There are many big bands that I know about, totally overlook for years, then finally dive in and discover their greatness. I started listening to U2, the Beatles and Pink Floyd when I was in my late teens, the Clash and Led Zep and Springsteen and Elvis and the Byrds in my early 20s, Dylan Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Buffy Saint Marie and the Motown artists in my late 20s, Smashing Pumpkins and disco in my early 30s, and now at 36 I finally understand the greatness of Queen. It’s not like I had never heard any of these acts, or the other staples of pop culture, but there’s the negative part of myself that is suspicious of “icons.” The truth is, things are usually iconic because they are great and stand the test of time- but icons all have low periods (Springsteen’s late 80s/ early 90s, U2’s Rattle + Hum, etc) and if you approach these artists during those times it’s a turn off. In some cases I just wasn’t mature enough to enjoy, say, folk or country when I was a high school youngster because it was all techno/ electronica/ industrial, all the time.
Which brings me to Queen, my latest obsession in the fall of 2013. It all started with a combination of fucking around on wikipedia/ youtube and seeing their sillier videos (“I Want To Break Free” and “Radio Ga-Ga”), and my kids enjoying/ requesting “Bicycle Race” because it was featured on an Angry Birds cartoon. “Bicycle Race” is a good example of all the things amazing about Queen, and what they were doing that Inspires me today:
1. It’s completely ludicrous but has serious moments, comparing religion to belief in fictional characters and referencing pop culture of Jaws, Superman and Vietnam
2. it’s full of wild energy in several directions
3. it has childish appeal
4. it’s inventive with basic tools/ instruments
5. most of all, it has PERSONALITY. The way the band think and perform and the subject matter all inform on who the creators are.
And, you know, the video has dozens (hundreds?) of naked women riding bicycles around a track.
Personality is so critical to great art. It’s like the gods of myth breathing a soul into clay, and then the clay comes alive and learns and grows talents. It all starts with that unique soul.
Queen were also very big on talent and overindulgence- they had rows with the punks, calling them talentless and Freddie saying it was “complete rubbish” that they only wanted to play small gigs, saying anyone creative wanted the largest audience possible. In their prime Queen were making mini-operettas, playing with all genres, I personally go back and forth on the notion of “talent,” it’s usually not high on my list as to whether is something is actually good or not. Eddie Van Halen is very talented and does nothing for me. But I have a fondness for good craft, and absolutely want the largest audience I can get for any of my creative endeavors.
Currently I’m in a phase of music making that involves sampling a lot of rather famous vocal tracks- separated from the music thanks to the Rock Band games and people who hack them for multitracks- and layering these voices in Garageband. There are three artists who stand out as the undisputed creative geniuses of vocal mixing, and those are Queen, the Beatles and Bjork. But I’m also inspired visually by the camp concepts, the sweeping grandiosity that was Queen.