The Freddie Mercury Biography – 5 Tips To Rock You!
I read a lot.
I hope you do too. It’s a great way to make the riches of other people’s experiences your own.
The insights, reasoning and wisdom of others that have lived differently than you are gold mines, and the understanding they’ve gleaned by being on a different path can help us better fine tune our navigation towards the things we desire… often faster, and with fewer obstacles.
Whether you read an actual, physical book, read one on a portable computing device, or listen to a book done with voice-overs, the end product is the same – you, smarter! Lemme give ya a good example…
Today we look at the Freddie Mercury biography. He’s been in the news a lot recently because of last year’s excellent film biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Rather than just be entertained by his story though, let’s commit to learning from him… take some books out from his inner library… and find out how and where “the Champion” that he sang about was developed in him so strongly!
Rick Sky’s “Show…”
I first read the book “The Show Must Go On”, by Rick Sky, over a decade ago. I believe I saw it in a bargain book bin, and, since I’m a sucker for a good biography, I just had to get it. I’ve been a musician for most of my life, so stories of fellow composers and players always command my attention.
Rick is a British music journalist from London who’s covered many rock stars in his day, with dozens of private interviews giving him the “real story” from the artist’s mouth as well as many supporting interviews from those close to the artists. In this book on Freddie, there’s a picture of him enjoying a meal with Freddie to show that they actually had a working relationship.
Though he also put out a book on Michael Jackson, called “The Bad Year” (1994), the Mercury biography is his best-selling book.
If you want real insight as to how Freddie was as a PERSON, even more than an entertainer, I highly recommend “The Show Must Go On”. So many friends & colleagues were interviewed for this narrative that the collective mosaic of Freddie’s personality, preferences and penchants become quite clear.
Probably the biggest being… he was a kind, generous and genuinely caring soul.
There’s something we know to be true even if we don’t do it. That is… if we spend enough time doing something, it begins to crawl inside of us and become part OF us. Like additional coding added to our DNA.
The actions we repeat with focus, determination, appreciation and enjoyment join to our core so inextricably that, after a time, it’s impossible to separate it from what was there before.
Freddy Mercury went to a private school in Bombay, India, after moving with his family from the Island of Zanzibar when he was 5. Part of his training, which he started at eleven years old, was learning piano.
Those lessons and his study and practice of them obviously paid off – there’d be no ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ without them!
But he never really stopped practicing as he aged. He continued to investigate and learn many types and genres of music. Some of his close friends said in this book that, when visiting Freddie’s home, they’d often hear him play Aretha Franklin, some latest pop or disco tune, an opera song or even classical pieces (tho’ usually only snippets rather than whole concertos!).
Even Reinhold Mack, who produced five recordings for Queen, including “The Game” and “The Works” (and is a piano player himself) says in this book that Freddie was a much better and more varied piano player than he could ever hope to be.
Spending quality and quantity time forging new musical paths was so important to Freddie that, even when given valid excuses to ‘take it easy’, he wouldn’t.
When he had a leg cast from a leg tendon injury, he still practiced piano and wrote new songs.
As AIDS slowly stole more and more of his energy, health and capabilities, he still managed to put out two more albums with Queen, writing, playing and singing through most of the tunes.
The rest of Queen also had this kind of obvious work ethic: to make sure their 20 minutes set for Live-Aid was as awesome as it could be, they practiced it for two days straight… over and over again. Brain May even said he thought they practiced more for that than for any of their other tours previous. “We wanted to give the best 20 minutes we possibly could.”
What we can learn from our colleagues in Queen is simple: wanna go places?? Have a work ethic that practices more than anyone you know. Without it, chances are you’ll be just another desk jockey in a day job.
Not that that’s so awful (for some!). Just not for us. ‘-)
To check out some excellent ways to maximize your practice times and make them more efficient, READ THIS!
2) Choose Awesome Heroes!
One thing is clear from Reading Rick’s book: Freddy was not just a rock Idol and music hero. He was also an avid fan, and had his own music Heroes that he lavished praise upon whenever he got the chance.
His first passionate affinity was towards none other than our “Axis Bold As Love” icon himself – Jimi Hendrix!
He was so taken with Jimi’s guitar skills, clothing styles and performance bravado that, on numerous occasions while still in art school, he painted numerous large murals of Jimi.
These were the days before Freddie performed musically at all. In fact, his classmates from that time say he was shy, reserved and showed no hint of the bombastic, commanding performer he would become.
But they do say that, every once in a while, if a Hendrix song came on the radio, he would pick up a school ruler, or large T-square, and play air guitar like nobody’s business.
I’m sure none of us have ever done that before. LoL
One of his favorite songs he loves to sing early in life?? “Purple Haze“!
Being somewhat flamboyant inside to start with, AND being a Jimi fan, it’s easy to see how Freddy became such an electric, mesmerizing presence on stage.
But Freddy was known to cite TWO main influences for him as a performer. The other??
Sure, she commanded totally different stages than Hendrix did, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can see how they are actually very similar.
The frenetic body language.
The command over their instrument.
The dramatics songs that feature wide dynamic ranges and unshakable melodies.
I can totally see them both in Freddie.
He often said that he absolutely adored Liza, and had watched her extraordinary performance in “Cabaret” too many times in his life to count. Her “sheer energy”, as he put it, was immense, and drew you in no matter what genre you thought you liked.
But are any of us that are serious about music any different??
I’m still a huge, avid fan of certain musicians and bands, and posters of the following heroes are still on the walls of my studio today:
- The Beatles
- Paul Simon
- Van Halen
- Billy Joel
- Joni Mitchell
And the list goes on. I’ll never stop being a fanboy of the musicians that inspire me. Neither should you.
‘Cuz, ya know… it be that our passion and zeal for the artists we respect… naturally spills over into our own art?
I think the answer is, unequivocally, yes!
3) Try a New APPROACH
If you know anything about Freddie Mercury you know that his wardrobe styles and fashions changed and morphed substantially season-to-season and record-to-record.
And if you’re Queen fan, you know that their musical styles morphed just about as much!
So… chicken or egg? Which came first? A cursory glance at their visual history shows Freddie dressing outlandishly right from the start, but large changes in his fashion approach seems to take the wide turn whenever the music did.
Was this his idea? Management’s? Who knows? What’s clear is that Freddie, and the whole band, we’re never ones to stick with the “same ol’, same ol'” for very long. They evolved and changed with the times, and were never skittish about reinvention or trying something new.
One reason I know this is true cuz of my affinity for their album called “The Game“. I was such a fan of this collection of songs (that was, incidentally, completely different from their past material!) that I couldn’t wait for their next album. I was sure they were going to knock it out of the park again with this ‘new sound’.
Unfortunately, when I got it, I, uh… didn’t like it at all!! The instrumentation, arrangements, song forms, and overall genre were so different I just couldn’t get into it at all. Too much synth; not enough guitar.
But that’s okay. Thousands of other people DID like it… who weren’t previously fans of Queen.
Here’s another cool thing about Queen that you might not have known: They are considered to have had the very first global hit music video!!
Yep, that’s right. Long before MTV hit in 1981, Queen was showin’ ’em how it’s done in ’75!
But, interestingly… they weren’t really trying to create a new art form. They simply needed a creative solution for a business problem they faced.
See, they knew they wouldn’t be able to pull off “Bohemian Rhapsody” live, but they were asked to for the British TV show “Top of the Pops“, which no band ignored because it generated such a buzz, which translated to a ton of sales!
So, they threw together a li’l video in less than a day and sent it off to ’em… not really sure if they’d play it or not.
They did, and it became a sensation, helping skyrocket the already popular song into further stratospheric heights.
So use other art forms besides music to further your career… but especially use video. There’s a reason why YouTube is the most popular venue for viewing music these days!
And consider the chameleon nature that Queen had over the decades. It served them well, and fostered new audiences and new excitement that couldn’t come any other way.
Maybe you should try it?! ‘-)
Take Freddie’s advice, as stated in Rick’s book:
“I believe you should never get trapped in a rut, and if you feel you are in one, you should get out.”
It’s no surprise Queen was as versatile as their albums showed. Their front man lived his whole life avoiding anything with even a hint of “boring”!
4) Try a New TEAM
Starting in October 1975, Queen’s megalithic tune “Bohemian Rhapsody” stayed at #1 on the British music charts for 9 weeks.
Not bad for an epic song that last 5 minutes and 55 seconds!
But right before this huge success, something happened behind the scenes that might have made all the difference: Queen fired their management team.
Trident Studios had been their longtime management company, but because the band was seeing huge Fame and success, but very little MONEY, they decided to switch over to Elton John’s manager, John Reid.
It’s always hard to make a big move in big business. Loads of contracts to sign; days and days of phone calls to make; financial and communication transfers galore… it’s a lot of work.
So you know Queen didn’t do this without a lot of forethought and consideration.
At the end of the day, what we can learn from them is that sometimes your team needs a shake-up.
Sometimes a person you hired for all the right reasons just turns out to be the wrong person for the job.
And if time has made you close to the person? That’s when it’s even harder to let them go.
But it must be done!!
It’s all about results, and when Queen didn’t see the results they needed, it was off to the races with a new manager, and sure enough, greater success soon followed.
But wait! Sometimes it’s not a matter of getting RID of someone on your team… maybe instead, you need to ADD someone to your team?!
Think of it this way: as a serious musician, you should know, pretty well, at least one person in the following disciplines:
– Prime local live venues
Freddie Mercury knew this, and cultivated many strategic relationships that he knew would one day pay off in helping his band achieve their goals of stardom and massive sales.
One example is his friendship with Kenny Everett. Kenny was a very popular radio music host in Britain. As Queen toured on their first couple records, Freddie was able to get on Kenny’s show and do a couple interviews. That helped a bit.
But what really helped launch Queen to super stardom was when Freddie shared with Kenny the newly recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody”, that no other station had yet! Giving Kenny this exclusive made him feel even more important, and as a quid pro quo, Kenny played that single 14 times in the next two days.
The result? Requests for “Bohemian Rhapsody”, started pouring into all the other radio stations as well, until finally it was ubiquitous, and ended up selling over a million copies as a single.
Here’s the question: without that initial relationship, and Kenny overplaying that song to the masses…
… would we even know about the song today??
We’ll never know, but it shows you how beneficial having ties with people in the Industry can be. Make sure you’re investing in these relationships alongside your practicing, writing and playing.
So what about you? Ever struggled with letting a bandmate go? Or some other business person associated with your music?? Or knew that you needed some fresh relationships to merge into other successful areas??+
Sometimes it just needs to be done. Or, perhaps, it’s YOU that needs to leave and try something different, as Sting did right after his huge success in the Police with their album “Synchronicity” – their best album by far!
To conquer our greatest future, we sometimes need to sever ties with the past. If that’s you, I feel your pain. But as Nike says…
… just DO IT. 😉
Songs of Clay, Not Diamond
The last thing I want to cover is something I’ve learned over the course of 30+ years recording my own tunes. It’s a mindset that can take you from OK, to good, or good great… or even… great to LEGENDARY!!
It’s simply this: Don’t be precious, tightfisted and overly protective about your material. Songs are pliable and sometimes they need to be changed in order to attract a better and/or bigger audience. The eraser can be your friend.
I know you’ve heard the horror stories of composers who think that their works are somehow descended from the gods and that to change even one note, phrase or lyric would constitute sacrilege against the Great Music Pantheon in the sky. Maybe you’ve gigged with one. Maybe you’ve recorded with one.
Maybe… you are one????
Well, time to take that precocious attitude and leave it with the children stomping their tantrums in the schoolyard. Songs were meant to be PLAYED. And played WITH. You should be open to changing your songs based on the input of others you trust, and your own inner “gut feeling” about how they should express themselves.
Freddie was known to change songs up all the time, both AS he was writing them, and afterwards too.
Rick’s book chronicles him making dozens and dozens of changes to “Bohemian Rhapsody” before it was done. It ended up different than what he wrote initially, but probably better, because he was open to feedback and constantly questioned whether any piece was as good as it could possibly be.
When you first finish writing a song, or even a musical part, do you consider it a first draft? Or God’s gift to humanity?
Granted, there’s something to be said for trusting your first instincts, but once you’ve tried it, then be open to revising it. Most of the time (I find, at least) it CAN be improved.
Here’s a short list (there are many more) of songs that artists have “improved” over time, that are no longer played live as they originally were recorded:
- “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” – Sting
- “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
- “Down Under” – Men at Work (Colin Hay)
- “Hotel California” – Eagles
- “Layla” – Eric Clapton
And what about the following COVERS, that many, if not most, consider better than the recording the writer made (and I agree!):
- “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix
- “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
- “Got to Get You Into My Life” – Earth, Wind & Fire
- “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack (or The Fugees!)
- “Mad World” by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews
- “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles
- “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen
So change ’em up. Add, subtract. Choose a new patch. Try a different riff. Go acoustic instead of electric. Or vice-versa!
If you’re open to your song developing into its “best self”, then it will do so.
Never let the “what if?” well run dry!
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Wisdom is a pretty cool thing. It defies time. It remains as effective as when it was first discovered and uttered. And it can be brought to bear on any career, any set of goals, for any person, anywhere.
The principles Freddie discovered through his focused efforts and dedicated creativity live on, long past their usefulness for him or his band.
Let’s learn from what he and his other superb band mates learned, and keep reaching up, to the highest height of our limitless potential.
If you want to learn more (a LOT more), grab a copy of Rick’s book like I did and read all about it. I just scratched the surface here.
Got questions? Read this book yourself, or one like it?? Do share! After all, a large part of success is…
… knowing it takes a village. 😉
Best of success to you from all your efforts!!