I see a little silhouetto of a man
Will you do the fandango!
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Wayne, Garth, and friends singing "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Life is cyclical; it comes and goes in ebbs and flows. Nobody understands this more than those involved in the entertainment industry. On Friday, you’ve got your screenplay optioned by a major studio or your band signed to a major record label, but by Monday the deal’s fallen through and the execs won’t even cross the street to shake your hand, let alone look at you. Although since its inception in 1970 through lead singer Freddie Mercury's death in 1991, Queen was mostly on the upswing as opposed to the other side of it, and 1992 saw a resurgence of popularity for the surviving members of the band that they never saw coming.
From the small town of Aurora, Illinois, the fictitious characters of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, the hosts of the equally-fictitious cable-access show, Wayne’s World
blasted onto theater screens across the country. They came bearing gifts. Or one gift in particular: a killer scene of the main characters lip syncing along with Queen’s mega-hit from 17 years earlier, "Bohemian Rhapsody." That summer, the song reached the No. 1 spot on the charts for the third time since its release, the previous two occurrences being in 1976 and 1991.
Actual street in Aurora, Illinois
(thanks Paul Sableman)
Long before anyone ever heard of Wayne and Garth, the world was introduced to Brian May and Freddie Mercury. Mercury joined Queen in 1970 after their previous lead singer left the group. He quickly took the reins, shifting the band’s direction toward a much more dramatic and flamboyant act (as well as their name). He insisted that the path to fame would be found in being the best performers in rock & roll. With his painted nails and crazy costumes, Mercury exuded a confidence and swagger on stage bringing Queen to the pinnacle of success by the time their third album, Sheer Heart Attack
, hit the shelves in record stores.
However, it was 1975’s A Night at the Opera
that took the world by storm. Named after the Marx Brothers film of the same title, ANATO
was the most expensive album ever produced at the time. A concept album to end all concept albums, Mercury strove to break all boundaries in both the composition and performance of the entire work. From "The Prophet’s Song" (and 8 minute epic) to "Bohemian Rhapsody," the album was hailed as a masterpiece by most fans and critics.
"Rhapsody" rested at #1 for nine weeks (the first time) and has since been voted the greatest song of all time more than once, not to mention the most expensive single ever made (at that time). The song itself is comprised of several sections as influenced by the multiple movements found in classical compositions. The opening "ballad" segment leads directly into the operatic section and the song is finished off with a heavy rock bit before a quick denouement that reprises the initial ballad. Mercury most likely intended the song to be a mock opera, and his use of double lyrical meaning has aided to the song’s popularity, as fans can interpret various subjects veiled and hidden between the lines.
Real house (in Van Nuys, California) where fictional Wayne and Garth hosted their fictional show
Mercury said (to Record Collector’s
magazine), “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek. Why not?” On the surface, the tune’s guilt-ridden narrator is a young man who’s accidentally killed someone and sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution, he repents, appealing to God and the angels, who regain his soul and bring him to Heaven. Some interpret that Mercury embedded his own personal traumas into the lyrics, and they’re less about the Faustian narrator and more a vulnerable confession.
Mercury and May rode out the song’s success for the next 10 years until they suddenly stopped touring in 1986. Many close friends began to notice Freddie’s gaunt appearance and the rumor began to spread. On November 23, 1991 Mercury confirmed on his deathbed that he had AIDS, and within 24 hours he’d died of bronchial pneumonia. The music world lost a giant that day and Mercury’s legacy continues over 20 years after his death and almost 40 since the initial release of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which seems to rise up the charts with every new generation.
And to parody the hosts of the fictional cable-access television show broadcasting out of Aurora, Illinois would say: "Party on Freddie… Party on."
~ Justin Novelli
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