Nineteen-Ninety-One was a big year for me. I graduated from high school in May and I began my freshman year in college in September. And in between, I fell in love with a rock band: Queen! This was an event that would be at least as important in my life as either of those other two developments. Formed in 1971 by guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, bassist John Deacon, and vocalist Freddie Mercury, Queen became a Worldwide phenomenon in those intervening twenty years, having scores of hit singles and albums around the world, and relentlessly touring Europe, Asia, North America, and pioneering stadium tours in South America. But by the mid-80s, their star had dimmed in the United States, and I had grown up largely unaware of them.
In 1990, the band signed a new record deal with Hollywood Records, a newly established branch of the Walt Disney Company, with an eye toward releasing Queen’s back catalogue on the still growing format of compact disc in North America. A big promotional push kicked off in February 1991 with the release of Queen’s then latest album, “Innuendo” – a record that was widely perceived as a “return to form” album for a band which had moved somewhat in a pop direction during the prior decade. Part of this public relations push was a syndicated TV special called “Queen: The Days of Our Lives”, hosted by Axl Rose (or as he referred to himself in the show, “W. Axl Rose”). Axl was, of course, the lead singer of Guns‘n’Roses, which was arguably the biggest rock band in the business at the time, and consequently a pretty convincing pitchman to a music audience still deep in the throes of glam metal and hair bands.
I watched this show late on a Saturday night and was overwhelmed by this great band that I had been barely aware of: The Songs! The Videos! The Live Performances! And these four really interesting musicians who had built up this great body of work that was all new to me. I was hooked! The next day, I went out to my local music store (anybody remember those?) and bought this new album “Innuendo”, and began steadily consuming this band’s catalogue of music, album by album. By the end of the summer, I was profoundly fanaticized.
As my fall semester began and I matriculated as a college freshman, I started working as a DJ at my college radio station. I had a passing interest in broadcasting at the time and was interested in seeing how I liked spinning records (and some CDs, too). In addition to playing the music, I was required to read news, weather, and sports at the top and bottom of the hour, which arrived in the form of printouts from an old Associated Press wire in the radio station. News stories came across the wire and were printed out on that old dot matrix printer paper, which you tore off and used to put together your little newscast.
By the whims of fate and the scheduling of the station manager, I was working the shift on the afternoon of Sunday, November 24, 1991. I got up from behind the desk and walked into the next room to check the AP wire, and in scanning the headlines, I saw one that made my heart stop.
I learned in subsequent years that Mercury’s health had been the subject of ongoing speculation by the English tabloid press for some time prior to his passing, and that only the day before, Mercury had announced to the world that he had been diagnosed as HIV+ and had developed AIDS, but in those days before easy access to the world wide web, such information didn’t make its way to small town America where I lived.
So what to do? I put on a long record, ran out to my car, and retrieved one of my Queen albums. I returned to the booth, put my stories together, and went on the air. I read the news and ended the segment with the story that the voice of Queen, the great Freddie Mercury, had passed into history, and I played my own little tribute – the most recent U.S. single, the poignant “These Are the Days of Our Lives”, which when released as a single in the U.K. the following week with a reissue of the classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” would become # 1 on the charts. It was a sad day, but I was honored to have the opportunity to bring that music to my little corner of the world and, in a tiny way, to be a part of that history.
And what of Queen? Instead of fading away, the band’s reputation and legend has grown and grown. “Bohemian Rhapsody” blew up the U.S. charts in the spring of 1992 (with some help from its memorable inclusion in the movie “Wayne’s World”). Queen released a posthumous album in 1995 that was a worldwide success. A jukebox musical based on their songs called “We Will Rock You” has played successfully all over the world. The surviving members of the band have had massively successful tours around the world with vocalists Paul Rodgers and later Adam Lambert filling in for – but never taking the place of – Freddie Mercury. And as I type, a feature film biopic of the band’s story – appropriately titled “Bohemian Rhapsody” – has made over $400 million worldwide and is still selling tickets and entertaining audiences.
As Queen has taught us – the show must go on, and I’m happy to have gone right along with it. On with the show!
[Via] Queen Channel