Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, one of the most dynamic songwriters and performers in rock music history, died in 1991 of bronchial pneumonia, which was brought on as a complication of AIDS, at age 45.

by Len Lear

Many people who know a lot more about music than I do, including the editor of this newspaper, have said that the Rolling Stones are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever. Many other music buffs think it is the Beatles, of course. Some aficionados insist it’s Led Zeppelin. “Dead heads” say it’s the Grateful Dead, and some misguided individuals from New Jersey insist it’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band. (They are obviously misguided by virtue of the fact that they live in New Jersey.) My own non-professional opinion is that it is Queen.

For those culturally deprived human beings who are not familiar with Queen, it was a British rock band formed in London in 1970 consisting of Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara, lead vocals, piano), Brian May (guitar, vocals), John Deacon (bass guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums, vocals).

Queen’s earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal, but the band gradually incorporating more diverse and innovative styles into their music, as did the Beatles. For example, their amazing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which has often been called the greatest rock song ever (despite the fact that nobody knows what most of the words mean), sounds almost as if it was purloined from a Verdi opera.

Their songs range from a pretty, soft Mercury-penned ballad, “Love of My Life,” featuring a harp and overdubbed vocal harmonies; to “Somebody to Love”, a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir; to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, a rockabilly-inspired song done in the style of Elvis Presley; to the pounding iconic rock anthems, “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” Queen also wrote songs that were inspired by genres not typically associated with rock music, such as ragtime, opera, vaudeville and folk.

Tragically, on Nov. 23, 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Freddie Mercury, who was bi-sexual. confirmed that he had AIDS. Within 24 hours of the statement, he died of bronchial pneumonia, which was brought on as a complication of AIDS, at age 45. On April 20, 1992, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held at London’s Wembley Stadium to a crowd of 72,000, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest rock star benefit concert ever.” It raised about $40 million for AIDS charities.

On Friday, April 5, we went to the Keswick Theater in Glenside to see a concert by a Queen tribute band for the second time. We purchased tickets several weeks in advance, and I had no intention of writing an article about the concert. We were just going because Queen’s music is so great and so theatrical, and we never got to see the real Queen perform. Our tickets were on row T.

When we got to our seats at 7:12 (the show was scheduled to start at 7:30), we realized there was a problem. There was a man sitting in front of my wife who was about as large and tall as two Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive tackles put together. His neck alone was as wide as an SUV. “I won’t be able to see a thing,” my wife said (except that Mount Rushmore-sized neck and back). I offered to change seats with my wife, but the gentleman’s female companion was almost as gigantic as he was. I have no idea how they managed to squeeze into their seats in the first place. Maybe one of them inhaled every time the other exhaled.

“You have to go talk to the manager and ask him to change our seats,” my wife said. I was not thrilled at the prospect of finding a manager among the 1500 rock fans who were pouring into the theater, and how would a manager even find two seats in this sold-out crowd?

Trooper that I am, I walked up to an usher and asked to speak to the manager. She directed me to the box office, where a woman inside directed me to a ticket-taker, who directed me to a security guard, who sent me back to the ticket-taker. At this point I figured I’d be using up more energy than the musicians on stage.

Eventually I did get to speak to a gentleman (and I mean that in the true sense of the word) who was very sympathetic, despite the fact that he probably has to deal with dozens of wackos like me who always find something to complain about. He said he was an assistant to the house manager, and he actually smiled when I explained our plight. I figured that was a good sign. He said he’d try to accommodate us, that he would check out the lay of the land and get back to me. (I was standing near the entrance.)

It seemed like I was standing there as long as it takes to listen to an entire Queen album, but it was probably about 10 minutes when the gentleman came back, again with a smile (he should work for the IRS), saying, “You’re in luck. Not only can I change your seats, but you will be much closer to the stage.”

I should point out that I never mentioned my name or pulled out the “reporter card” to get any special treatment. Until he sees this, he will not know that I write articles for the Local. As I mentioned earlier, I was not planning to write an article. I am not sure how he did it, but this humanitarian moved us to much better seats. He explained how these seats became available, but I didn’t really understand the explanation. It had something to do with a man in a wheelchair and a guide dog. (I did see the man and the dog.) Right after we were seated (about 7:42), the show started. Could it be possible that the musicians were waiting for us to change our seats before they could start playing?

The concert was, of course, phenomenal, although the sound was turned up loud enough to be heard in Baltimore. I always carry earplugs with me, which dampen sound by about 30 percent, but even with that, it was still really loud. But complaining about the loudness of the music at a rock concert is like complaining that ice cream is too creamy.

So I called the Keswick Theater a couple times last week to find out the name of this Good Samaritan who actually smiled and moved us to the front row of the back section of seats so that we could actually see the stage instead of a massive array of human flesh. I found out that the wonderful man who helped us was named Ray Dyjak, my candidate for King for a Queen Day.

So if you ever find yourself seated at the Keswick Theater behind The Incredible Hulk, ask for Ray. He rocks!

  • workingclassheros

    Ray is my rock and roll hero!