Bohemian Rhapsody

Yesterday Kish and I went to screen Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.  Biopics about rock stars have become something of a genre unto themselves these days — according to the previews yesterday, there’s another one coming out soon about Elton John, by the way — and Bohemian Rhapsody is a worthy addition to the playlist.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODYThe film begins as Mercury and Queen prepare to perform at the Live Aid concert, then takes us back to the group’s earliest roots.  We meet Farrokh Bulsara, a buck-toothed baggage handler at a British airport who dreams of doing something bigger.  He finds a struggling band called Smile playing in pubs, and when the group loses its lead singer, Queen’s journey begins and Farrokh becomes Freddie Mercury.  The film traces the artistic arc of the group, which became one of the most inventive, boundary-breaking bands of the ’70s — as the song that gives the film its name attests — and the band steadily moves from playing small towns to filling some of the largest stadiums in the world, with the flamboyant Mercury leading the way.

As the band’s story is told we get glimpses into Freddie Mercury’s personal life, from his frosty relationship with his Indian parents and their Zoroastrian faith, to his long-term bond with a woman he called the love of his life, to his embrace of his gay lifestyle and ultimately to his discovery that he had AIDS at a time when that diagnosis was viewed as a death sentence.  And, as always seems to be the case with rock star biopics, enormous success and fame have their price, and we see Mercury dealing with drugs and alcohol, leaving the band that was like a family to him, and supporting the creeps and hangers-on who always seem to find a way to latch on to the successful creative minds and sap them of their unique energy.  But Mercury breaks the downward spiral, sheds the leeches, and reunites with the group just in time for a triumphant performance at the Live Aid concert.

Bohemian Rhapsody has been criticized for glossing over some aspects of Mercury’s life, especially his sexuality, but the film is telling a wide-ranging story that simply doesn’t allow it to delve deeply into every relationship — whether it be Mercury’s relationships with fellow bandmates or his relationships with his lovers.  The result is a film that increased my appreciation of Queen and the dazzling personality who was one of its principal creative forces.  And Rami Malek is himself brilliant as the brilliant Freddie Mercury.

Why are there so many rock star biopics?  I think it’s because the music world is home to a lot of very interesting stories that are well worth telling.  The story of Freddie Mercury and Queen is one of those stories, and Bohemian Rhapsody tells it well.

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An Evening With Sir Elton

Last night Kish and I went to catch the Columbus performance of Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. The singer-songwriter has been on the road performing for 50 years, and this is said to be his last tour ever.

It’s a show that’s well worth catching. Sir Elton performs with a group that features — in addition to a piano, of course — guitar, bass, synthesizer, and no fewer than three percussion set-ups. It pumped out a huge amount of sound. In fact, the volume was a bit too cranked up for my taste, and at times you could feel the bass and drums vibrating your seat and rattling the fillings in your teeth. But the band did a great job with the playlist, and Sir Elton himself was in good voice and can still tickle the ivory with the best of them.

As we enjoyed songs like Border Song, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, and Someone Saved My Life Tonight, I thought about what a huge star Elton John was in the ’70s, and just how many hits he’s produced. Although he didn’t perform my favorite (Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters), the show was a powerful reminder of just how insanely talented this man is. By the time the band finished its encore with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Sir Elton rose into the backdrop and then stepped onto the yellow brick road on the jumbo video screen to walk into the distance, you realized that he occupies a level that has been reached by very few musical performers.

The guy is a living legend. How can you pass up the chance to see him one last time?

Is Christmas Music Bad For Your Health?

We’ve turned another page on the calendar.  It’s November already, and that means . . . get ready to hear Christmas music everywhere you go.  For all I know, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer is already playing on heavy rotation at the local mall.

567b6ea8160000b300eb98d9The British newspaper The Independent ran a story yesterday in which a clinical psychologist is quoted as saying that listening to too much Christmas music is bad for your health — your mental health, that is.  In the story, written by a reporter with the delightfully British name of Olivia Petter, psychologist Linda Blair states:  “People working in the shops at Christmas have to tune out Christmas music because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else.  You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

The psychologist doesn’t cite any studies or clinical tests to support her conclusions, but this is one time where confirming evidence doesn’t seem to be needed.  I happen to like Christmas music — with a handful of notable exceptions like the aforementioned Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and Do You Hear What I Hear? — but I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in a store where, starting about now, you’re required to listen to an endless loop of the same Christmas songs, over and over again.  Your first listen to the Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters version of Jingle Bells might put a holiday spring in your step, but by the 139th hearing on December 3 you’re going to be ready to hurl that appallingly fragrant holiday candle display through the store window and tackle the nearest Salvation Army Santa.  No wonder Clark Griswold lost it in Christmas Vacation.

Christmas music isn’t immune to the general rule that too much of anything isn’t a good thing.  So when you’re doing your holiday shopping this season, don’t be surprised if that person behind the counter seems a little bit edgy — and be sure not to whistle Frosty The Snowman when you make your purchase.

 

78

6011_hamburg_07Today is John Lennon’s birthday.  One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.

78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age.  When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing.  My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3.  We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.

I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me.  I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.

What a waste.

The Happy Piper And The Colossal Thud

Our modern world of devices and gizmos specializes in sounds as well as visuals and electronic advances.  The acoustic element might be overwhelmed by all of the technological wizardry, but it’s just as crucial to the whole experience — and in my view, pretty intriguing, too.

s-l300I’m not sure who picks the sounds, or what process they follow, but it’s got to be a pretty interesting job.  For example, the remote log-in process for our firm’s computer system requires you to follow several password steps and work through multiple stages of security.  If you successfully navigate all of the safeguards, you get a little audio cue that tells you you’re in.  It’s a rising three-note piping sound that makes you think that Pan is gleeful, perhaps even prancing, about your success in obtaining access.  On the other hand, if you’ve made a false move or mistyped a letter or number in a password, you get the sound of a colossal thud, as if a pallet of bricks has crushed a roomful of outdated electronic equipment and old Blockbuster videos.  It’s the quintessential sound of failure.

Wouldn’t you like to know what other sounds were considered for these purposes?  How many thousands of snippets of sound were evaluated and tested on focus groups before the final sounds were determined?  It’s hard to argue with the happy piper, but I wonder whether the initial notes of Trumpets Voluntary, or the first few chords of Ticket to Ride, were among the finalists?  And while the colossal thud conveys, quite effectively, that you’ve flopped, how about a descending two-note foghorn sound, or the crash of breaking china?

And don’t get me started on ringtones.

Celebrating The Queen Of Soul

I was terribly saddened by the news today of the death of Aretha Franklin, at age 76.  I’ve written before of my thoughts on this titanic talent, who had a voice that comes once in a generation.  It’s a terrible loss for American music, and for America generally.

I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record.  Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops.  Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all.  And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan.  Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.

Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You,  I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin?  It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.

And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.

Fireworks Over The Field

After last night’s Tribe win, they set up Progressive Field for a fireworks show that was synchronized with music playing on the scoreboard. As the likes of Heart and Led Zeppelin rocked the house, shells burst overhead and flames shot up to the sky. In all, it was more than 20 minutes of sound and fury — easily one of the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.

The game itself was great, but with the awesome fireworks spectacle it was like getting two fabulous performances for the price of one. It almost makes me sad that today we’ll be watching a day game.