Queen fused the dominant strains of Seventies rock (metal, progressive and glam) into a unique style that was at once heavy, glamorous and sophisticated. The ultimate expression of the regal British rockers' genius is the majestic 1975 metal-opera "Bohemian Rhapsody" (from A Night at the Opera ). In this lively interview from April 1975, Queen's suave frontman, the late Freddie Mercury, discusses everything from his influences to his favorite nail polish.
More than anything else, Freddie Mercury wants to be a legend. The vehicle for the 28 year-old "Kensington poseur" is a rock 'n roll band called Queen, and the meticulous Mercury seems to have the situation neatly in hand. He came up with the band's name, he designed their crest (combining the star signs of its members), and he defines their style. "The concept of Queen is to be regal and majestic," he told the English press early in their career. "Glamour is a part of us and we want to be dandy. We want to shock and be outrageous instantly". Freddie's grabbing for glory with all the gusto he's got, and it's a safe bet he wouldn't turn down any M.B.E.'s Her Majesty might want to lay on him.
Freddie's thrust for the top began far away from the heart of the British Empire. Born September 5, 1946 in Zanzibar (an island off the East Coast of Africa), he was the son of a British civil servant. Subsequently he was educated in India, and finally landed on the island of the Anglo-Saxons while still a youth. He went to school at Isleworth and then began Ealing College of Art one year after proto-Who guitarist Peter Townshend left. It was there that he met the boys from Smile in 1968.
Smile was a local group featuring Roger Taylor on drums and Brian May on guitar. Freddie who had been singing with groups since he was 14 years old, was himself performing in small, unmentionable bands while studying the art of Mucha and Arthur Rackham. All the bands in the area used to keep tabs on each others' music and even occasionally traded equipment. In 1970, Smile broke up in general frustration, and Freddie quickly cornered Taylor and May to sell them on his idea for a hotshot band to be called Queen. The pair approved, invited Freddie to join them, and after six months of auditions, the lineup was completed when they signed on John Deacon as their charter bassist.
For months they practiced, playing only small, select shows for their friends and word-of-mouth fans instead of grinding through the usual provincial club circuit. Their big break finally came when two producers, John Anthony and Roy Baker, asked them to make a demonstration tape. Featuring words and music written predominantly by Mercury, the tapes were hawked around until EMI decided they were a good bet.
The first LP, Queen, was an immediate hit in many circles and Queen II, dealing with the theme of "good versus evil," swelled their reputation across the ocean in America as well. Then came the disaster. May was stricken with hepatitis and a royal tour of the states last spring with Mott the Hoople was aborted.
Undaunted, Queen launched their third album in the fall of 1974, Sheer Heart Attack. Cruising behind a single that went to #1 in England, "Killer Queen," the LP's success was assured, and by November Melody Maker was calling them "one of the hottest bands in the nation." Finally, in February 1975, Queen got another crack at touring the States.
Just before they flew over, Circus Magazine Inquisitor Scott Cohen spoke with Freddie. The king of Queen was in a London studio working on the soundtrack for the movie of their Rainbow Theatre concert. His speech was quick, as though his mind were on getting back into the studio.
Circus: Let's start at the beginning, in Zanzibar.
Mercury: Zanzibar? Well, I was born there. I stayed there about three or four years. Then I moved to England. You won't get much from Zanzibar.
Circus: I'm trying to visualize it. Are there palm trees?
Mercury: Well, yeah, it's tropical. It's off the east African coast. That's where my parents were staying. My father worked for the government. He was sort of posted there and I was born there. Then we moved back to London and I've lived here ever since.
Circus: What kind of music do people listen to in Zanzibar?
Mercury: As far as I can remember I guess they were into Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. I'm sure the Beatles got in there.
Circus: What do people do there?
Mercury: I guess play soccer and hockey. There are a lot of beaches there, so I guess they do a lot of swimming.
Circus: Have you ever been to Queens, New York?
Mercury: No, we've only been in New York once. We stayed there a week and were playing every night. Why, what's it like?
Circus: A lot like Zanzibar. It's very tropical, there are a lot of palm trees and lots of beaches. People swim a lot, play soccer and listen to Elvis Presley. What images did you have of New York?
Mercury: It had a very hectic pace. I enjoyed it basically from the reception we got. People were telling us how vicious the city can be, but I enjoyed it. There's so much to see, so it depends on how long you're there for. The record company took us to all the obvious places to go, to all the restaurants, clubs and things. When we come back again, we'll be looking for all the other places.
Circus: What kind of non-musical, non-business type things have you been thinking about lately?
Mercury: There's been nothing non-musical that I've been thinking about lately because we've been doing this film thing, the sound-track for it, and we've been trying to get the tour thing together because we're coming over soon. You know about the Rainbow here? It's sort of the place to play over here and when we played there we did a movie of the show and now we're putting the pieces together. It's going to be called "Queen Live At The Rainbow."
Circus: Do you think Americans idolize rock stars and movie stars because there is no royalty here?
Mercury: Do they? I thought that was finished. I thought that was done in Cecil B. DeMille's time, Mae West. I think they're sort of beginning to idolize rock stars now, aren't they? But not as great as they did in those days.
Circus: Is it hard to embarrass you?
Mercury: Ummm, to be honest, not much embarrasses me actually. It's not embarrassment, but maybe annoyance, that I feel when things aren't going right onstage. It was a funny moment when we played at the rainbow and the power went out on us. That was sort of embarrassing.
Circus: What is your biggest fear?
Mercury: Getting out on time.
Circus: Do you like getting feverish?
Mercury: I can get a buzz of all kinds of things. Just listening to music is a kind of fever.
Circus: What's your favorite form of entertainment?
Mercury: Listening to Jimi Hendrix; Lisa Minnelli; going to art galleries. I like most of the Victorian artists. I like a lot of detail work, water colors, that sort of thing. And popular stuff like Dali.
Circus: Would you like Dali to do your costumes and makeup?
Mercury: Not really. I like him for different reasons. We have Zandra Rhodes do our costumes.
Circus: Would you like to be the first man on the cover of Vogue?
Mercury: That would be great. You never know how true that might be, actually. We're working on it.
Circus: Would you like to date Liza Minnelli?
Mercury: Oh, no. I would like to talk to her, yes.
Circus: What do you think she would tell you?
Mercury: I would just like to meet her after a performance and take it from there. I don't know what she would say to me, or what I would say to her.
Circus: You're both very much into clothes. You could talk about that. Didn't you once sell antique clothes?
Mercury: Yes, some of my best clothes are from that period. They're the clothes I like best. I don't like manufactured clothes.
Circus: Was it actually a business?
Mercury: Yes I got in touch with a friend ... I normally like clothes anyway, and when Queen was semiprofessional I thought I would do something at the same time, and I got an opportunity to get a small boutique in Kensington Market.
Circus: Is there one designer you like most?
Mercury: I have a tailor who makes my trousers and a friend who makes shoes. Ages ago I used to go to Ossie Clark, along with Zandra Rhodes. Circus: I find shoes to be the hardest part of the wardrobe to find.
Mercury: London is full of shoe shops. You can have them made to order. Just go in with your design.
Circus: How large is your closet?
Mercury: Pretty large. I've got a sort of huge apartment in Kensington and I have a huge corridor that's just full of my wardrobe. I could start a shop in there.
Circus: Where would you advise Queen fans to buy their clothes?
Mercury: It really depends, there are so many places. There's a place called Essences, that's a very good place. They seem to get very good quality stuff, but still old, 1920's stuff. If they have the money I'd ask them to go to Zandra Rhodes, because she's got a place where she works and you can buy them off the rail. They're quite beautiful.
Circus: Do you think clothes make the man?
Mercury: It depends upon what kind of person you are. For what we do, clothes are very important, and if you know where to get them it helps.
Circus: Do you spend a lot of time in front of the mirror?
Mercury: If I have time, yes. I'm a very vain person and, yeah, I do.
Circus: Do you ever think about the mirror while you're in front of it, what effect your image has upon it?
Mercury: No, I don't go that deep into it. I have other things to think about. I have quite a few at home, different shapes and sizes, but I don't think there's any kind of chemical reaction.
Circus: Could you compare yourself to another human being?
Mercury: No way. I think I'm totally original. I'm sure there are many people who see themselves in me, but that's to them. I'm me, basically, and that's how I like to be.
Circus: What brand of nail polish to you use?
Mercury: I used to use Biba. That's another nice shop people can go to. It's really a beautiful shop done up well. When fans come over here, that ought to be the first place they go. I used to use Biba black nail polish, but I changed. I got minor's now. Black seems to be the color for me.
Circus: I'd like to know what you think about these people: Jimi Hendrix, Liza Minnelli Led Zeppelin ....
Mercury: Jimi Hendrix is very important. He's my idol. He sort of epitomizes, from his presentation onstage, the whole works of rock star. There's no way you can compare him. You either have the magic or you don't There's no way you can work up to it. There's nobody who can take his place.
Liza, in terms of sheer talent, just oozes with it. She has sheer energy and stamina, which she gets across the stage, and the way she delivers herself to the public is a good influence. There is a lot to learn from her. Led Zeppelin is the greatest. Robert Plant is one of the most original vocalists of our time. As a rock band they deserve the kind of success they're getting.
Circus: How about your fans, the Linneys family?
Mercury: They're great. They come to our shows, write letters, send presents, got to know us. We seem to attract quite a few families. The daughters like us and they bring their families. It's great. Brian gets on with the Linneys daughter.
Circus: The electric light?
Mercury: Very important to our act. We've got quite a light show that we carry around. We've taken a lot of time out to work with them. Lights enhance all our songs differently.
Circus: Which queen in a deck of cards do you identify with most?
Mercury: The Queen of spades. I get the feeling it's more like me. It's very arrogant and I'm arrogant. I also think the Queen of Spades is more vain than the other ones.
Circus: What are your favorite sports?
Mercury: I like Ping-Pong and I like athletics, swimming, hockey.
Circus: Have you ever met a plaster-caster?
Mercury: No, what is it?
Circus: In the late sixties there were two girls who were famous for making plaster casts of famous rock stars' erections. Cynthia Plaster-caster is the most famous of them.
Mercury: Is she still around?
Circus: I think she retired at the end of the "summer of love."
Mercury: Too bad I never heard of her. How many did she do?
Circus: I don't know, maybe thirty or forty. She had quite an exhibit.
Mercury: I'd like to meet her when I'm in town.
Circus: I don't know how you would go about that. How do you invest your money?
Mercury: At the moment I don't get any. I spend it as soon as I get it, on a house, clothes, paintings. I love going to restaurants and spending money on good food.
Circus: What do you do with your left hand that you don't do with your right?
Mercury: Oh, umm, I play better piano with my right hand than I do with my left. There's more things I don't do with my left hand than I do with my right. I'll tell you one thing, I only wear nail polish on my left hand. It's the only hand I'll wear black nail polish on. I only need it on one hand. Circus: Do you think your figure has been an important part of your success?
Mercury: It helped. We have a very strong image that we get across in our music. It's important, the way you look, the way you play .....
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