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4 May 2007, Friday
Let's pretend this is a blog: Freddie Mercury 10:22 am   (heart this)

So I've just seen a special produced last year about the life of Freddie Mercury, who would have turned 60 years old on 5 September 2006. (It's called Freddie Mercury: Magic Remixed, and it's currently re-airing on Logo network in the US -- good news for satellite subscribers, frustrating for most Americans stuck with cable. I've no idea whether it has or will air outside the US.*) Freddie was, of course, the lead singer and principal songwriter for Queen, who died of complications from AIDS in November 1991.

The special did a fine job of looking at most of the important aspects of Freddie Mercury's life, given that it's only an hour long, probably 43 minutes with the commercial breaks taken out. There's an impressive depth of detail about his early life, enhanced by interviews with his family and a former classmate from the boarding school he attended in India. Footage from Queen concerts and music videos brings Freddie's vivid stage persona back to life better than any interview could, though of course there are interviews with his Queen bandmates as well. And there's enough footage and recollections of Freddie's private life, both at his infamously extravagant parties and at home, to complete the picture.

What I found most striking and saddest, watching the documentary, were two things. The first was that a large part of the reason Freddie never officially came out publicly as a queer man was that there was overt pressure from the music industry for him not to do so. The other was that Freddie not only passed for white, he never went farther than saying he was Persian (his family are Parsees, ethnic-Persian Indians who practice Zoroastrianism, and he was born on the African island of Zanzibar and lived either there or in India until his family moved to England when Freddie -- Farrokh -- was seventeen) when discussing his ethnic ancestry in interviews, and a number of his close friends believe he felt more detail could hurt his career.

It's been just a shade over fifteen years since Freddie Mercury died at the age of 45. I hadn't realised things had changed that much, until I thought about how easy it would have been for Freddie to be out, both about his sexuality and about his ancestry, had he lived longer. As I said to Te while I was watching the part of the documentary where the music industry pressure was discussed, if Freddie came out today, reactions would have ranged from "Duh!" to "So what?" At least, that's how things would play on this side of the pond; it's tempting to suppose that British popular opinion would be more conservative... and yet not only have performers like Sir Elton John and Sir Ian McKellen come out without ruining their careers, they've both been knighted.

Likewise, his being arguably the West's first Asian rock star would today enhance his popularity, rather than harm it. The last decade and a half have seen an enormous increase in the number of musicians and actors of Asian (whether South Asian, East Asian, Asian-Pacific Islander, Middle-Eastern, or otherwise) ancestry in music, film and television... the number was vanishingly small before, and representation of Asians in popular culture has a long way to go yet, but there has nevertheless been a degree of change which would undoubtedly stun Freddie Mercury were he to step out of a time capsule today.

Today, Freddie Mercury would be celebrated for being a gay Asian performer nearly as much as for the talent of his performance. The fact that he missed out on seeing this time in history himself just makes his too-early death that much sharper a loss for us all.

*If anyone else has information about non-US airdates, please comment, and I'll add it to the post.

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