On November 24, 1991, in London, Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, who had been suffering from AIDS for some time, passed away.
His story and many anecdotes related to his life are practically known to everyone, also thanks to the 2019 Bohemian Rhapsody which told a part of this story. And that won Rami Malek the Oscar for his interpretation of Freddie Mercury.
Since today’s protagonist is one of the most extraordinary and atypical characters ever, we will try to tell you something equally atypical. We will tell you some of Freddie’s fun facts connected to Italy. This union between the singer and the beautiful country is much more than a few tour dates, it is almost a spiritual union.
A bit like we did with Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, we will tell you about Freddie Mercury through some anecdotes, in this case “tricolors”, which we hope you are reading for the first time.
Queen and Italian cinema
In 1980 Queen composed the column of the film Flash Gordon, which also became their ninth album. The film has a strong Italian imprint since the production is by Dino De Laurentiis: the film insists on the accuracy of the costumes of the iconic Danilo Donati and the scenography at the expense of the special effects, however ingenious.
The album uses dialogue from the film and becomes the memorable intro of Flash to the Rescue.
What makes the track unmistakable is the dialogue of General Kala, an unforgettable Mariangela Melato, who in an English with a strong Italian pronunciation peremptorily orders: “What do you mean – Flash Gordon approaching? Open fire – All weapons!”. Phrase that will be included in the Flash single, edited in a shorter version. Apparently, Mercury had a soft spot for Kala / Melato.
Brian May revealed it on his website with a post published on January 11, 2013, the day the actress left at the age of 72: “It is so sad to hear of the disappearance of another shining icon, the Italian movie star Mariangela Melato. You may not grasp the name instantly but anyone who has seen our movie Flash Gordon will instantly recognize her with the fabulous, unforgettable, sadistic and “camp” general Kala, who says: What does that mean – yes is Flash Gordon approaching? Open fire – All weapons! ‘ Freddie was particularly fond of her: did she have something to do with the whip suspicion? Ha ha” (https://brianmay.com/brian/brianssb/brianssbjan13a.html#10).
The whip is what Kala tortured Princess Aura with, hosting an Ornella Muti at her best. It would have been interesting to witness the moment when Freddie Mercury wanted to meet all the actors in the film one by one!
An Italian musician in a single by Queen
Two years after the release of the Flash Gordon soundtrack, in 1982, Queen released the album Hot Space which contains the song Action This Day. The song, after the usual verse-chorus passage, turns on a bridge in which a synthesizer arpeggio and then a double alto sax solo and tenor sax.
This saxophone marks the first appearance of a guest musician who, as you will imagine, is an Italian. The honour goes to Giuseppe “Dino” Pepe Solera, who grew up in the court of King Giorgio Moroder.
Following the words of Solera himself: “Roger Taylor gave me the necessary instructions. He wanted phrases that were neither jazz nor too pop but musically simple. We first recorded the alto sax solo, which we used as a track, then I inserted some phrasing in tenor sax. In half an hour we completed the recording, interrupted only for a moment by a foray from Elton John, who had come to visit the studios. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, listening to them, playing pinball with Freddie (he was crazy about it) and to eat a pizza together. At the end of the day we hugged, and they gave me an appointment for their concert at the Olympiahalle in Munich “.
Queen at Sanremo Festival
Staying on the musical theme, we are talking about the first evening of the Sanremo Festival 2019 which, among the various gags, includes that of Virginia Raffaele and Pierfrancesco Favino as Mary Poppins and Freddie Mercury, in homage to some musicals of the year, including the aforementioned Bohemian Rhapsody.
But Queen’s relationship with Sanremo is not only based on tributes and quotes, the other way round!
In February 1984 Queen were guests at the Festival and Freddie Mercury became the protagonist of a very controversial gesture. The band was in fact invited to the Ariston Theatre and Freddie should have sung Radio Ga Ga.
The organizers, however, required Queen to use playback for their performance, which was typical of the time. And Freddie during the evening blatantly showed his disappointment, singing for several phrases without a microphone near his mouth. It thus proved that the show that the public was seeing was bogus and rebelled against the impositions made by the organizers of the event at the time.
Presumably during certain events, especially 40 years ago, things had to be perfectly organized and that there was more chance of a hitch than some instrument, but certainly Freddie’s voice would have been the most wonderful of instruments even without playback!
Paolo Bonolis and Freddie Mercury’s avances
Continuing on the Sanremo thread, let’s now talk about an anecdote linked to one of the festival presenters, Paolo Bonolis. I swear we didn’t want to believe this!
On the occasion of the release of his autobiography “Perchè parlavo da solo”, Paolo Bonolis told unpublished details of his life, including the advances from the Queen singer during a dinner.
According to the conductor’s words, in 1985 Freddie Mercury would even try to approach him during a post-match charity dinner.
Here is the story “(at the restaurant) Freddie Mercury also arrived. I must have been 25-26 years … Mr. Freddie was sitting at another table but at a certain point he got up, came to sit next to me and we started chatting. Let’s say after a while I realized that he wanted us to go somewhere else. I immediately set the record straight. Freddie, I love your music, I find it fantastic. But really: it’s not stuff for me. We laughed and he patted me on the shoulder. “
Here’s how Bonolis would have responded to the courtship of the Queen star.
Freddie Mercury and Pavarotti
While you put your jaw back after reading these last lines, we will tell you another anecdote that binds Freddie Mercury and Queen to Italy.
We are in 1987 and we tell you a curiosity about the song Barcelona. The legend tells of a phone call made by Luciano Pavarotti to Monserrat Caballé.
In fact, the Spanish soprano received a phone call from Pavarotti, who had learned of the news of the collaboration between Freddie Mercury and Caballé, to be dissuaded from participating in the Barcelona recording, as combining rock and lyric music would have been a “musical abomination”.
But Monserrat was convinced that this project, that unusual collaboration, would make history, even if there was a risk of ruining her career if things went wrong. Fortunately, Monserrat did well to trust her instincts and opted for the riskiest choice.
Barcelona, along with two other songs, The Golden Boy and How Can I Go On, were sung in the presence of the rulers of Spain and, also, broadcasted worldwide. A real triumph. Meanwhile, in the surroundings of Modena, more than one heard a cry of pain coming from someone’s chest.
It was Pavarotti, who in a few minutes realizes that lyric and rock together could really work … too bad he wasn’t the first to do it. But Pavarotti then took his revenge by inviting Brian May to Pavarotti & Friends a few years later, thus continuing to fuel the partnership between two apparently conflicting musical genres.
Unfortunately we will never be able to hear the Big Luciano and Freddie duet, but luckily we think about it in this performance by Marc Martel, known for having a voice very similar to that of our protagonist today to realize this fantasy!
Freddie Mercury and Italian fashion
A very little known curiosity of Freddie Mercury is his excellence in drawing, so much so that he graduated in graphics in 1963 from Ealing College of Art in London.
Freddie dabbled with sketches of clothes and in 1969 with Roger Taylor (future drummer of Queen) he took over a stall at the Kensington market, then frequented mainly by vintage lovers, where he sold his graphics but also Victorian clothes and clothes and accessories tailored. To find out more about Freddie’s interest in fashion, take a look: https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/quando-freddie-mercury-provava-fare-stilista-e-poi-incontro-zandra-rhodes-AFQAnY?refresh_ce=1
Even fashion, in a reciprocal way, thanks to the Italian Gianni Versace, showed interest in today’s protagonist.
In 1991 AIDS took away not only Freddy Mercury, but also Jorge Donn, the legendary dancer of the Bejart Ballet Lausanne company. The company implemented the project: Le Presbytère n’a rien perdu de son charme, ni le jardin de son éclat. For this ballet-tribute to the two artists who both died at the age of 45, Gianni Versace worked creating costumes almost entirely in white, with hints of black and red, the color of blood.
The costumes of this “rock ballet” rang like an echo of Queen’s music: the dancers wore leather biker jackets, capes and colorful tights. For Maurice Béjart, this tribute show is also a “gift” to those two artists: a pretext to meet, to talk and to share.
In addition, if we reflect on Freddie Mercury’s aesthetic taste, already manifested by the first markets, and the stylistic approach of Gianni Versace, we cannot fail to notice a great affinity. Probably if Freddie had designed the clothes himself, his style would have been very similar to that of Versace.
Both are united by an undoubtedly extravagant, baroque, opulent taste, as well as by an undeniable talent that has kissed them both.
Freddie would have loved Italy today
To conclude with an anecdote about sharing, we tell you about the support given by Queen to a country … ours.
In fact, it is Italy, one of the first countries to be affected by Covid-19, that Brian May addressed in an Instagram post in April, publishing a video that portrays an Italian Queen fan opening the balcony of his apartment and incite the crowd in the manner of Freddie Mercury.
Even if lightly, this short video was and is an invitation not to give up. These were Brian May’s encouraging words to all the Italian people. “Quarantined – confined to home, what options are open? This says ‘I’m not giving up’. Freddie would definitely smile a wicked smile.”
I really like to think that Freddie, wherever he is (in the Valhalla of the music gods, in my opinion), is really smiling thinking of us. On the other hand, we can boast a relationship with him that has lasted for decades!