“The reason we’re successful, darling? My overall charisma, of course.” — Freddie Mercury

It’s his birthday today.

It’s hard for me to talk about my feelings for Freddie Mercury.

When Freddie Mercury moved, he cracked open the atmosphere. He’s almost frightening. When he walked across a stage, or threw his body into a note, or flung his head backwards, audiences were transfixed. In him, they saw freedom. Through him, they experienced catharsis. He went there FOR them. People talk about performers who go “into a zone.” Mercury’s zone was bigger than most.

This is not only one of HIS greatest live performances, but one of the greatest live performances, period.

There is so much to comment o: the beers lined up on the piano, the Superman T-shirt, how he fearlessly “warms up” in front of a live audience … trying it out, doodling, as it were, before he’s ready to go … It gives the performance a rough and jagged edge, so refreshing in this day and age of overly-produced musical numbers where the point seems to be to eliminate the risks of live performance. Then there’s his body. Freddie Mercury had a voice that makes the hair on the back of your neck rise up, but he was equally gifted in his body. Some people carry electricity with them. Well, we all do, but some people carry show biz electricity. Mercury was one of those people who never moved aimlessly. Every gesture, every stance, every movement, comes from the deepest and most motivated part of him. It was spontaneous and yet also specific. In that sense, he was like an animal.


He “gave it all,” but with him there was no strain in that giving, as with other performers who reach out to us needily, grasping at our attention/sympathy/love. He gave because he had no choice. I took a seminar once with Kathy Bates and she said to us, with a casual tossing gesture of the hand, “The thing is, if you have a gift? You have to just give it away. Give it away, all day, every day. Just give it away.”

Freddie Mercury did that.

Watch his performance in this music video. The emotion in his gestures. His generosity is pure and uncomplicated and absolute.

Aren’t we so lucky that someone such as he once walked the earth and shared himself and his talent so fully?

Freddie Mercury held onto nothing. He didn’t give himself to us in dribs and drabs, he did not moderate how much to reveal, how much to save for himself. He flung it at us with open hands. It is the only thing to do if you are an artist, but very few understand it at the level that Freddie Mercury understood it.


Nothing he owned (his genius, his talent, his voice) was his, and his alone. He did not resent that we felt ownership of him, that we needed him. He did not hold things back, the way some do in order to tease us, or remind us that they are in charge. There is a power in withholding, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t how Freddie Mercury operated.

Freddie Mercury’s talent was always a little bit otherworldly. He was “touched.” In another time, he would have been burned at the stake.

Watch how he moves his body in the “Barcelona” clip. His open-legged stance at the very beginning, like he’s planting his feet on the boards, grounding himself so he can go where the performance will take him, into the stratosphere. He needs his feet to be steady because shit is gonna get crazy and he knows it. He’s a showman, from every hair on his head to the tips of every finger. Every gesture, every breath, every look pours into the intention of the song. And that flow doesn’t stop when it’s she who is singing. Watch his body during her sections. He tosses massive support under her, throwing his energy at her. She doesn’t need it, but that’s the kind of performer he was. There is not one tiny bit of him that is not fully present. His energy blasts outward, into the audience, but watch the small moment in the middle of the song when he takes her hand and kisses it, smiling. He’s performing in front of thousands and thousands of people and he is still so present to the moment it is as though they are the only two people in the room. How … HOW … did he do it? It has to do with his voice. But more than that, it has to do with honesty and a great capacity for feeling.

All people are not created equal. Some people flat out have more in them to give, and are able to get it OUT of them so that we receive it, we receive it pure, there’s nothing between him and us, and we are the richer for whatever it is he gave us, for the feelings we are allowed to feel because he has already felt it all so strongly. And so our capacity for feeling expands, because he has shown us the way.

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23 Responses to “The reason we’re successful, darling? My overall charisma, of course.” — Freddie Mercury

  1. Kristen says:

    Love this. Love Freddie. Otherworldly is a perfect description. I hate that I was born in 1973, and was a child during Queen’s heydey. I didn’t fully appreciate Freddie and Queen until he was gone.

  2. Tradz says:

    Very nicely done page and real observations that only some may understand. – I think he was weighed down by the world, his scope is beyond and it was time for him to leave.

  3. Greg says:

    Touched by the gods, indeed. And while we’re on the topic of sharing our gifts with others, thank you, Sheila, for sharing your writing gift with us. :-)

  4. Marianna says:

    He was and will always be an inspiration, coming from somewhere else. Touching description that I fully share.
    This is my personal illustrated tribute

  5. Clary says:

    Freddy Mercury was a real performer, but a modest one, if you see the videos with Monserrat Caballé. I love that. There’s a song with her, Guide me Home, I heard the day he died, next morning in fact, as I was grabbing my coffee and the radio gave the news of his death. So this is Death, I thought, he’s riding Home and I’m drinking my coffee and the world stops for a moment and then goes on.
    I never forgot him and the delight he gave then and this very day to so many people.
    He was born in Zanzibar, which I find it phenomenal.

  6. Anne says:

    It’s funny, my first association with Queen was with slightly scary boys two or three years older than I was – for instance, the bully who lived on my block, who I was kind of wildly attracted to against my will. (He looked a bit like a very young aggressively sultry Mark McGrath.) Boys with long hair who wore concert tee shirts all the time and played “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” as war anthems during sporting events. That is, my first association was hyper-masculine. A bit scary masculine. So I always wondered, later, how they made sense of that intense identification once he was diagnosed with AIDS. And how it was not clear, at the time, that he was at least bi – especially given that the band was called Queen, after all. Maybe they never thought about it, I don’t know.

    This mixed with my own, more personal association, which was that Queen had done the soundtrack for Flash Gordon. It is hard to express how much I loved the crazy, mondo bizarro extreme campiness of that movie. It makes me *rock* with laughter, now, whenever I see any scenes of, like, Brian Blessed in one of his teeny tiny leather outfits as one of the Hawkmen. And I even had queer feelings for the film myself, since I had a thing for Melody Anderson, who played Dale Arden. So that was MY entree into the world of Freddie Mercury. I had difficulty reconciling it with the anthem crowd’s interpretation, but subsequent events probably made a little more sense to me. Probably.

    • sheila says:

      Anne – how interesting!

      // the bully who lived on my block, who I was kind of wildly attracted to against my will. //

      Oh God, I feel your pain.

      It’s interesting – but I had a similar context surrounding them – especially those songs you mentioned, which were everywhere when I was a kid – even seeping down into my American-musical-folk music mindset. And Bohemian Rhapsody itself is so macho – just because – for so many reasons, including its length. (American Pie is also long but somehow doesn’t have the same in-your-face effect – and all that operatic harmony, etc. I had no idea what was going on with it – as a child – but it was thrilling and almost scary). Now to an “out there” part: Here is how I remember it – and the years don’t quite match up, but this is what memory does. One of the world events that seeped into my child-consciousness was the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. (The other two were Bobby Sands/hunger strikes and the Iranian hostage situation.) Maybe because my cousin was a Marine the barracks attack was particularly close to home. And somehow, I put it together in my head that “Another One Bites the Dust” was about that event. ?? I mean, I wasn’t 6 years old – I was old enough to know better. I may be dovetailing a couple of different events, it was all so long ago. Another One Bites the Dust is a thrilling song – still – but it had a violent assault quality to it that somehow attached itself (in my mind) to the horror of that attack. I did not get the metaphor of the lyrics. To me, it was practically reportage.

      I have also wondered how those fans might have interpreted what was clearly obvious to so many – his sexuality. As you say, he wasn’t hiding it. Band name QUEEN! I sure as hell didn’t pick up on it – my friend Alex and I were laughing about it. She was totally “in” on the joke, getting the wink-wink (granted, she’s older than I am) – and I didn’t get it at all.

      Flash Gordon!! It has been years since I saw that thing – was it a hit in the day? I can’t remember. Any time that song comes up – it’s on one of their greatest hits albums – I laugh. “Flash! Flash! I LOVE YOU! But we only have 14 hours to save the earth!!”

  7. Anne says:

    The aggression & violence is there in the song, definitely. So it’s not like it doesn’t make sense to pick it up as an anthem. It’s just that he had such a huge range, not just of voice but of mood and identity – a lot of which was obscured by the more primal or basic stuff.

    That’s interesting about the marine barracks. I’m reading The Girls right now, and there’s a lot of stuff so far about young adulthood as the fairly superstitious interpretation of signs, especially in songs, which you listen to over and over, and lose yourself in.

    • sheila says:

      // It’s just that he had such a huge range, not just of voice but of mood and identity – a lot of which was obscured by the more primal or basic stuff. //

      I mean, you can hear that – how he played with it and did it deliberately – in We Will Rock You which then moved into We Are the Champions. Two totally different moods and songs – but looped into one.

      Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on The Girls!

  8. Patricia Payette says:

    What a wonderful piece on a unforgettable performer.
    Did you catch this NPR story about the science of his voice?

    Pretty cool

  9. Sarah says:

    Queen was my first concert. I was 18. It was October 1978, and the only large venue in Dallas at that time was the Dallas Convention Center, or DCC. Jazz was the new album, which wasn’t my favorite, but I knew they’d play plenty of older stuff, and they did. Freddie was absolute magic. A lot of concerts from back then have faded from memory, but not this one.

    I don’t know how old you were, Sheila, when his illness was announced, but I was 31, married with a little girl, and all of us, my entire friend group, were absolutely shocked. Then just as we’re trying to wrap our heads around the fact that Freddie had AIDS together with the painful realization that he had most likely been living in the closet for his entire life to some degree…he died. Literally the next day. “We have very bad news: Freddie Mercury has AIDS. It’s CONFIRMED.” Then the next day, “We have even worse, irrevocable news…”

    Hard for me to talk about him, too. Still.

    • sheila says:

      Sarah – I’m so envious you saw them live!

      I only have a vague memory of Freddie’s illness announcement – but I do remember that it was a shock when he was just suddenly GONE. I saw Live Aid, it was such a big deal – but I became a fan of Queen “late” – I was too young during their initial heyday to really pay attention to them – although “We are the Champions” filtered down to my awareness in grade school.

      It’s devastating, this loss – he just cannot and will not ever be replaced. Maybe the best frontman ever.

  10. SeanG says:

    Its gotta cost ya something! love ya Sheila! :-D

  11. Donna Hill says:

    I never had the pleasure seeing Freddie or Queen in concert. I was blessed to see Madame Caballe every single time I had a ticket (lucky me as she was notorious for cancelling). I can say that I never do not cry seeing them sing Barcelona together. The respect and affection they have for one another is blatantly obvious. Caballe and her glorious voice was a force of nature, together, they powered the stars lighting the universe.

    • sheila says:

      Donna – wow, how wonderful to have seen her!!

      I too cry every single time I watch that duet. The respect between them – the admiration – how they look at each other with this thrilling sense of intimacy and excitement – while also performing the HELL out of it – it’s just amazing!

  12. Shawn says:

    How much of Queen’s legacy was enhanced by Wayne’s World? If it hadn’t been WW, it would have been something else. I also was too young to have been a fan, but as a 20-something I had a few times in the car with friends slamming our heads up and down once the guitar jam kicks in. BTW, it’s not easy to drive and do that, and I did it on the freeway a few times-in the middle of the night on the way home from the clubs! So foolish.

    • sheila says:

      I don’t know if “enhanced” is the right word. Maybe it was an introduction to a new generation – which is great! Queen was huge and legendary without it. Wayne’s World just brought more people to the party. As did the terrible movie Bohemian Rhapsody. If nothing else, it brought kids to the table. And the YouTube reactors have discovered him and they are blown away. So the legend lives on. Freddie Mercury is inextinguishable.

  13. Brad Hall says:

    Of course, there will never be another Freddie Mercury, but I think that’s why so few bands stand-out these days. They don’t have someone with that charisma, chutzpah, and showmanship to step up to the microphone and carry the weight, so one band just kind of bleeds into another. Even if the music is good, they remain somewhat indistinct.

    There are exceptions. Are you familiar with Low Cut Connie? Their album “Private Lives” was one of my favorites of 2020. Lead singer Adam Weiner has some of that rock’n’roll swagger. Unfortunately, despite some high-profile praise they’re not a household name.

    Like that old Bob Seger song “Turn The Page” says:

    Out there in the spotlight
    You’re a million miles away
    Every ounce of energy
    You try to give away
    As the sweat pours out your body
    Like the music that you play.

    • sheila says:

      I don’t know Low Cut Connie – I will definitely check them out, thank you for the rec, Brad!

      I agree in re: Mercury. What he had is individuality – it’s what we all have. We aren’t exact replicas of one another. When this translates into show business – and when individuality is allowed to flourish – someone like Freddie Mercury can rise – and rise – and rise. If you think about every single indelible star – from James Brown to Judy Garland – what they have in common is their individuality – their essence stamped on everything they do.

      This is definitely missing in today’s music – particularly at the corporate level (although people like James Brown and Judy Garland had to deal with that nonsense too: people in suits trying to decide what they should be, and iron out their so-called “flaws” etc. Suits gonna suit!!)

    • sheila says:

      Maybe it’s better that the band you mention hasn’t become a household name? Maybe it’s better at this point to fly under the radar of mainstream success. You have more freedom that way.

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