Article 13

Rock On

Champions of the World - a tribute to Freddie Mercury

(Published 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....

Nandu Bhende











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