‘First Parsee Rock Star from India’: Perhaps this is the least known fact about one of the most talented artists of all times whose untimely demise shattered the whole world in 1991. Some of us cried when it happened; many shocked and numb with grief, while a sense of emptiness engulfed most his ardent fans. World lost one of its brightest stars and Bomi and Jer lost their beloved son– we lost the star with the ‘Mercurial touch’ who left us with these words, “I still love you”! It happened on 24 November, two days after JFK’s assassination: only the year was different! As you may have guessed, I am talking about the late Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, whose parents hail from India. For most people the name of the band ‘Queen’ brings only one name to the forefront, Freddie Mercury: because he is ‘Queen’!
Farookh Bulsaara, ‘Freddie’ to his friends and family, spent his childhood in Bombay and studied at St. Peter’s, a public school in Panchgani, a beautiful hill station near Poona. He started playing the piano encouraged by his mother at a very early age. His first exposure to classics and opera was in a city that was a musical melting pot. His family encouraged him to excel in music and art and he received the ‘All Rounder’ award at St. Peter’s for his achievements. Indian Music and the legendary Kishore Kumar and Latha Mangeshkar had great influence on the young Freddie, which was crucial to the wonderful, inimitable style associated with ‘Queen’. Freddie’s wide artistic horizons drew him to classical music, opera and the ballet; therefore, Bohemian Rhapsody and the operatic, ‘Barcelona’, which Freddie did with the famous soprano Montserrat Caballe came as no surprise.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ brought him fame and rock stardom. He was a star who did not wish to be anything else and therefore it was quite apt that a star in the galaxy was named after him. The Freddie Mercury award was given to the best pop artist in India and Roger Taylor and Brian May were there to present the award. A photographic exhibition to celebrate Freddie’s life was also held at the Royal Albert Hall.
Religion played a great part in his life, as both his parents are devout Parsees, followers of the Zoroastrian religion. India has the largest Parsee community in the world and in Bombay, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains and Zoroastrians live side by side in perfect harmony. Freddie was initiated into the Zoroastrian religion at the age of eight. The ceremony ‘Navjyoti’ was held in front of the eternal fire in the Temple where Parsees worshipped. He excelled in sports and took part in dramatic club activities at school. His family came to live in England after Freddie finished his O levels. The welcome in England was quite muted and certainly there was cultural confusion in young Freddie’s mind; kids at school made fun of his looks and colonial accent. He considered his Indian school days as most enjoyable; but he talked about those wonderful days only to a few.
The flamboyant superstar was inspiration to many and still is, even after his death. He took a diploma from the Ealing College of Art and it was not long before he ventured into rock music, quite different from the choir music he practised at St. Peters! Freddie was the driving force behind the formation of the group ‘Queen’ with the three other quite distinct individuals, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Of course it was not the first time Freddie was part of a band; ‘The Hectics’ was the name of the band he and his friends formed at his old public school in Poona.
While waiting for Queen’s debut single, ‘under pressure’, Freddie released ‘I can hear music’ under the pseudonym Larry Lurex, which is a collector’s item now! The fantastic voyage started with ‘Keep yourself Alive’ in April 1973, spanning over 20 years to record ‘Days of Our Lives’ in 1991. And,’Bohemian Rhapsody’ happened to the music world in 1975! This operatic rock explosion bombarded the airwaves for weeks, which also brought stardom to Queen: the King of Rockdom was born! ‘Bo Rhap’ was the first ever single to be re-released and get to number one again. Crazy Little thing called Love, Who Wants to Live forever, Another One Bites the Dust, A Kind of magic, Innuendo, Pain is Close to Pleasure, These are the Days of Our Lives’ are few of the songs, which will never lose their magic.
Live Aid concert at the Wembley Stadium in 1985, provided the world stage for Freddie. He had the whole world in the palm of his hands, by the sheer power of his music and personality. It was twenty minutes of pure magic from the King of Rock that became legendary. The tribute concert for Freddie at the Wembley stadium in April 1992 turned out to be more than just a tribute. It proved beyond any doubt that his music was inimitable. Perhaps the only voice that has the power to excel that of Freddie is the most beautiful voice of Yesudas, the greatest Carnatic Classical and light music legend from Kerala. Even a mere comparison to him, will be the highest tribute to Freddie yet, as Yesudas has this powerful voice with a phenomenal range, that reaches beyond sound barriers.
The three very talented artists, Brian, Roger and John continue separately without Freddie; but there is no Queen without Freddie. His music transcended barriers of language, race, religion and politics, appealing to all– rich and poor, young and old. He was a writer, musician and above all, a wonderful performer. The light has gone but his music and memories will live forever. The word Super Stardom becomes a matter of fact when used for Queen: but then, Freddie Mercury is Queen.
(This article is dedicated to Freddie’s parents, Bomi and Jer)
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