of the World - a tribute to Freddie Mercury
in Times of India,
Pune on 1st September, 2001)
V ery few Indians have made a mark on the international
music scene. Some of the names that immediately come to mind are Ravi Shankar, Biddu and Trilok Gurtu. Cliff Richard was
born in Lucknow and Englebert Humperdink in Madras but they could
hardly qualify as Indians having spent all their lives abroad! If there is one
name however that clearly stands above the rest, especially since it is in the
highly competitive world of Pop/Rock music, it would have to be our very own
homegrown Bombay boy, Farrokh Bulsara, better known to the rest of the world as
Freddie Mercury of Queen.
Born to Bomi & Jer Bulsara on September 5th
1946 in Zanzibar, Farrokh attended boarding
school in Panchgani, just outside Bombay.
It is said that his teachers recognized his musical talents there and he began
his piano lessons, reaching Grade 4 in practical and theory. Farrokh spend the
first 16 years of his life in India and it was only in 1963 that the family,
along with younger sister Kashmira, moved to England. Farrokh always had a flair
for the arts and for his college diploma he chose to study Graphic Art and
Design from the Ealing
College of Art. This
education was to prove very helpful to him later, when he converted his passion
for music into a profession.
Colleges, with its various cultural
activities and the fellow students you meet there, have always been the
starting point of many an emerging musical career, mine included. It was here
that Farrokh met members of the Rock band "Smile" that included Brian
May and Roger Taylor. Farrokh had already started his singing career with
another band but it was not long before he joined his friends
"Smile". The band with new members Farrokh and John Deacon decided to
change their name. In its new avatar, the band was to be known as
"Queen" and not to be outdone, Farrokh too decided to have a new
identity. His old name was not befitting that of an emerging Rock star and so
it was decided that Farrokh Bulsara would henceforth be known as Freddie
Mercury, Freddie, the nickname he had acquired in school and Mercury, for the
messenger of the Gods. Little did he know that these events, taking place in a
small college in England,
would herald the beginning of an incredible chapter in Rock history! Queen went
on to become one of the biggest Rock acts in the history of music, selling
millions of albums all over the world and to date continues to be a major
influence on the musicians of today.
The journey to the top is slow and torturous,
as any seasoned campaigner would elicit and so it was with Queen. In my
opinion, it was not till the fourth album that Queen could capture the serious
attention of the entire world. Their earlier albums had already won them a huge
fan following, both sides of the Atlantic and they were big in Japan. Yet it
was the release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" from the album "the Night
at the Opera" that shook the world. The unusually long (5 minutes and 55
seconds) song was predicted to fail according to the know- it- alls, as radio
would refuse to play a song that was so long! However a clever ploy by Freddie
guaranteed its airplay when he gave an advance copy to a radio DJ friend on the
condition that he would not play it on the air. Naturally, it was promptly
played fourteen times in two days!! From then onwards, every major radio
station played the song in full, and not edited versions as was first thought.
It was a colossal hit staying at number one for nine weeks and truly
established Queen as the band of the era. The video, using ideas from the band,
started the entire video craze and the album gave Queen their first platinum
hit. Freddie had also used his designing skills to create a logo for the Queen,
which was reworked and used as the cover of the album. The crest featuring the
star signs of the members of the band is now famous all over the world and is a
testimony to just one more of Freddie's numerous talents.
Towards the end of his life Freddie suffered
from AIDS but he never told anyone about it till the very end. Today musicians
are amazed at the sheer power and control of the singing prowess on his last
album when he must have been in the middle of this terrible condition. It was
just a day before he died (November 24th 1991) that Freddie announced to the
world that he had AIDS. and it was all over for us before it could sink in.
Today Freddie stands tall as a shining example of the ingenuity of the Parsi
community in India and a
glorious role model for the kids of India who can take on the best in
the world if they decide to do so. On the anvil of Freddie's birthday (Sept.
5), I hope that we are blessed with many more musicians of his caliber and not
unlike Freddie, we can truly become the champions of the world! God bless you,
Freddie and Rock on....