Freddie Mercury would have been 65 today. But what would have happened had he not died? For a start, he wouldn’t have been the lucky recipient of a Google doodle, an animated one, no less, showing the world’s favourite moustachioed rock tenor on a mission through time and space, doing various implausible things alluded to in the lyrics of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, including leaping through space, riding a tiger and racing a car like, er, Lady Godiva. But that was Freddie: he could make the impossible happen with one twirl of his ‘tache, and before you knew it he’d be exploding like an atom bomb and burning through the skies, while prancing across a stage wearing a white pant-suit exposing a full chest of hair.
NME may have been moved to ask, “Is this man a prat?” – accompanied by a photo of Mercury in a leotard – but everyone loved Freddie, and these days almost everyone loves Queen, even if, for a while, they were considered the ultimate in kitsch bombast.
Mojo magazine recently put Queen on the cover, proclaiming them “Britain’s second favourite band after the Beatles” or somesuch, and it’s routine for even quite cool groups to cite them as an influence. Punk may have looked down on layered majesty and choral pomp’n’circumstance, but not, to name but one, Muse. Meanwhile, the world’s biggest pop star, Lady Gaga, has hardly been backwards in coming forwards with her admiration for the man Tom Hibbert (RIP) would surely have dubbed Sir Fredward of Mercury.
But what would he be doing if he was still with us? It’s a question often asked of Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, one of those great “what if?”s. Maybe the mark of a great rock star is an inability to imagine them as an OAP, but let’s have a go. It would be hard to make a convincing case for Mercury embarking on adventures across music’s experimental margins, as people did for Hendrix after his death, mainly because the Mercurial one didn’t operate on the experimental margins when he was alive. He died in 1991, but one can’t exactly see him, had he not passed away, embracing grunge or Britpop.
It would be lovely to imagine him living up to his reputation, ascribed to him by former bandmate Brian May in a blogpost, as the fearless, flamboyant dandy, causing havoc in the mainstream, and doing some of those colourful, creatively daring things that pop stars never tend to do when they reach a certain age, getting up to the sort of artistic mischief we probably wish we could tease out of Bowie or Jagger: work with Gaga, collaborate with Aphex Twin, do a concept album with someone boundary-pushing and young – Tyler, the Creator, say – about the perils of fame in this media-saturated era. You could certainly see him making an appearance on the next Muse album, or joining them for some neo-operatic warbling during one of their live extravaganzas, showing them how to really wow Wembley. Even a brief cameo on the last Scissor Sisters album would have been marvellous. Most likely, though, Freddie would probably be doing now what he did then: twirling that ‘tache, showing us his hirsute torso, and surveying all with a wry look that suggested he was about to go and do something a lot more fun and interesting than anything we had planned. Still, it’s nice to dream.
Paul Lester, The Guardian