(An abridged version of this essay appeared in Bohemian Rhapsodies: True and Authorized Tales by Queen Fans & Celebrities, compiled and edited by Robyn Dunford and Kelly Franke (Rock N Roll Books, 2011)
I discovered the rock band Queen when I was nine years-old. I came to them younger than most, but at the same time, later than those who knew better. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon came to me through the airways of WNEW on a summer afternoon in 1980, while hanging out with my sister Mary in my brother Nick’s room. I say I came to them late because in 1980, Queen had just released their album, The Game. “Another One Bites the Dust” was the single that I heard on the radio, and it was my first introduction to the band. While the song remains one of their biggest and most recognizable hits, anyone who knew anything about rock music at the time knew that the band’s work on 1975′s A Night at the Opera, or ’74′s Sheer Heart Attack or even 1978′s Jazz was far superior. By the time I discovered them, they had already released a live record, 1979′s Live Killers, a sure sign that a band had been around awhile.
When I heard “Another One Bites the Dust,” I jumped up on my brother’s bed and started dancing.
“Who is that?” I shouted over the funky bass line to my sister.
“It’s Queen,” she coolly replied.
“I LOVE IT,” I shouted back.
“Nicky has their album,” she said and pulled the eight-track from my brother’s shelf.
And that was it. The combination of Mercury’s soaring vocals and May’s guitar solos were unlike anything I had ever heard before. I was a Queen fan. I lived and breathed the band from that point on, and had plenty of work to do. Once I absorbed The Game, down to knowing exactly when the eight-track would cut off mid-song, I had to track down everything else they had ever recorded.
There was a record store in the same mall in Jersey City where my Dad managed a men’s clothing store and did tailoring work. So on the days I’d go to the store to help him out, I’d take my breaks at WOW Records in search of Queen music. Right off the bat, I discovered 1974′s Queen II, a drastically different sounding record than The Game. While on The Game, the band looked tough and cool in black leather framed by a blue-silver border, Queen II had their four faces on the cover. Their hair was longer and it looked like they were wearing make-up. The inside picture had them sitting together, very close to one another, dressed all in white. Was this the same band? The music offered further complications, as the songs were full of massive choral harmonies and epic song-structures, with lyrics that referenced ogres and white queens and the seven seas of Rhye. What the hell were the seven seas of Rhye? Had the liner notes not stated the names of the band members, there was no way you could have convinced me this was the same band.
Despite the confusion, I loved the songs on Queen II just as much as The Game. More discovery came soon after. I bought A Night at the Opera on cassette, Sheer Heart Attack and News of the World on vinyl. For Christmas I asked for Queen’s Jazz record, and freaked my family out by blasting the hymn “Mustapha” throughout the house. If that wasn’t enough to disturb my parents, Jazz came with a poster featuring hundreds of naked women riding bicycles. At the same time that I was trying to make sense of the progression of this band that I had just become the biggest fan of, my mom and dad were surely trying to make sense of what was happening to their son. It was quite clear, though. Their son had discovered rock n roll.
It wasn’t easy being a Queen fan in the early 80′s, especially in the Jersey City Heights neighborhood where I grew up. I quickly learned that among my friends who were also devouring rock n roll, Queen didn’t demand much respect.
“Whadda’ya a fag?” my friend Jamie asked me once.
“No,” I replied. “Why?”
“Freddie’s a fuckin’ flamer”
“No, he’s not.”
“Whadda’ya kiddin’ me? Look at him. He’s a fuckin’ fag.”
“So what?! He’s da best singer in da world. Who’s betta’?”
“David Lee Roth’s a dousan’ times betta’ den Queen. AC/DC, Black Sabbath, the Stones, why don’t ya’ listen ta some real music ya’ fuckin’ fag?”
It’s true, of course, that Freddie Mercury was gay. I knew it and everyone else knew it. But I didn’t care. If my friends couldn’t get past it, that was their problem. They were MY band. And while they weren’t as cool of a band as AC/DC or Van Halen or The Who in those peoples’ eyes, I was certain they were better than all those bands combined.
But the hardest thing about being a Queen fan in the early 80′s wasn’t even the criticism from my friends, it was the lack of memorabilia with which to outwardly express my allegiance. There were no Queen T-shirts, or posters or hats to wear and tell the world I was z Queen fan. At the local bazaar at St. Nicholas Church, there was a booth where you could win T-shirts, and there were plenty of Iron Maiden, or Van Halen or Rolling Stone shirts, but nothing with Queen on it. I had to resort to getting a T-shirt made at an airbrush painting booth on the Jersey Shore. Call it homemade fan appreciation. I was sad.