When I saw the Rolling Stones in 1981, Mick Jagger was 38 years old. I was 20 and he seemed ancient. I remember our saying, “Look how old they are!” They had been out for 19 years by then and that seemed forever, especially since I was born a year before they began in 1962.
The Stones just finished touring Europe as a celebration for their 60th year together.
Mick Jagger is 78 years old. Keith Richards is also 78, and Ron Wood is 75.
For fuck’s sake, they are more spry than I could ever hope to be! Especially considering the lifestyle they all participated in for a few decades.
When Queen began in 1970 (I was 9 years old), Freddie Mercury was 24, Brian May was 23, Roger Taylor was 21 years old , and John Deacon was the youngest at 19 years old.
Brian May is now 75 years old and Roger Taylor is 73 years old. John Deacon is now a mere 71 years old. (I will have no older pics of Deacy than from 1997 because that is when he retired from public life and I want to respect that.)
And of course, our precious Freddie Mercury died at the incredibly young age of 45.
Queen is now Roger Taylor and Brian May and they are still performing in 2022.
My (NSH) Thoughts on Older Bands Touring
Because I heard the crowd of people around me, and thinking it myself when I was younger, I thought older bands should just stop presenting themselves on stage. I thought they were old farts and why not just go away for the newer bands like Van Halen and Styx. Little did I know Van Halen would end up touring for 43 years and Styx would still be on the road 52 years later.
Who cares if they have to spread their gig dates out. Who cares if Roger Taylor isn’t as fast on the drums as he used to be. Who cares that health challenges crop up and tour dates have to be adjusted.
They are out there. They are fucking out there.
And that means the world to me.
Wolfie, Eddie, and Alex Van Halen in 2015.
Who Is Still Out There?
What amuses me from this 61-year old vantage point is how many bands I saw way back in the day that are or have toured for 40+ years.
Queen – formed in 1970
Aerosmith – formed in 1970
Styx – formed in 1970
Eagles – formed in 1971
Van Halen – formed in 1972
Def Leppard – formed in 1977
I would pay giant bucks to see any of them again. They were all amazing.
So why shouldn’t they be out kicking ass in their 70s? Fuck growing old!
It’s an attitude I am working hard to adopt.
Even More Bands Out on Tours
These bands (and the year they were formed) have been out on tour for over 40, and some even 50, years.
Blue Oyster Cult – 1967
The Doobie Brothers – 1970
KISS – 1973
Blondie – 1974
Iron Maiden – 1975
U2 – 1978
The Cure – 1978
Metallica – 1981
Red Hot Chili Peppers – 1983
Go On, You Bad Asses!
Note: I got edited by YouTube! The video I had up was taken down. I have arrived!
I was thinking about what it was like for him and all gay men in the early 70s throughout Freddie’s life until he died in 1991. I was in the gay world starting in 1978 through about 1983 directly and then on the periphery for another ten years after that. I stayed in touch with about ten gay friends for many years after that and knew how their lives unfolded in an extremely homophobic time where AIDS was killing every third friend.
Stalking Freddie and Hating Who They Thought He Was
The press hounded Freddie during his life, wanting him to “confess” his sexuality. (I was going to add a picture of him being hounded by paparazzi, but it made my skin crawl just looking at the people stealing pictures of him, so I will not add to that.) Yet, he never came out himself, not even when he said he had AIDS the night before he died. Besides it being none of anyone’s business, the world was not kind to gay people then.
Why would he come out when the world was so hateful? It took an act of extreme bravery for any of us to come out to our parents, our employers, our friends… but for Freddie, it might have been the end of his career. As any gay person who had a high profile career (or a family, for that matter) at that time will tell you, almost across the board, they could not have come out in those years.
Then There was AIDS
“On March 22, 1980, a year before that first MMWR report, evangelical Christian leaders delivered a petition to President Jimmy Carter demanding a halt to the advance of gay rights. ‘God’s judgment is going to fall on America as on other societies that allowed homosexuality to become a protected way of life,’ Bob Jones III predicted, according to UPI.”
In 1982, when we started hearing about AIDS, it was almost exclusively gay men who had it. People despised gays to start with, but add their terror of AIDS and thinking it could be caught by touch or breathing or tears. I remember discussions about rounding up gay men and putting them in detention centers or prison to keep them apart from “normal” people.
It was a daily occurrence to hear, “It is God’s Will they are being killed by AIDS.” “It is what they deserve for being so evil.” “God will rid the world of these evil homosexuals. Finally, they will be gone.”
Violence against gays and lesbians escalated fast in the mid-1980s. Homosexual attacks were not documented as such back then, so there is no official record except the records the gay men and lesbians kept themselves.
“As Matthew Holloway, a homosexual who works for a major financial institution in San Francisco, waited for his roommate outside a supermarket last December, a teen-age man and woman began to shout at him.
”’We should kill you first, because you’re gonna give us AIDS,” Mr. Holloway said they shouted. He said that a few minutes later, as he and his roommate drove from the parking lot, they were attacked by the couple and a dozen other young people. His roommate, David Johnson, was dragged from the car and beaten with chains and skateboards. He suffered three broken ribs, a broken jaw and bruises. Mr. Holloway fought to stay in the car and was unharmed. The attackers fled before the police arrived; no suspects were arrested.”
So coming out was not only terrifying back then, but you could be beaten, maimed, or killed for being gay. The stigma of AIDS was wide-sweeping.
That fact was not unknown by Freddie Mercury.
1984: I Want to Break Free & Hot for Teacher
These videos are two examples I want to share about how prevalent homophobia was in 1984.
There is a plethora of information about Queen’s 1984 video “I Want to Break Free” and how MTV refused to play it. No one seems to know if it was officially banned, but I want to share my own experience with that video.
I remember being aghast at Queen in drag when I saw the video before MTV stopped playing it. And I had been in the gay community for several years by then, surrounded by drag queens and transwomen! If I was shocked, you can imagine how horrified middle America was.
I wish I could remember my exact thought process. Did I worry for Queen? Did I think it was Freddie’s coming out song? After all these years seeing the whole video, it is still the opening when they are in drag that I remember from when I was 23-years old. It was that jarring.
Another video that came out in 1984 was Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” It was scandalous, but played every hour on MTV.
Irony of Time
In my YouTube foray, I watch Reaction videos… to music and movies, mostly, but also some documentaries. When I’ve watched Reactions to “I Want to Break Free,” adults and kids love it. They think it is great fun. Even Americans.
But when “Hot for Teacher” is shown, anyone younger than 40 cannot believe that was ever on TV. “That had to have been banned,” is a common refrain. Shocked comments about the mother’s moaning, the stripping teacher, and the 4th graders being allowed in the video (“Where were their parents?! Did they have to sign a waiver? I would never let my kid be in a video like this!”) When the older-than-40-year old person says how great it was, how many boys were glued to their MTVs to wait for it, and how no one batted an eye, the youngers cannot believe what they are hearing.
What a difference 40 years makes.
It was probably very difficult for Freddie Mercury to find peace and quiet in his life unless he was walled in. The press hungered for his soul the same way they did for Princess Diana’s. Paparazzi were leeches and vultures picking apart the flesh and blood of humans, all for a story.
If he were a young man today, he might have come out and had a great time at it. But back then, coming out was everything but an option. If he were a young man today with AIDS, he would have medications to keep him alive. If he were young today and was HIV negative and sexually active, he would have PrEP to keep him from getting AIDS.
But he is not a young man today. He is one of millions that left too soon and in too much pain, physical and emotional. When we remember Freddie’s birthday today, please take a moment and remember all the other people whose birthdays have also passed, most without notice.
You’ve broken free, now Rock in Power and Happy Birthday, Freddie Mercury.
I’ve been pondering this renaissance of music in my life. Why has it taken this new twist I never anticipated despite music having been crucial in my childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood.
From Whence I Came
My mom went to rock concerts when I was young. I remember her seeing the Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd before I was a teenager. I used to ask her when she was going to grow up and she said, “Never!” I was embarrassed by my mom acting like a teenager, but my friends all thought she was the cool mom.
When I started going to concerts, I began to see the appeal, but it still freaked me out the time I ran into my mom at an AC/DC concert. She was high; I was not. (I also ran into her at Rocky Horror Picture Show one midnight. I was mortified; she laughed.)
Through the years, she has stayed current with musical styles and groups, up to and including “gangsta rap.” Tupac is her hero.
As I traverse this new path, I’m finding an understanding of my 80+-year old mom and her musical spirit.
My Own Wanderings
Besides loving music growing up, I played the violin for two years when I was in 4th and 5th grade, then flute from 6th through 12th grade. I was in marching band and symphonic band and went to endless jazz and amateur rock concerts. I think Maynard Ferguson was one of the coolest guys around and Buddy Rich one of the crudest, but he could play the hell out of the drums. Happily, I got to see them both live and up close.
And Here I Am Now
Now I’m on the downhill slide and suddenly I am learning about the nuances of rock music.
Learning about guitars, how they are made, what makes each guitar sound a particular way that is tailored to each guitarist and what they hear in their heads.
Watching drum solos by a variety of drummers to determine the differences in sound between the toms, the kick drums, the wide variety of cymbals and endless variety of all the sounds and uses in pieces of music. (And I swear to you, I am watching videos just like this one below.)
Listening to the words in music I’ve listened to for decades as if it was the first time, deciphering their meaning from the perspective of a crone with a lifetime of experiences behind me.
I work hard (he works hard) every day of my life
I work ’til I ache my bones
At the end (at the end of the day)
I take home my hard earned pay (goes home)
All on my own (goes home on his own)
I get down (down) on my knees (knees)
And I start to pray (praise the Lord)
‘Til the tears run down from my eyes
Lord, somebody (somebody), ooh, somebody
(Please) can anybody find me somebody to love?
from “Somebody to Love” – written by Freddie Mercury
Analyzing concert videos from the late 60s to the present, trying to figure out what makes the concert interesting. How does the band support the lead singer? How do they switch off duties and why? Do pyrotechnics make a difference in the audience’s enjoyment? Watching where each musician is placed on the stage and how they move around during a song and pondering why they do what they do when they do it.
Where Am I Going?
I know there is a world more to learn and understand the education is endless, much as acquiring a new language never ends.
I don’t know where this is going to go or will end up, but the journey sure is fascinating.