Over the years, Daltrey inspired respect with his singing. Jim Morrison inspired mystery. Paul McCartney inspired affection. Janis Joplin inspired quest. Mick Jagger inspired lust. Bob Dylan inspired thought. Grace Slick inspired cool. Bruce Springsteen inspired faith.
But Freddie Mercury inspired awe. To see him in full throat—the bazooka-length microphone held with a lover's grip; the deep dark eyes giving him a boy-next-door demeanor (if you lived next door to a coffin in a cellar in Transylvania); the tendon cords popping out the sides of his neck like red springs; the voice hitting notes so high, they came out with ice caps on them—was to witness not just excellent ability, but epic.
Freddie Mercury didn't perform, he feasted. He used a microphone as if he were tasting wine out of it. He didn't sing rock 'n' roll, he decanted it.
His charisma was enormous. Charisma is the difference between a singer you wouldn't cross the street to see and a singer you'd cross an ocean to see.
When Mercury took a stage, it was Gable beating down the door to Scarlett O'Hara's bedroom. When he got off the stage hours later, he left you with a dramatic yet subtle sense of cliffhanger, like the latest installment of a Dickens' novel heading into a foreign 19th Century port.
Mercury was the precursor of stadium rock because it took stadiums to hold him. It got to the point where seeing him sing in anything smaller than stadiums would be like seeing Rembrandt paint fingernails.
As much as anyone who ever grabbed a microphone, Freddie Mercury was a trail blazer, a standard-bearer. He sang every form in the business—rock, pop, blues, country, soul, disco, opera—without disgracing any of them.
Music loves to dance in the voice of a great singer and Mercury had a superlative voice—a voice so classical, you figured it was on touring loan from the Bettman Archive, the Smithsonian, or the Louvre. The guy had to stifle his sneezes because of the stained glass in his throat.
It was as if he didn't really "hit" notes: he would more or less sweep them. His voice could go from teddy bear to bear in a millisecond. For your average singer, the only way a throat could drop that suddenly would be if it fell through a trap door.
Leave it that, as rock 'n' roll landmarks go, the Mercury voice had the range of the Matterhorn and the complexity of the Eiffel Tower.
Singing seemed natural to him. You got the feeling that if he hadn't been singing Wembley for a living, he would have been a singing waiter. Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, raised in India, metamorphosed in England, beloved by millions, headed for immortality, he taught himself the arcane principles of singing. He was as obviously as right for music as Pele was for soccer, Monroe for movies, Churchill for politics.
During his twoscore and five years on Earth, Mercury was often called "flamboyant." But his lifestyle would have had to have simmered down quite a bit before he could merely be called "flamboyant." Calling Freddie Mercury "flamboyant" is like calling The Wizard of Oz "nonfictional," or like saying the Johnstown Flood was "wet."
He was, by report, a man with a ripping laughter—a guy who said and did outrageous, eccentric, ostentatious, unpredictable, havocsome things. Mercury came on strong—had a character of many facets, and none of them dripped.
He was one-of-a-kind, but not selfish. As Queen's field general, he didn't use his rock music skill as a self-glorifying pas seul that would lead to better things. Rather, like Jim Morrison before him, he was proud to be part of a rock 'n' roll team.
Not for nothing (and not just for rock 'n' roll senior citizens, either), think back to some rock masterworks and consider what they reveal about their creators.
The Stones sent a red-hot sympathy card. Springsteen hit on running as a birthright. Dylan rolled back a stone and wanted you never to forget how it does feel. John Lennon just imagined. Zep climbed a stairway beyond the stars. Clapton pictured a guy on his knees and pleading.
No surprise, then, that Freddie Mercury rhapsodized bohemianly. 'Tis said he was magnificent to watch but impossible to figure out. No one could get a thermometer on Mercury.
His bearing could go from Machiavelli to Mary Poppins in a finger snap; from Lord of the Flies to Lilies of the Field. He was reputedly as vain as Napoleon, yet as generous as Santa Claus.
In his life's work, he sang songs and performed shows and wrote music and lyrics just how he wanted to. He never sold out. There was more chance of seeing a "For Sale" sign on the Mona Lisa than there was of seeing one on Freddie Mercury.
His lyrics—like his voice and stage show—unveiled stunning vision. The man's written words are about as different from most rock lyrics as broken English is from Queen's English.
To listen carefully to "March of the Black Queen," for example, is to meet someone who knows more secrets than Merlin the Magician. The late singer's writing furnishes one more key facet of his blue-chip talent...