For months, it seems, everyone has been raving about the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody. On the weekend I finally got to watch it myself.
Queen is one of those bands I grew up with. I wasn’t an early fan, but within a few years I remember raving over A Night at the Opera, which is a great album. I recall vividly when Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single, extravagant and way over the top, and especially the music video that accompanied it. Come the eighties I was a pretty solid fan who owned a couple of albums by them. And it was pretty hard to ignore Freddie Mercury who, as his name suggests, was mercurial and talented and deliciously camp. You had to love him.
That’s one of the things that comes out in the movie. At times he was a right proper arse, but overall he was a warm and endearing personality given to excess. That meant there were times he was frustrating and unreliable, but it also gave rise to his talent and made him the affectionate and loving personality that he was. It’s the thing that probably killed him too.
There were things in this movie I hadn’t been aware of before, and remain uncertain about, but basically it followed the arc of their career from fledgling days to the triumph at the Live Aid concert in 1985. For me, I was interested in the musical side. They had some great songs – my favourites being Love of My Life (beautiful and real), Somebody to Love (lush harmonies), and Under Pressure (w. David Bowie), but there were a dozen others nearly as good. They were a great band in an era when great bands were a thing, unlike now.
I reckon a lot of the positive vibes towards this film are thanks to musical memories and raw nostalgia. I get that. It was what got me. It was well made and acted though formulaic, a fond movie no matter that ultimately Freddie would die of AIDS off-screen. That’s what gave the movie its meaning though.
Before that, I watched a documentary about Sam Cooke. Now he was well before my time, and died when I was only a few months old, but there came a time in my life that he was heavy on my soundtrack. I didn’t grow up with him but he informed my life at a formative time, from about the mid-eighties I guess. I don’t know what started it, but I suspect it was his smooth and simple crooning that affected me at a time when I was discovering all my romantic possibilities.
That’s the simple beauty of much of his music, a velvety, heartfelt voice expressing sentiments that everyone could connect with. They were elemental truths housed somewhere in the warm part of our soul. There were times in that period when I was a dreamy romantic and he was a guiding light who summed up my hearts desires so well.
But then there was another side of Sam Cooke. This documentary showed that very well – the entrepreneur, the activist, the fiercely intelligent and independent man who had a vision of a better world. He was a fascinating individual and might have become a great man besides a great artist had he lived. He died controversially, his name sullied, and it has been shrouded in mystery and outrage ever since – and for good reason.
When I came to him it was his romantic tunes like You Send Me, Wonderful World and Cupid that drew me in, but as I delved more deeply into his career I discovered his more serious compositions, great musically but profound in their message of hope. A Change is Gonna to Come and Bring It On Home To Me are heart-rending classics.
It’s great music. I like Queen plenty, but if I were ever asked to choose then Sam Cooke would be one of those few dozen discs I would take with me to my desert island. (Marvin Gaye and Nick Drake would be a couple of others top of my head).