Friday, October 30, 2009

Real Fear

At least once a year, usually around this time, I’ll watch The Exorcist. Along with Jaws, this movie was responsible for many childhood nightmares and fears. Jaws scared me out of the ocean the summer I saw it, when our family made its annual trip to Point Pleasant, NJ. With The Exorcist, I made the mistake of staying up late one night and watching it by myself on HBO. (Yes, HBO was around back then, in a radically different format. Showing hit movies like that, but also a lot of 70s dross, repeatedly, most of which I now own on DVD because the movies are so burned into my mind.)

I watch now not just for the scare tactics, but the actual stories that go along with the movie. I love the side story of Father Damien Karras, who has his own shit going on besides dealing with this demon. He’s a trained psychiatrist, who went into the priesthood and finds himself middle-aged, burned-out at his job (counseling other priests), questioning his own faith and racked with guilt because he’s living away from his aging/ailing mother, who lives alone in a rundown New York City neighborhood. (It looks like Hells Kitchen when he goes to visit her … brilliant, gritty display of how far New York had slipped in the 1970s). She falls deathly ill, he goes to visit, she rebuffs him because he wasn’t there to help her in any sense, his uncle makes him feel like an asshole because he didn’t use his psychiatric background to make more money and ensure his mother wouldn’t wind up in a grubby city hospital ward …

This is great stuff! Father Damien is one of my favorite 70s movies characters, someone I take inspiration from, a role model of sorts. I love the scene where he confesses his lack of faith to a fellow priest … in a Georgetown bar, over beers and cigarettes, listening to the Allman Brothers on the jukebox! (Once on a messageboard, I noted how cool I though this was, only to have some Catholic nut jump on me for degrading the church. Bullshit. If anything, showing priests in that light only makes them more human and easier to understand. I had enough of that “priests are sacrosanct” nonsense from my grandmother … and we both went to a parish where our priest in the mid-late 70s was later nailed for pedophilia. Horrifying to think that if my grandmother had her way and pushed us down the altar-boy path that we would have been more open to an attack from this monster.)

But being older, something occurs to me about The Exorcist that hadn’t before. So, this demon comes along and takes over the body of this little girl. What’s the logic? Why? Let’s say this happens, everyone knows it’s happened, and everyone in her life just throws up their hands and says, “OK, let’s accept the demon, life goes on.” No locking him up in a bedroom to rattle off a vast array of special effects. Talking backwards in latin? That’s cool. Nice trick. Let’s put him on The Dinah Shore Show.

Let the demon to school. Ride the bus. Go bowling. Interact with other people. Go to McDonalds. Demon’s got to eat, too! Have a birthday party for the demon. Cake, ice cream, projectile vomiting and head spinning. Hooray!

I’d say the demon in the movie suffers from poor social skills because he’s locked up in a dark bedroom in a little girl’s body. Let him circulate. Let evil walk among us. The demon’s not such a bad guy. He just felt the need to pop into a little girl’s body for a few days to remind us all that the devil is real, as opposed to us sensing true evil exists in various “world gone wrong” scenarios that are very real, but not self evident that they are the work of a dark spiritual force. Sooner or later, the demon will get bored and go away. If a demon can do something wild like that, inhabit a person’s body, why not shoot big and go after heads of state, thus causing real evil with some surely horrific decisions? Why some powerless little girl? People are people. There is no “demon shield” around presidents and generals. It’s always struck me that true evil is ambitious, wants everyone to know how truly awful and terrifying it is. Not something we have to shake our heads about and wonder if it really exists.

The axis of fear that movie creates is based on that sense of isolation and claustrophobia, being stuck in a small, dark room with this awful thing. Let it out. Isn’t evil all around us? It would blow my mind to be on a subway train, and a little girl with yellow cat eyes would turn her head completely around and start telling me weird family secrets in my dead grandmother’s voice. Why not? Why reserve that sort of mind-bending shit for a dark bedroom?

I remember as a kid, my main fear with The Exorcist was going to bed at night (because the story took place in a child’s bedroom), rolling over, and seeing that horrible demon face inches from mine. Or raising myself up and looking out the window over my bed to see that face. I was immobile many nights because of that fear. But sooner or later, I realized, a greater fear would be to roll over and see a real person there, someone breaking into the house, you know, real shit that happens all the time, as opposed to something from a movie screen. A home intruder is a very real fear … so now I have to worry about this other-worldly shit, too, that never seems to happen to anyone I know?

Lately, I’ve been catching the show Ghost Adventurers on the Travel Channel (seems to be the same show as Ghost Hunters on Scy Fy Channel). (Edit: I've looked it up, and both shows have different teams, but it's hard to tell them apart as they're so physically similar.) It’s about a paranormal research group from Rhode Island who go around “testing” various sites infamous for paranormal activity. You know, abandoned asylums, old prisons, mansions, Indian burial grounds that are now more traditional suburban sprawl, etc.

I got no problems with the guys themselves, despite their “we’re serious, man!” demeanor that comes off like unironic Ghostbusters. Some of the shows I’ve watched, genuinely weird shit happens – unexplained noises, doors shutting by themselves, what could be voices … a few even had members of the team being visibly scratched by unseen forces.

Or at least it looked that way. At two in the morning. Filming each other in pitch blackness with final product that was clearly edited to include numerous camera shots.

And THAT’S my problem with the show. From what I understand, all the equipment these guys use – the normal video cameras, infrared cameras, heat-sensitive cameras (to pickup any type of physical warmth that an apparition might leave behind), the audio recording equipment, the electro-magnetic field sensors (to sense what could be unseen presences) – probably WORKS BETTER in broad daylight, with lots of lighting for the cameras.

They’re wandering around abandoned insane asylums at two in the morning, filming each other in less than optimal circumstances to capture any image that may appear to them, much less an other-worldly apparition. I don’t think ghosts, demons, poltergeists, or whatever, would subscribe to the concept that they can only come out and scare people at two in the morning. You hear a strange sound in that kind of environment, it might just be rats scurrying around the next empty room over. Or some stray sound that carries from a few miles away. Most of what they film and claim to be paranormal seems like questionable bullshit – whether it’s staged, or just something I’d much rather see filmed in broad daylight with real lighting so there’s no mistaking it. If they seriously wanted to film this stuff as evidence, they wouldn’t be going about it this way. Fucking high-school kids work this way – like Scoobie Doo! These guys should be riding around in a '75 Chevy Van with a talking dog.

Of course you’re going to be on-edge wandering around places like that in the middle of night. If you were a genuine scientist looking to validate or invalidate paranormal activity, you wouldn’t be going about it in such a half-assed, purposely vague manner. (I know … they’re playing up the fear factor for TV.) Try walking down a stone staircase you’ve never seen before in the middle of the night with 20 lbs. of equipment on your back and only a small camera light to guide your way … you are not going to be in a relaxed, lucid state of mind. You’re going to panic at every sound, every glint of light, every cold draft of air, etc. Regardless of whether that was a staircase where a fiend raped and strangled a five-year-old girl in 1898, or just some staircase.

And I’m having a hard time figuring why abandoned insane asylums are such horrible places, aside from kids and horror movies romanticizing their plight. I thought the gist of this whole paranormal thing was people dying/leaving the earth violently, and their troubled spirits hanging around afterwards. Of course, if this was true, lower Manhattan, after 9/11, would be wall-to-wall ghosts, day and night, thousands of them … but have there been any reported sightings down there? I’ve read of a few incidents of construction crews in Manhattans uncovering slave graveyards in their excavations … shouldn’t the spirits of those same slaves have been wandering around those apartments and office buildings scaring people for centuries afterwards, since their resting place was defiled, as we’ve seen in so many horror movies?

People have surely been abused horribly at insane asylums, but there’s a huge difference between electro-shock therapy and lobotomies, and violent death. I guess the image of crazy people in straightjackets plays on another irrational fear with people (especially younger people, at whom most of this stuff seems aimed) – loss of sanity – thus when one of these places closes down and becomes abandoned industrial zone decades later, ooga-booga, here comes the crazy ice-pick killer ghost at two in the morning, making sure to dodge the stray gangs of kids having beer bashes in the basement because it’s so fucking cool, man. An abandoned insane asylum, dude!

Whatever. You know what real horror is? Watching a loved one waste away and die. Learning someone you know has died violently. Being diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Losing huge sums of money. Child abuse. Violent crime. War. You know … real things that happen to real people every day. We have enough bad shit to ponder without silly shit like ghosts, demons and vampires entering the picture after darkness falls. If those things are real? I sure as hell haven’t seen them – then again, I’m not looking for them either. And the guys who are seem like a bunch of manipulative ass clowns, at least based on what’s shown on TV. It would seem to me evil spirits would have bigger fish to fry than making a chair move to mess with some paranormal activity expert’s head. Maniacs are stockpiling automatic weapons and ammunition to take out innocent people in schools and shopping malls … yet we still need to pump ourselves full of rollercoaster-ride fear to convince us that true evil exists?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The McDonald’s Syndrome

I drink a lot of water at work. It’s a health thing, on top of which my body heat is way up when I rush to the office every morning. A cup of hot tea? I don’t know how people do it. Even on the coldest days of winter, I feel my body running hot when I get into work. Need water. Will drink two or three 20-oz. cups at work, along with a can of soda after lunch.

I like ice with my water. Not a lot, a cube or two. Some places I’ve worked have had ice machines, the one I’m at now doesn’t. We depend on ice trays in the freezer, and the mercy of fellow coworkers filling them up when necessary. I care about the issue enough that I went out to Bed, Bath and Beyond one weekend and bought two solid Rubbermaid ice trays, as the ones we had at work were cracked and leaking. I like ice!

It’s recently come to my attention, via the ice-tray issue, that I have to deal with another crackpot coworker. Every place I’ve ever worked has had crackpot coworkers. People who aren’t necessarily bad or evil; they’re just crazy. No other way to put it. Something wrong with them. Those graceless peasants in the Transylvania night, the ones with pitchforks and torches chasing down a werewolf or Frankenstein monster? They’ve been my coworkers in so many NYC offices. Not very intelligent, easily misled, fearful … but ultimately not evil people. Wandering around the woods at two in the morning in lederhosen and straw hats, under a full moon, with faces as blank as the orb they gaze up at.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but New York City has some of the best tap water in the world. I can vouch for this. One of the few under-rated and genuine things about living here. This is obviously because the water flows down an intricate pipeline system from much more pure reservoirs 100 miles upstate. It’s clean and tastes great. Read this report if you need any convincing.

I’m a good guy with filling up ice trays – obviously, I use a lot of ice, therefore it’s only fair that I should fill the trays when I see them empty. I’ll do this in the morning if I see a tray running low, and at night before I leave, I’ll go to the lunch room and fill up trays on my way out of the office to ensure that there’ll be fresh ice when I get in the next morning.

But lately, something weird has been happening. I’ll go into the lunch room in the morning, and the trays will be relatively full. Fine. After lunch, when I go back with my water cup, looking to get a few cubes for my daily can of soda, each of the three trays will be filled with water and nowhere near frozen: not once ice cube to be had for anyone for the rest of the work day. (Sidenote: let’s not get into the nutcases who leave bags of food in the refrigerator for weeks, sometimes to the point where the rotting stink of whatever they have in there permeates the taste of the ice cubes. Sometimes it seems like they’re leaving rotten, maggot-ridden goat’s heads in brown paper bags.)

For weeks, I was perplexed: were people really using this much ice? How could they … 36 ice cubes, gone in two hours? It didn’t make any sense. From what I’ve seen, only a handful of people use the ice trays in this place – and the state of the two trays they had was awful before I went out and bought two new ones.

This was a mystery until earlier this week. There’s a group of women who sit at the main table in the lunch room every day around 1:00 in the afternoon. Like clockwork: they’re always there, all from the same department (not mine, thankfully), usually carping and gossiping about coworkers in a way I find depressingly familiar. The vibe they put out is like head bulls in a maximum security women’s prison. It’s THEIR table and they’re going to SIT THERE and TALK SHIT on their LUNCH HOUR. All that’s missing are orange jumpsuits and a big butch girl with a mullet and spider web tattoo on her neck.

Well, the other day, I went back in shortly after 1:00 to get ice for my soda. When I did, I noticed something odd. One of the women from that group had two ice trays out on the counter. One was in the freezer, and it was full, so I cracked out two cubes, dropped them in my cup, got my soda and left. As I was leaving, I noticed this woman was cracking out the ice cubes into the sink, and then walking over to the drinking fountain on the other side of the lunch room to refill the tray with that water.

I didn’t confront her, but mystery solved. This crackpot was/is under the impression that the water from the drinking fountain is somehow better than the water coming from the tap. (Again, refer to that handy PDF file I provided above re: NYC tap water. There are actually people selling this stuff for $1.50 a bottle!) I’m wondering how she could even tell the difference! (Of course, she can’t: she’s insane.) I have noticed one difference, because I’ve had to re-fill the trays a few times from the drinking fountain when the sink was clogged. The water from the fountain tends to make for more brittle/crackable ice cubes, possibly because of whatever filter is installed on it? I don’t know, but it really makes no difference to me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the ice cubes created from the tap. (I’ll use water from the fountain to drink only because it comes out so cold – tap never gets near as cold. They even have a water cooler next to the fountain – I guess to assuage the next level of neurotic nutcases who can’t drink from a public fountain.)

Such a minor thing, but when you’re having a ragged day at work, is it too much to ask that some mental patient doesn’t spend her time cracking out trays of perfectly good ice cubes into a sink, thus fucking over her coworkers for the rest of the day (and when it’s 90 degrees and humid in NYC …), thus ensuring that no one has ice because she has some weird, unfounded and completely idiotic phobia about NYC tap water? Lord help me if this woman ever sees me using tap water for ice cubes and makes an issue out of it – I’ll try to be civil. Some conversations in New York, the best way to end them would be to slam a butterfly net down over the other person’s head and break out the straight jacket: this is such a case.

The kicker to all this: this is an employee of the month! That’s another oddity about the work place that a few of us have noticed. The committee that chooses the employee of the month, who is honored in the monthly email newsletter, almost always chooses the most prickly, annoying, pompous, hard-to-deal-with workers as the winner. Not just that … the motherfuckers often choose themselves! Nearly each person on that committee has been employee of the month at one time or another. They nominate each other, slap each other on the back, and their strange little world spins on its crooked axis.

I’ve never had to deal with this woman directly, but the few times I have indirectly, I’ve caught vague whiffs of self importance and bad manners (both of which run rampant in my work place). The people I’ve noticed winning employee of the month the past few months, dear lord, getting help from them, in my experience, has been like pulling teeth. Granted, a lot of them have awful jobs (Accounting Dept. staff, legal assistants, I.T. drones, etc.), and they’re suffering from what I call The McDonald’s Syndrome. Simply stated, the McDonald’s Syndrome, named after the fast-food chain and its teenage employees, is when a worker who deals with awful and abusive people all day then becomes awful and abusive himself. I’d never thought of it, but the Stockholm Syndrome referred to with terrorists and their kidnapped prisoners often comes into play at work, too. Many people I’ve worked with suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, substituting upper management for terrorists and themselves for the prisoners. Sooner or later, they start thinking the same warped way, even though it in no way benefits them and they are, in fact, wage slaves afraid to leave a given position, lest they never find another. They're like Patty Hearst packing a machine gun in a bank.

But I think I need to be more concerned with McDonald’s Syndrome because, truth be told, I can see that I, too, will be suffering from it if I keep letting people like the queen of the ice-cube trays get under my skin. There are a lot of bad workers where I work. Newsflash: there always have been wherever I’ve worked! There must be some well-run, fair-minded companies out there, but I gather they must also be very small and not advertising their enlightened state of being. As with terrorist cells, you’d need numerous federal agencies working in tandem to track down these companies. Or, you could just fall into them by chance. But I’m convinced it’s virtually impossible to have a sane, well-run, fair company with anything more than 20 employees, and even then, you’re more than likely to have a few bad eggs throw in the mix to keep things interesting. This is what happens with money. When there are opportunities to make it, and lots of it, you will always attract unsavory characters, in whatever role they’re cast. It’s a given, and simple common sense to recognize as much.

You know what they didn’t tell you in high school? And surely didn’t tell you in college? That the rest of your adult work life will be exactly like high school! You don’t like high school? Bad news … most companies I’ve worked for have been just like high school. Cliques, big men on campus, weirdoes, people who pick on and humiliate others for no clear reason, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, counterfeit authority figures … motherfucker, they’re in every place I work! College was like an oasis in comparison, and not indicative of how adult life would go in terms of working for any company. That was a highly idealized view of the world, that cost money to visualize, and I strongly suspect actually working at a college would represent an endless sea of red tape, bullshit politics and head games just as bad as you’d find in any major corporation. Still, it was nice to be pampered like that for a few years, on our little Mount Olympuses, thinking the world would spin around our philosophical musings and whimsical delights of the mind.

That shit doesn’t work in the real world. I wish it did. But just like high school, you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with ice-cube tray queens. They’re not responsible for your sense of well being, and you know if they were, they’d be pissing on it like a cow on a flat rock.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Gayest Song Freddie Mercury Ever Wrote

For teenagers, there are certain bands that are “theirs” completely. By this, I mean the kids are following a current band that is at its creative peak, and there’s just something about that age, that time in life, where an unbreakable bond is made between lifestyle, taste, memory, etc. Years later, the adult will play that music, and it will still make the same kind of sense. Inside, the adult will feel like he’s 15 again, or at least relate back to that sense he had of the world at that time. I wouldn’t even call this nostalgia, as it’s not longing for a return of those days. It’s basic memory.

I’m not ashamed to say that Queen and the Electric Light Orchestra were surely my bands in that category circa the mid-to-late 70s. Sure, I was into 60s gods like The Kinks (especially), Beatles, Stones and Who, and just getting over my first big rock star, Elton John, but those two bands came right along just as I was becoming a teenager and rode out their best years into my young adulthood. They were cheesy in many ways – critics looked down on both bands at the time. (I would, too, as I grew into more new wave/alternative music a few years later, but I eventually came back to them. Damn few of those 80s bands I favored at the time hold up to my 70s favorites.)

But I can listen to both bands today and, especially compared to what’s followed over the years, recognize a great pop sense (with classical leanings) and production values that both bands had, and the critics were misguided. I think a lot of the negativity rock critics had in the 70s towards successful rock acts was based on the fact that they had no control over bands like Queen and ELO, i.e., their bad reviews didn’t mean shit to the fans. Thus, if you were to rely solely on critics’ reviews and not have any experience with the music, you’d get a very lopsided, dishonest view of the pop music culture at the time. (Hey, I just described your average VH-1 documentary: the losers rewrite history!)

The one thing I often come back to with Queen is the fact that none of us, as teenage fans, seemed to grasp that Freddie Mercury was flamingly, way out-of-the-closet gay. It’s painfully obvious to me now, has been for decades. But at the time, either none of us knew, or we were so used to British rock stars being so effeminate and purposely blasé about their sexuality (see David Bowie, another 70s hero of mine), that it just didn’t matter to us. Compare and contrast to today, where you have artists either marketed as openly gay, or dominant popular genres so intolerant of gay culture (hiphop, metal, country) that they somehow seemed to have burrowed farther back in the time than the 70s to values a thousand times more closed than the “whatever” attitude so many of us were raised with back then. It’s a strange environment of progression and regression at the same time.

But, man, Freddie Mercury was flaming as a tailpipe on a 76 Nova, no two ways about that. And I mean that as a compliment, because it was so clearly part of his character and who he was. Queen wouldn’t have been Queen without a real “Queen” running the show. I wrote about this phenomenon close to a decade ago for, recalling one of the tougher guys in our high school having an extremely gay Circus magazine centerfold poster of Freddie in a silver lame leotard and ballet slippers on the inside of his locker. That’s how it was. You sort of understood that even if the guy was gay, man, he knew how to rock hard, and that’s all that mattered to most kids.

But lately I’ve been thinking of those “warning signs” in Queen’s music that were present all along the way – nearly all their albums had Freddie Mercury-penned songs that, in retrospect, are flaming. At the time, I would sort of just shake my head and think, “There goes Freddie again!” Not quite getting that this was just a talented gay man slipping into the more vaudevillian, song-and-dance man vibe of his being. The big tip-off should have been when he changed his look from long-haired rock god to mustachioed leather tough guy. I recall seeing the Al Pacino movie Cruising (watch this youtube clip for one of the funniest dance scenes you’ll ever see) around that time, populated with guys in leather bars who looked just like Freddie Mercury, yet, even then, it didn’t fully click that the guy was gay.

It was also the times. You had Elton John admitting he was bisexual circa 1976, which was a huge thing at the time, despite, again, it seeming fairly obvious that this was the case. And even he went on to marry a woman in the 80s to somehow “talk” himself out of being gay, whereas he simply made peace with himself when the marriage floundered and accepted who he was. When someone living the relatively sheltered “do anything you want to do” life of a superstar goes through those kinds of head games, you can grasp that society in general wasn’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for gay folks.

What was the gayest song Freddie Mercury ever wrote? I’m a big Queen fan, so for me it’s easy to go back through the catalog and figure this out, at least with my interpretations. There are obvious songs, like “Killer Queen” and “Play the Game.” And really odd/hard possibilities like “Get Down, Make Love” that I’d rather not think about. (And for the record, the gayest-sounding song Queen ever recorded, the theme from the movie Flash Gordon, was written by lead guitarist Brian May.) But there are certain songs that I recall playing at the time, and some internal “gadar” going off although I didn’t fully grasp what it meant at the time. I can only wonder what my Dad thought as he passed by bedroom and heard some song that sounded like drag queens doing an old vaudeville number. Then again, he was so disgusted with rock and roll in general that it all sounded awful to him, so he probably didn’t discriminate.

Without further adieu (a phrase Freddie probably loved), my top five of the gayest songs Freddie Mercury ever wrote:

5. Seaside Rendezvous. Sample lyrics:

I feel like dancing - in the rain
Can I have a volunteer ?
Just keep right on dancing
What a damn jolly good idea
It's such a jollification - as a matter of fact
So tres charmant my dear

Queen had a nasty habit of recording these cheesy vaudeville numbers that were totally out of place on their albums (but made sense with their “anything goes” image). Brian May had one with “Good Company” on their landmark A Night at the Opera album, on which “Seaside Rendezvous" also appears. The rest are all Freddie’s doing. In retrospect, this should have been b-side material – it just wasn’t their image! Granted, you could tell, Freddie got a perverse kick out of prancing through numbers like this, but your average 70s rock fan … try to imagine a parking lot full of 70s teenage metal heads jamming to “Seaside Rendezvous.” You can’t, because they didn’t. What a damn jolly good idea? Who the fuck talked like that? No one … save Freddie Mercury!

4. Bring Back That Leroy Brown. Sample lyrics:

And unless I be mistaken
This is what she said
"Big bad, big boy, big bad Leroy Brown
I'm gonna get that cutie pie"

This may be the worst song Queen recorded. As far as I’m concerned, Freddie wrote the best songs of all of them. (Each member wrote songs, and they all had hits, too.) “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a life-changing song for me. Every album is packed with great ballads. “March of the Black Queen” from Queen II is a lost masterpiece of hard rock. “Death on Two Legs,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Somebody to Love” … the guy wrote hits.

But “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” … man, it’s gay. Just listen to it. I have to wonder what the other guys in the band did when Freddie brought this song around to the studio. Did they look at each other, shake their heads and mutter, “Dude, what the fuck?” But I guess every great band operates on compromise. Imagine how The Beatles felt when McCartney rolled out “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It must have been like eating a shit sandwich. But, bigger picture, they knew he’d also bring in a handful of songs that were sure hits and the kind of music they loved to play. Who knows, maybe they enjoyed the respite of tossing off a “Leroy Brown” style ditty every album to lighten up the studio?

3. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy. Sample lyrics:

Ooh let me feel your heartbeat (grow faster, faster)
Ooh ooh can you feel my love heat
Come on and sit on my hot-seat of love
And tell me how do you feel right after-all
I'd like for you and I to go romancing
Say the word - your wish is my command

Come on and sit on my hot seat of love? What is that? His lap? Actually, I’m picturing a red, heart-shaped cushion, a big one that two grown men can frolic on. There’s something about the way the band harmonizes on the line “I’d like for you and I to go romancing” that sounds over-poweringly, “just listening to this might turn me gay” sort of gay. A much better song than “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” but still not the song I’d select to have blasting from the 8-track tape deck while driving through the high-school parking lot.

This was from A Day at the Races, then and still my favorite Queen album. Not as flamboyant as the previous A Night at the Opera, but it seemed like the songs were a notch better, even if there wasn’t a monster hit like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This is the one song on the album I could do without! Literally every other song on that album is good. I think they were contractually obligated to have the one song on the album of Freddie fucking around.

2. Don’t Stop Me Now. Sample lyrics:

I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I'm gonna go go go
There's no stopping me
I'm burnin' through the sky yeah
Two hundred degrees
That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic man out of you

Mr. Fahrenheit? Yow. I don’t call anyone Mr. Fahrenheit! Or Mr. Celsius, for that matter. (I once called someone Mr. Kelvin, but he hit me in the face with a frozen banana for doing so.) This song sounds like it was meant for the glee club, that one number where the guys loosen their clip-on ties and do something more “contemporary.” The music teacher/pianist gathers the boys 'round the piano for a leisurely singalong that erupts into a synchronized dance routine with canes and the female members of the club shimmying feather boas.

I actually like this song but recognize someone like Peter Allen or Liza Minnelli really would have done it more justice. When I hear this song, I picture guys in gold and silver leotards jumping through the air while fireworks go off in the background. Then Freddie coming through a bank of fog, riding a gigantic penis with sparks shooting out the head. (I think I missed my calling as a video director.)

1. The Millionaire Waltz. Sample lyrics:

Bring out the charge of the love brigade
There is spring in the air once again ...

My fine friend - take me wiz you unt love me forever
My fine friend - forever – forever

He wasn’t joking when he called it a waltz – this song is done in waltz time. Again, the image is just incongruous with your average 70s rock fan. How many metal bands do you know who do waltzes? Especially with the rejoinder “Bring out the charge of the love brigade”! What is the love brigade? (Cue the guys in silver and gold leotards … only give them Napoleon Bonaparte hats and plastic sabres!)

But “The Millionaire Waltz” is one of those Mercury multi-tiered songs, with soft and hard sections, so you can simultaneously rock out and flounce. I give the song a break because Brian May clearly had a blast doing his “guitar orchestra” thing with the arrangement. And the lyrics above are accurate: “take me wiz you unt love me forever.” That’s exactly what he sang. And I’m sure he meant every word! Was probably wearing a monocle and top hat for effect while he crooned the line in the studio.

Always something to keep in mind with Freddie: the guy started as Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, a British colony, son of a Zoroaster family, went to private school near Mumbar in India, a kid with a tremendous, debilitating overbite, found his calling at a talent show at that private school when he slayed the audience doing Little Richard songs (imagine him rocking out in his school blazer!), family moved to London after political strife in Zanzibar, got more into music, changed his name to Mercury, and Freddie took it from there. To come from that sort of improbable background and do what he did was amazing. Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity!