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.