When I was in high school, there was this guy named Ronnie who made my life pretty miserable. He’d wait for me in the hallways with his three greasy little friends (I called them Stinky, Pinky and Dung), ready to launch colourful invectives each time I passed by.
“Homo!” was a favourite, as was “cocksucker” and that timeless classic, “faggot.” I was very closeted at the time — well, as much as one can be with blue hair, suede pixie boots and a mincing walk that would make Quentin Crisp scream, “Oh, Mary!” — but it was clear that Ronnie and company had guessed my secret.
The only way of avoiding this daily walk of shame was to listen carefully for the quartet’s loathsome music, blasting from Dung’s battered ghetto blaster as it hung like a purse from his shoulder.
Their favourite band? Queen. Yes, the soundtrack to my high school torment was provided by the monarch of sodomy himself, Freddie Mercury. Of course, none of us knew back then that Mercury was a poofter; we thought Queen was just a nifty name for a band. Freddie was undoubtedly singing Love of My Life to some blond nymphette, writhing atop a cherry red convertible.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that I realized the nymph’s name could very well have been Bernard.
I can’t help but wonder if Ronnie and his odious trio would have pumped their grubby little fists to Another One Bites the Dust if they’d known that Freddie might have enjoyed an altogether different sort of fist-pumping activity. Mercury’s close friend and biographer Peter Freestone isn’t so sure.
“It’s something that maybe male fans didn’t want to think about,” chuckles Freestone. Mercury had flirted with confessions of bisexuality and famously told New Musical Express that he was “as gay as a daffodil, my dear.” But it never made headlines, which suited Mercury just fine.
“Freddie didn’t believe it was anybody’s business but his own,” Freestone says. “He didn’t think it was fair for all the band publicity to be about his gay lifestyle and image.”
And the press played along with Mercury’s coy peeks from the closet, despite the hip-hugging outfits and a make-up regiment worthy of Liberace.
Still, Mercury’s ambivalence explains why legions of straight boys drove untold miles to scream their love for a guy prancing around the stage in a harlequin unitard.
Craig Pesco was one of those guys. A native Australian, Pesco grew up listening to Queen LPs and collecting band memorabilia, which proved invaluable when a local producer posted auditions for a Queen tribute concert.
“I showed up at his office with everything I had,” says Pesco, “gold albums, rolls of live concert film, photos, all sorts of stuff. That was the birth of it all.”
Pesco’s depth of knowledge informed everything in the production. Costumes were sewn precisely to match original concert outfits, sets were re-created in meticulous detail, and cast members spent nearly two years perfecting the visual and musical illusion. “We had to convince people that they were watching Queen,” says Pesco.
Freestone was certainly convinced, after some hesitation at seeing yet another tribute band. Then he received the airline ticket for its Singapore concert.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to go and see this band,’ because I’d never been to Singapore,” Freestone laughs. “I’m very happy that I did go, though. There were 1,000 people all on their feet, singing, clapping and dancing. For two hours, Craig really became Freddie. He was remarkable.”
Eight years later, the show is still going from strength to strength. Pesco and his crew have toured the world, converting the masses.
I’m planning on being one of those converts, despite my teenaged experiences. I’m guessing I won’t be the only ’mo singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody, and Pesco wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Live and let live,” says Pesco. “It shouldn’t matter if someone is or isn’t gay, anyway. As long as it produces an awesome spectacle and some good rock ‘n’ roll, I’m happy.”