book
Queen-related: Brian featured

I remember flipping through a book called Actors as Artists many years ago and seeing such thespians as Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman gracing its pages with their paintings. So when I saw Musicians as Artists, I wondered if anyone from Queen would show up.

We all know that Freddie went to art school and presumably left some kind of tangible legacy of works behind, but he was no where to be found in the pages of this compilation. I did find an entry for Brian, however, which I did not expect to see given what we know about his personal interests.

The subject matter of Brian’s woodcut offers, I believe, some insight into what was going in his life at time. Obviously, Brian was involved with the Seville Guitar Legends concert in Spain in October of 1991 so this woodcut was made the summer before his appearance in Seville, according to Brian’s quote in the book:

“I always find excursions into visual art refreshing. While it’s being created, my own music is something quite obsessive; it’s always jostling my mind. Pictures let me out into a wider world. This one was done with my girls in California one summer.”

I think we can assume that when he and his girls did this woodcut he had been invited to the Guitar Legends concerts so it was on his mind in the months leading up to the show.

Was this flamenco guitar image a result of him doing research into Spanish culture and thus is an homage to the host city? Whatever the case, the type of guitar he depicts is an interesting diversion from what we’d expect from a rock guitarist — no electric guitar here.

I suspect that Brian was still on a flamenco high from Queen’s collaboration with Steve Howe when Innuendo was released in February of that same year. That, and his upcoming invitation to the Seville concert, probably put Brian in a Spanish state of mind. All of which would be rendered moot shortly after the Seville concert when Freddie died a month later.

I wonder if Brian did any visual art in response to Freddie’s death?