Thursday, June 26, 2008


Book Report (and Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now")

This'll likely be my last post for the next few days. In just a while we're heading out to Houston, first to visit my brother, his wife, and their new baby boy, and then to spend a few days at ApolloCon. On my way out the door, here's a little something for you.

Last week I finished reading Mike Dawson's Freddie & Me. I've been a fan of Dawson's since I first read his "Origin of Ace-Face" in Project Superior, and have followed his stuff ever since. I'd been looking forward to his mediation on memory and music (the Queen variety, at least) for a while, and dove in as soon as I got my hands on a copy. Subtitled "A Coming of Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody", the book is autobiographical, and focuses on questions of memory, of childhood and the transition to adulthood, and the ways we engage with idols and heroes, particularly the pop music variety. The framework for Dawson's remembrances are his memories of the band Queen, and in particular of Freddie Mercury--the first time he heard a Queen song, the various Queen songs that were particularly meaningful to him and those around him as he was growing up, even his childhood fantasies of an impossible backstage meeting with the band. One of the interesting things about the book is that, even though Freddie Mercury and Queen are on virtually every page of it, the book isn't about Queen or Mercury at all. "Dawson" (at least the character represented in the story) at one point muses that he knows virtually nothing about Freddie Mercury the man at all. It's the music that is important, and more than that it's Dawson's reaction to the music, what it means to him, that matters. (It's similar, in that respect, to Nicholson Baker's U&I, which is much the same kind of meditation, but instead on the subject of John Updike's work.)

It's been a few days since I finished the book, and there are elements of it that are still running through my head. Highly recommended.

As an added bonus, here's a little awesome for you. After reading Dawson's book, I was inspired to revisit the music of Queen. I listened to it a lot when I was younger, around the same age that Dawson was in the key middle sections of his story), but haven't really gone back to it since I switched from cassette tapes to CDs. Listening to it again after this long (and having the chance to introduce it to Georgia, who loves the theme song to Flash Gordon...), I'm struck by how good it really is. And since most of what I listened to back then was the middle-period stuff, listening to some of the older Queen songs now has been a real revelation. Like this number.

I'd heard "Don't Stop Me Now," of course, off their 1978 release Jazz, but it wasn't until I was listening to it in the car the other day, with the speakers turned up loud, that I really got what the song was. What is it? Just pure joy, that's all. Pure, unalloyed joy.

Don't believe me? Listen for yourself and see what you think.

See? Pure joy...


I love a lot of the slightly more obscure stuff, like 'Seaside Rendezvous' and 'Seven Seas of Rye'. I do thing the band made it all look so effortless that it may actually take a few decades before they're given their critical due. You can see how complicated that fusion of camp/pop/funk/metal was from how the various artists at Freddie's tribute concert came from different bits of the mix, without any of them representing all of it.
And Paul Condon, the fan DJ, plays 'Don't Stop Me Now' at the end of every disco. So I have big fond memories of it from conventions.
I think you're quite right, Paul. The more I listen (and relisten) to their body of work, the more impressed I am that they were able to bring together such a broad range of influences into their music, and make it work.

Meanwhile, Georgia has about decided that Queen is her favorite band, but politely asks whether it's possible for her to instead call them "King," since they're all boys. I've tried to explain that, contrary to her four-year-old wisdom, sometimes boys can be queens, but it's clearly a topic we'll have to revisit when she's older.
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