Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Freddie Mercury Was My First Punk Influence.

In my early teens, alienated and filled with dread, repressed and tightly wound,  I discovered punk.  It was the catalyst my brimming frustration hadn't known it was waiting for and it was transformative.

The music was full of rage, yet often exalting.  Swirling, sufi-like in a feverish mosh pit could only be described as rapturous.  It was fury and violence and a cathartic release of anguish.  and it was jubilant and fraternal.  Like for so many other odd uncomfortable kids, it was a lifeline.

I desperately wanted in, in a way I never had before.   Like it's sound, punk had a raw and angry look to it so I immediately set about building my new facade.  Iconoclasm and anti-conformism were clarion calls of the day so I didn't know that there was an accompanying uniformity to the uniform.

One of my early fashion moves, ripping into do-it-yourself punk, was to buy a Queen patch and sew it on my jean jacket.  I had found it at a “head” shop while on an early foray into the downtown scene.  Queen seemed to embody the same kind of bursting out feeling and raw power that I was now finding in punk.  I had no idea what was punk and what was not.  It seemed to me that was the point.

Wasn't this kind of punkish? :

So, my clumsy sweaty hands sewed my patch on.  Off I went, proud, into the night, to launch myself, now adorned, into the punk fray.

Perhaps you see where this is going?

I was dragged out of the pit, and several older guys held me down, kicked the snot out of me and then tore off my beloved Queen patch.  Then they threw me back in after calling me a fag. 

I didn’t understand what that word meant, though I had been called it before.  I didn't understand what had just happened.  In my mind, I tried to make it an initiation. 

Luckily, a few years later, queen made things 
clearer for the exceptionally obtuse:

Late that night, stumbling away into the night with my two friends, we deliriously relived our adventures, and our wounds, and I didn’t know what to say about the whole business with the Queen patch.  We had already built up a religion, fueled by Robert Heinlein and John Lennon, and punk was its new home.  This was our great violent alienated love.

I never did learn to fit in, but punk gradually learned to fit me in, one bruise at a time.  I did eventually learn what fag meant.  Punk's early homophobia is ironic in hindsight of one of it's elder statesmen, Jello Biafra, eventually coming out.  It wasn't the only time i ended up on the wrong side of fists for transgressing some gender role rule that I was unaware of.  I used to resist arguing, 'but I'm not gay'  because that seemed to legitimate the activity by only rejecting the identification process.

Punks eventually built a culture of tolerance, like a reservation for everyone who had been turned away elsewhere and the violence usually came from without, not within.  There was enough open season on punks without us hunting each other as well.

It almost makes no sense now, what with all the violence and addiction and crime, but it was a precious time in life.  Of course it wasn't a sensible time, it was a visceral time.  Everyone acting freely, if impulsively.  Little tribes cleaving together. A bughouse band living by our wits. Punk ceased to be a form of music and became more of a mantra about being.

I cherish those times and occasionally go on nostalgic punk music benders.   But to tell the truth, a quarter century later, I listen to Freddie Mercury far more often than Black Flag or The Accused.  And while i will always hear a little punk in Queen, that's way too small a label for their sound and his voice.



  1. i want to be 15 and have a little fun.

  2. My first views of punk were newspaper pictures of a Rocky Horror crowd lined up outside a theatre and second, another newspaper story about 'punk' illustrated with a picture of 'Jayne County'. Colour me another one who was shocked to find homophobia in the punk scene.
    (Though maybe the Queen thing was a 'rocker' vs. 'punk' thing?)

  3. could be. i was The Frank N Furter for a long time and never got as much flack. but in retrospect, i really think it was an 80's anti-gay thing (get your hate on for Prince, jackson, and any other male big in that time). geese, if only i would have liked Wham. oh.

  4. Ah Queen... I can remember the first time I heard a Queen album and it blew me away...still does.Those soaring guitar solos (bowed!! He bowed the guitar OMG)and Freddy's spectacular voice.This would have been in 1972 or 73 and the first 'real punks' I ever encountered were in a grotty London pub in 1978...the safety pins through the cheeks, violently colored and arrayed hair and an attitude of political/social superiority that was unapproachable kind of punks.I don't think they listened to Queen or anything I found remotely musical.They were dead serious blokes that weren't doing this for fashion or fun.To say I didn't relate is a vast understatement.

  5. Found you here b/c of your comments in

    As cliche as this is, you think a lot like I do...then I come here and you've devoted a post to a half-dozen Queen YouTube clips...

    (I get a little YT happy too... evidenced here -


    Anyway, I just added you to my few subscriptions and wanted to say "Hi" and thanks. ^_^