Monday, May 21, 2012

One departs, one returns

It was the season finale of Saturday Night Live this past weekend. Not only was it Kristen Wiig’s final performance, it featured the return of a British rock legend who’s been on the show before . . . .

Not in the form we had hoped but it was nice to see Freddie pinned up on the set of this karaoke skit. Was that photo of Freddie taken back in 1982 when the band appeared on the show? I’ll have to do some YouTubing to find out if he had the same outfit on.

If it’s not the same Freddie-SNL era shot, I wonder where the set designer picked up the shot. My guess is that they probably had to pay a fee to the photographer to have that image included in a globally distributed television program. If they didn’t, I’m pretty sure the photographer would be sending a strongly worded letter to Lorne Michaels.

As for Jagger, he has a great attitude when it comes to poking fun at himself. He’s also been an on-again, off-again actor through the years with a half dozen SNL appearances to boot.

Watching Jagger roll with the punches made me wonder how Freddie would have done as a guest host; most likely making fun of his own persona during the skits and then kicking it old school as the musical guest. Maybe SNL can do a hologram version of Freddie.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Don’t believe everything you see on Wikipedia

I found this on Simple Wikipedia recently and was stunned to see that Ford had an early division called “Freddie Mercury.” Who knows, with a name like Edsel being used to brand one of their cars, maybe Henry Ford had another son named Freddie and it got attached to a line of Mercuries back in the day.

Problem is, there’s no mention of such a division or even model with this name on any of the Ford/Mercury history sites. 

Checking out the Talk/Change pages on Wikipedia indicates that someone arbitrarily added “freddie” to that sentence when it used to just say “In the 1930’s, the name ‘Mercury’ was given to a division centred on mid-priced cars.”

Methinks someone is just being a smart ass.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Curtain closes on Queen . . .

Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder.

. . . of Disco? Donna Summer is dead. 

While Queen and Donna Summer used the term “Queen” in different ways, I half expected her to cover a Queen tune at some point either in concert or on an album, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it online. What they do have in common is a mutual association with Italian-born record producer/songwriter/performer Giorgio Moroder. He basically kickstarted her early career and remained an instrumental force with her in future years.

I’m not sure when Moroder’s first contact with Queen was but he did own Musicland Studios in Munich where Queen spent much time in the early-to-mid ’80s. Of course, there’s also his collaboration with Freddie on the Metropolis soundtrack while Freddie was in the thick of his solo efforts. Did Donna and Freddie ever meet? If so, it didn’t make the news.

Her quiet battle with lung cancer finally caught up to her today. Apparently, there is some speculation that it was caused by inhaling contaminants while visiting Ground Zero in New York. 

If that ends up being the case, it would truly be unfair.
Freddie Mercury credit: Elien & Johan Copermans
Donna Summer credit: Chris Maliwat / Paul Day
Giorgio Moroder credit: apfelboeck and son

Donna & Giorgio:


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two-and-a-half Queen sightings

Media Moments: Glee and Airplay
Queen-related: WATC and Radio Gaga

I caught two Queen songs being used in television programs today. I say “used” instead of “played” because the meanings inherent in their lyrics were used in some way to propel a storyline along.

The first was a documentary on the history of radio in the United States called Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio. The film is all about the contemporary radio movement in the U.S. and the song snippets used throughout rock radio’s history are pretty much all American artists.

There were a couple of exceptions to this, however. The Beatles make an appearance on American radio (and John Lennon’s death is featured, too), and then Radio Gaga is used repeatedly as a segue between sections of the documentary whenever these kinds of visual title screens (see above) would appear. 

I’ll go out on a limb here and assume it’s because the song has a lot of “radio” in the lyrics, which is great for underscoring the whole radio theme of the video. But why Queen? Wasn’t there an American song they could have used instead so it was more in sync with the American focus of the documentary? I guess not. Besides, Radio Gaga probably speaks to the ebb-and-flow nature of the radio business better than most songs, I would imagine. 

The other Queen song that I noticed being used as a storytelling device was We Are The Champions on Glee. What . . . a Queen song on Glee? No surprise there, I suppose, but since I haven’t watched Glee since the end of last season, I haven’t kept up with the latest developments and had no idea they were going to feature the song let alone use it as the finale for the Nationals episode.

There was some Queen foreshadowing earlier in the episode when Rachel ran into her ex-nemesis, Jesse St. James, and she admitted her respect for his vocal abilities by saying that he nailed Bohemian Rhapsody at last year’s Nationals. (As an aside, although Queen didn’t factor into the song list for the New Directions’ performance at Nationals, a couple of Jim Steinman songs did, so I’m pretty happy about that.)

I must say, though, that whenever Glee does a cover version of a song, they do a pretty good job of it, certainly much better that when American Idol contestants take a go at them.

Employing WATC to round out the celebrations after New Directions won the Nationals song choir championship was apropo. It really captured the emotion of the moment as the Teacher of the Year Award was also presented to Mr. Schue who was brought up on stage during the WATC finale. It reminded me of the finale to the Concert for AIDS Awareness back in 1992 when Liza was directing a similar sing-along.

Speaking of Liza Minnelli, she was on The Talk today but no mention of the Tribute Concert or anything Queen-related when she was asked about current artists that she likes. She did mention Lady Gaga, so I guess that’s an indirect Queen reference.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Marriage Made in Heaven

Media Moment:
Queen-related: Freddie and Jesus illustration

Once again, post-mortem Freddie is getting pulled into the mosh pit of American politics. 

Dwayne Booth (aka Mr. Fish) is an American political cartoonist whose work has appeared in many of that country’s most established publications. His editorial work is so influential, as a matter of fact, that Best Life magazine stated back in 2008 that he was one of “the 10 most important voices to listen to this election cycle.” 

Fast forward four years and Mr. Fish is poignantly underscoring the moral and political battle that’s been brewing in the United States over same-sex marriage by combining the most potent symbols of, presumably, homosexuality and Christianity. Did Obama’s recent outing of support for gay marriage — and the conservative right’s backlash to it — inspire Booth to lay out the issue in a simple illustration and four-line statement? (If it wasn’t, serendipity is once again showing itself wherever Freddie makes an appearance these days.)

Sure it’s a political cartoon meant to connote an idea larger than the subject matter itself but Freddie’s being catapulted to a level never seen before, in my opinion. To go from a comic book character to the husband of Jesus in a few short years is nothing short of miraculous. The title, “Marriage Made in Heaven,” is also a clever double entendre, assuming, of course, that Booth is familiar with Queen’s song catalogue.

There is a lot semiotically going in this image. One could analyze it any number of ways:

• Freddie’s status in the gay community
• Freddie’s real-life achievements compared to Jesus’
• Freddie’s views of Christianity and religion in general
• Jesus’ sexuality
• All of the above through the lens of Democrats and Republicans
• All of the above through the lens of British citizens
• What is Freddie looking at in this shot?
• What the hell is Jesus gawking at?
• Why does Jesus have the pecs of a young Jack LaLanne?
• Wouldn’t Freddie have the typical features of a middle eastern messiah rather than the caucasian-looking son of God?
• Is Freddie really in heaven or down in hell where he said the really interesting people were?
• What would Mary Austin or Jim Hutton think of the portrayal of Freddie being married (As an aside, I guess if you had to lose your partner to someone else, Jesus would be high praise.)
• What about Freddie’s mom and sister?

What would really be a bold move is if Mr. Fish depicted Freddie and Muhammed in a similar embrace. That would not only raise eyebrows but probably a few arms. 

This illustration was also reposted on Pharyngula, the science blog I subscribe to. Some of the comments to this image have been encouraging to say the least about Freddie, Queen, and same-sex marriage. Here’s a sampling of what’s being said over there:

“I miss Freddie Mercury a heck of a lot more than I do Jesus, too.” (PZ Myers) 
“QFFT, and I’ll keep missing Freddie until the Universe finally goes out… <3” 
“I was never really into Queen music growing up, and when Freddie died it had little effect on me. But I was tuning around on cable a few weeks ago and came across a Queen concert on Palladium, and watched. I was mesmerized. Not only was it all the old Queen songs, but I saw this guy working the stage like a virtuoso. Voice and keyboard. Mindblowing stage presence. Absolutely mind blowing. I wish I had gone to at least one of the several Queen concerts I had the chance to go to in my formative years. The world definitely lost something big when he died.” 
“I’d like to think that Freddie had better taste than that. Also, if anyone is getting a second coming, my vote’s for Freddie.” 
“Shit, I don’t think I have listened to Keep Yourself Alive in over two decades.” 
“I like Queen more now then [sic] back in the seventies, when you could not escape Killer Queen. Or their music was lumped in the classic rock ghetto in the eighties.” 
“Freddie may have been a Zoroastrianism by birth but judging from the lyrics of Innuendo at least he was not exactly a fan of religion. I’ve often thought Innuendo would be a good anthem for the secular movement except its too hard to sing.” 
“PS : Loved Queen back in the day. Freddie Mercury was better than Jesus.” 

The last time I recall Freddie and Queen being roped into American politics was when We Are the Champions was sung by a cheering crowd after they had learned of Bin Laden’s death. Before that, though, Queen had been referenced in a pseudo-documentary on the death of George W. Bush. I prefer Booth’s inclusive message, though. It has less to do with violence and competition and more to do with compassion and tolerance . . . things all members of Queen were about.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Jump for Glee

Media Moment: Evening News
Queen-related: Somebody to Love snippet

The unmistakable opening verse of Somebody To Love caught my ear the other night as the six o’clock news played over the TV. Without knowing the details of the news story, I glanced over and immediately assumed that the video footage was for a dinner theatre production of Queen songs.

Hmm. That’s interesting, I thought. How come I hadn’t heard about such a production through the typical Queen grapevine? Oh, that’s because it is a dinner theatre spoof of Glee which happens to feature some Queen songs.

The number of TV Glee characters gets
truncated but Queen songs still play key role
in local dinner theatre production.
Glee, both the TV series and the concert tour featured Queen heavily in the song list, so I’m not surprised that a dinner theatre version would also cover off some Queen. What did surprise me, though, was that Somebody to Love was chosen as the promo clip for the news segment. Even more surprising was that the script for the news anchors specifically mention the music of Queen and no other participating artist. Is that a product of the dinner theatre marketing team trying to find a selling feature for the show, or was it the script supervisor at the TV station that opted to run that angle?

What happened to Madonna? Journey? Fleetwood Mac? Whitney Houston? Surely they’d warrant some mention in the news clip.

When we decided to buy tickets for the show, I asked the ticket office for a copy of the song list since it wasn’t included in the playbill. There are a few staples on there but also a few surprises:

Winnipeg’s online promo for Jump for Glee.
Queen makes an appearance here, too.
Act 1:
Proud Mary
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Hold Me Tight
Express Yourself
Forget You

Act 2:
Under Pressure
You Can’t Hurry Love
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me
Let’s Get It On
When I’m With You
Shout It Out Loud

Act 3:
Somebody to Love
Hello, It’s Me
I Gotcha
Almost Paradise
Everyday People – Jump

From what I could tell, this show has been to at least one other Canadian city — Celebrations Dinner Theatre in Winnipeg. The promo for that show (see above) is considerably less polished than the marketing used for Jubilations here in Calgary. For the Winnipeg gig, though, Queen is again the only band mentioned.

It would be interesting to see a song list from this production. Canadian songs like When I’m With You suggest that there could be a regional flavour to some of the song choices so perhaps the music covers slightly different territory in Manitoba as it does for Calgary. 


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Funerals & Cod Pieces

My wife and I went to see Love Lies Bleeding the other night. If the title rings a bell for you it’s probably because you’re familiar with Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s early catalogue of work. It’s taken from their magnum opus (in my opinion), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which featured his own Bohemian Rhapsody-esque song Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding.

Based here in Calgary, Alberta Ballet pitched the idea to Sir Elton back in 2008 about producing a contemporary ballet based on his life story and set to a backdrop of some of his biggest hits of the early ’70s.

The show debuted in 2010 and was met with favourable reviews. Elton himself had been part of an ongoing dialogue with the production team in revamping the show and the latest iteration had its opening night last Wednesday evening, which was the show that we were lucky enough to catch.

There was actually some buzz going around the auditorium that Elton might make an appearance because he was recently in Alberta on a small-venue tour that included Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Grande Prairie (all cities with populations less than 100,000). Would he show up to his own ballet show? Sadly, the answer was no, unless he was keeping a low profile at the theatre.

The storyline, if you can call it that, follows Elton’s life and personal struggles. It begins with a young boy riding a bike who then becomes an older Elton that is confronted with images of Martin Luther King Jr., Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, and other historical figures that one presumes had some influence on his upbringing and songwriting inspiration.

Such a bevy of personalities at the beginning of the show made me wonder if his good friend Freddie would make an appearance at some point. Elton and Freddie were definitely pretty close as Elton’s appearance at the 1992 Tribute Concert and these earlier photos would attest to.

Speaking of funerals and friends, Elton was one of the select few invited to Freddie’s funeral in 1991. Was this perhaps an indirect nod to the whole Funeral For a Friend connection in the show’s narrative?

As I was watching the show, I kept wondering to myself if Freddie’s death affected him to the same degree that Marilyn Monroe’s did? Did Freddie represent a bit of a role model for Elton who himself was struggling with his own sexuality?

To turn the tables a bit, Freddie had tried his hand (or is it feet?) at performing ballet for real back in 1979 when his good friend at the time, who was a principal of the Royal Ballet, invited Freddie to dance at a fundraising gala along to some choice Queen songs. More on this story and photos from the rehearsal can be read here. This is another great example of his fearlessness. As a matter of fact, didn’t Freddie give an interview about it one time where he doubted if Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart would even dare try it?

Before Elton’s show, Queen had their music put to the ballet test in South Africa back in 2006. Brian gives the details on his soapbox here.

I felt that some of the themes running throughout each song and/or dance performance were rather mature. For instance, there was faux nudity in the dancers’ body stockings, two male dancers kiss at one point, drag queens, and an underlying suggestion of BDSM in the costumes.

Wait a minute, I just noticed a common motif between this ballet performance of Love Lies Bleeding as seen here:

and someone’s depiction of Queen as seen here on one of my tribute picture discs:

Cod pieces. I’ll leave it at that.