Critics are unable to decipher good music/art/books/fill-in-the-blank. This is not news to most of us, but when looking at a band like Queen and knowing how reviled they were for decades, yet are beloved now… this has to offer hope to other artists of all types.
Painters not appreciated in their lifetimes include: Vincent Van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and more.
Writers not appreciated in their time: Zora Neale Hurston (one of my favorite authors ever), H.P. Lovecraft, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and surely many more.
Composers that had no acceptance during their lifetimes include: Johann Sebastian Bach, Igor Stravinsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and many others.
And Then There Is Queen
I remember when I was an older teen and Queen was hated by critics as well as by many of my friends. Of course, I was one who loved them and found other Queenies of the day who did, too.
Sitting back 44 years later, I’m amused at how things have changed over time. Sure, there are still Queen-haters, but, from what I can see, there are far more Queen lovers now than there were then. Especially with the critics.
The article “Queen Draws Fans With Flashy, Semiprogressive, Semimetal Rock” by critic John Rockwell oddly semi-s their music’s description several times. It came out on November 18, 1978 in the New York Times. He speaks about how Queen’s music is “mostly pretty empty, all flash and calculation.”
Empty? Queen needed to create a wide variety of styles and sounds in order to survive their tenure (with Freddie Mercury). It was a hallmark of the band. Queen refused to be pigeon-holed. They had an intense desire to be heard in a thousand different ways.
“Lyrically, Queen’s songs manage to be pretentious and irrelevant.”
I believe the intelligence of the band members remained a mystery to those who judged their songs negatively. Either they didn’t know each member had a degree in various specialties or, and this is my best guess, Queen’s band members’ smarts were so far above their heads, they used the word “pretentious,” as an epithet instead of confessing they didn’t understand the nuances of their songwriting or compositions.
Rockwell’s article came out two weeks to the day after I attended my only Queen concert at the Lakeland Civic Center outside Orlando. I had just seen the same concert on the Jazz Tour as he saw at Madison Square Garden, so feel good sharing my young opinion with you all.
“Musically, for all the virtuosity — though it was cheating a bit to turn over the complex middle portion of their “Bohemian Rhapsody” to a taped version, with empty stage and flashing lights — the songs still sound mostly pretty empty, all flash and calculation.”
Empty? Flash? That baffles me.
I’ll agree with calculation. For fuck’s sake, they were incredibly perfectionistic!
If he means formulaic, that is absurd. Queen was/continues to be anything but formulaic.
With regards to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in concert, I have to wonder how the reviewer expected Queen to do the operatic section. I think they handled the dilemma perfectly.
I remember listening to/watching “Bohemian Rhapsody” in concert as if it was yesterday. The gong hung behind the drum set and it caught our eyes as we walked into the arena, the anticipation of its being slammed palpable from the beginning of the concert.
As the concert unfolded, Freddie playing piano and singing to us was exalting, his voice pouring over everyone in the arena. I remember having tears in my eyes from the gloriousness of that song.
Judgement of Freddie and Queen
Some reviews just suck.
“With this sort of (seemingly deliberate, but who can say?) pandering to an obvious need in the late‐teen and early 20’s rock market, Queen has won an audience, and that audience’s more flamboyant members certainly gave every sign of rapture Thursday. But it will be hard for the band to reach a really huge market this way, and at the same time, it will be equally hard for many people to take them seriously in ‘artistic’ terms, or even pop‐artistic terms. Still, it’s a living.”
Ahh, that word “flamboyant.”
In 1978, more than now, flamboyant meant gay. The underlying sentiment is Queen is “pandering” to the gay population and “regular” (straight) folks are left out of the mix, unable to have their musical needs and desires met.
With the word “artistic” in quotes, Rockwell uses yet another euphemism for gay and seems to be saying that even if the public can accept Queen’s gay terms/actions, they won’t be able to take them seriously musically.
Love Eventually Arrives
I have a Part II planned that shows the love Queen has gotten decades later and how they have grown on critics and the public. I wonder what took them so long to see what I saw way back in the olden days.
For you folks struggling to make it in the arts, hang in there.
You are in good company.