The World We Lost: Freddie Mercury
Reckoning with the Legend, 25 Years Later
At dusk, we gathered for a final time, forming a circle of hundreds holding hands. A voice – layered, cascading gossamer – filtered around us. A question, booming: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? It called me as though it were the first question ever asked; I surrendered to it, already faithful to the answer yet to come. Around me, the boys and girls I had come to know over the past two months began singing along. Their voices swept across the dark blades of grass, echoing out into the endless sky of that summer night. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' would be our last communion, signaling our return home from a summer spent away at camp. A communion, yes, in the holy sense: that rush of the spirit that fills you, where God or some otherworldly energy announces itself inside you– that is 'Bohemian Rhapsody.'
I would soon come to recognize that this was the case for Freddie Mercury’s voice altogether. Each utterance a sonic dreamscape unto itself, with a vibrato whose shivering imperfection is that which renders it perfect. A voice so enthralling, researchers recently tasked themselves with discovering its unique science. Yet Mercury’s real gift lies in something mystical, spiritual, as his bombastic voice conjures a celestial sensibility. Many of Queen’s songs spread forth into this endless possibility – epic worlds of drama and tumult, of fantasy and play. Songs whose otherworldliness is evoked in their very technique; on ‘The March of the Black Queen’ alone, Mercury’s voice spans two and a half octaves. Further coupled with the prowess of Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury had created an entire cosmos with Queen.
When Mercury died on November 24th, 1991, he took this world with him. This we all know. We must also reckon with that gaping void, one larger than Mercury himself. Disappeared is that sensibility – that transcendental quality only possible when his voice met with the flourish of Deacon’s strings. Every day feels to be a futile exercise in listening for that infinite moment in something else, something new. Perhaps the raging crest and fall of EDM invokes a piece of it: the racing of one’s heart as the song reaches, reaches, reaches – but then we are forced down from a precipice that has now been made clear, bound like Sisyphus to rise and fall again.
Queen’s music, instead, is unexpectedly endless. Each moment sustains, as it reaches into the beyond. This is a power that lies in their sound – which is not to neglect the theatrics and world-making of Freddie Mercury’s stage presence. Rather, it is to say that listening alone can convey a limitlessness in Mercury’s world – an experience seldom found in the cautious, recycled mess of much of today’s popular performance. Was Mercury’s death so cataclysmic that we may never again render this world-making elsewhere? So secular we have seemingly become: the communion, the spirit, and that propulsive transcendence struggle to find their place today.