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No Time for Losers
Blank stares from classmates. Clearly they couldn’t hear us over the backing track and the squeaking of Dana’s vacuum. (We hadn’t anticipated that.) Or they had no idea what we were doing. That thought finally entered our collective consciousness.
What did we just do?
An all-female drag reinterpretation of Queen’s I Want to Break Free music video. With an interval consisting of dialogue entirely derived from Queen lyrics. In front of the entirety of our Advanced Drama class. For our semester final.
For most, an experience that embarrassing would sound the death knell of an obsession or at least serve as the climax, signaling madness’s ebb. My friends and I are not most people. Oh no. This was only the beginning.
Molly, Dana, Anna, and I became the definition of psychotic Queen fans.
We watched movies solely because Brian May’s wife played a role that entailed fifteen minutes or less of screen time. Molly got Highlander from Netflix. We had no idea what was going on between Queen songs on the soundtrack. If a day went by without checking Brian’s Soapbox, panic set in. We needed to read his pontifications on hedgehog culling, astrophysics, stereo photography, and the mysterious orbs that periodically show up in pictures, darnit!
Every time any combination of the four of us got together, we found it absolutely necessary to view at least one Queen DVD, giggling at spastic music videos or singing along ardently with live performances as if we were there. Incredibly bizarre in-jokes began to form around the band. No conversation could occur without a minimum of one of these being brought up. Whenever someone felt left out of a conversation, they adopted John Deacon’s Elmer Fudd-ish voice; likewise, when someone felt irrationally depressed, comically enraged, or just plain campy, they went into an uncanny impersonation of Brian, Roger, or Freddie, respectively.
Was it all more than a bit weird? Heavens, yes. A thousand times, yes.
Was it fun?
Although many Queen fans debated the worthiness of Paul Rodgers to step into the sparkly unitard (figuratively speaking—thank god!) of Freddie Mercury, we never really questioned this move. True, this was rather like a recently decapitated body deciding it would really like to carry on without the head. However, not even Anna and I, the hardcore Freddie fangirls of the group, could bring ourselves to argue with an arrangement that enabled half the band to continue touring. Unfortunately, said touring appeared to be limited to Europe. I frequently pointed this out as a key supporting detail of my thesis that we would all be much better off living in England.
Then, in December 2005, a most magical thing happened.
Queen + Paul Rodgers announced an American tour.
One of the dates was at the Rose Garden in Portland.
We collectively flipped out.
I purchased tickets quickly: the five best looking seats that Ticketmaster showed me. Some lucky adult would have to deal with our lunacy. Dana’s father, Dean, was selected as chaperone, partly because he had seen Queen before (either in 1980 or 1981, he couldn’t remember) and partly because Dana’s cousin had for some reason decided we could stay at his house.
We prepared for the concert as only we knew how, quadrupling our Queen consumption for the run up to the blessed event. Then, on April 11, 2006, we embarked from Newport High School in an enormous blue SUV that inexplicably lacked a CD player. Fortunately for everyone concerned, except maybe Dean, I brought along my laptop, fully stocked with Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John. Admittedly, the sound quality fell somewhat short of spectacular, but we took what we could get. All we really needed was backing for an extremely raucous sing-along and an incredibly elaborate interpretive dance to “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
After arriving at the home of Dana’s extremely tolerant relatives, we began our preparations in earnest. We distributed and donned our homemade buttons—most of them either Brian making comical facial expressions or Freddie being unspeakably fabulous. Someone decided that, since the first number would likely be the barnstorming “Tie Your Mother Down,” which featured the immortal opening lyric, “Get your party gown / Get your pigtail down / Get your heart beatin’, baby,” we should all put our hair in pigtails and take them down at the appropriate line. Whoever came up with that was clearly some sort of genius.
The moment we found our seats (much, much closer than anticipated), we knew that this would be the most insane musical experience of our entire lives. Seeing Paul McCartney? Amazing and life-affirming. This Queen + Paul Rodgers concert? Insane. That is truly the only word for it.
We participated the h*** out of that concert. Standing up virtually the entire time, earning the wrath of the angry middle-aged women who were only there for Paul Rodgers, we cheered and screamed. We clapped and danced and sang along with frenetic energy. We somehow managed to bluff our way through the lyrics to “Bad Company.” We sobbed hysterically during “Love Of My Life,” ending the song with a massive group hug. We even shed a tear or two during “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Because we missed Freddie, that’s why.
And we were well rewarded for our enthusiasm. Roger saluted us for our efforts during “Radio GaGa,” and again at the end of the show. Paul Rodgers seemed to find us extraordinarily entertaining, frequently waving at us and occasionally imitating our spastic behavior. And we swear to god Brian called our sob-choked caterwauling during the bridge of “Love Of My Life” “beautiful.” By concert’s end, we were indeed, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Mercury, “floatin’ around in ecstasy.”
A few epic Queen events followed that concert, paramount among them our awesomely weird gala commemorating what would have been Freddie’s 60th birthday that September. That mainly consisted of watching his favorite movies (and various Queen DVDs), drinking sparkling cider, and playing increasingly surreal games of Scrabble.
This common madness links the four of us together rather permanently. For every one of us, Queen is no longer the be all and end all of our lives, though I think we still have a sort of latent obsession—rather like a very sparkly version of the chicken pox. But we shared the unique experience of jointly spazzing out about something that was not the latest teen craze, not something shared with most of the rest of our peers. The utter bafflement at the routine we performed for our Drama first semester final certainly proved that point.
As we stepped from the stage, Mr. Robinson smiled benignly at us, kindly ignoring the fact that we looked like complete prats with our eyeliner mustaches.
“So, what was that again?”
Dana, our unelected spokesperson, piped up proudly, “It was a tribute to Queen.”
“I see. Very unique. Very well done.”
Despite the ludicrous amount of time, thought, and effort put into the project, I would hesitate to call what we did then “well done.” But Mr. Robinson certainly hit the nail on the head when he called it “unique.”