TOPICS: FREDDIE MERCURY
REMU UT 1136 * Fall 2012
PROFESSOR JASON KING @jasonkingsays
The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music @clivedavisinst
Tisch School of the Arts, New York University
History & Criticism * 2 Credits
Dates: October 24, 31; November 7, 14, 28 & December 5, 12
Class Tumblr: freddiemercurynyu.tumblr.com
Twitter handles: @freddienyu2012 @jasonkingsays
As the lead singer of and songwriter in rock supergroup Queen—and famous for songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, and “We Are the Champions”—Freddie Mercury is arguably the most gifted and flamboyant of 20th century rock stars. As a musical auteur, charismatic frontman and visual genius, Freddie Mercury found creative ways to merge the avant-garde and the mainstream in pop, to the tune of 300 million in album sales. Often neglected in discussions of Mercury’s stardom, however, are his Asian heritage and African roots (he was born Farrokh Pluto Bulsara to parents Bomi and Jer Bulsara in Zanzibar, Tanzania), the diverse roots of his creative musicianship, and the open secret of his queer sexuality. The multiple (open) closets in which Freddie Mercury worked and his subversive musical and visual content demand a total re-examination of the assumed whiteness, Western-ness and straight-ness of the rock front “man” mythology. But the often fraught journeys of contemporary queer or queer-identified pop stars like George Michael, Mika, Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga and Frank Ocean suggests how far and not so far the music industry has come.
This course proposes to deconstruct Freddie Mercury’s impact on popular music, with a special focus on issues of race, gender, celebrity, postcoloniality, globalization and the hidden aspects of his public image. Among topics for consideration: Freddie Mercury’s early Hendrix influence; the politics of flamboyance; the ways that his transnational identifications complicate notions of “white” male rock singing; Queen’s ’70s multitracked vocal excess; Queen’s critical reception by the rock press and their innovations in touring and branding.
1. To develop students’ understanding and appreciation for the creative, cultural, and social legacy of Freddie Mercury.
2. To better educate students about Queen’s contribution to rock music of the 1970s-1990s, and to consider how Freddie Mercury brilliantly navigated his way through a series of rich and complex musical scenes and genres.
3. To address the complex intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality that informed Freddie Mercury’s life and on and off stage performances.
4. To inform students how to examine musical recordings in their commercial as well as social contexts, and to understand the atmosphere in which classic Queen records were created.
5. To encourage greater sophistication in artistic appreciation, critical thinking, research and writing skills.
REQUIRED PURCHASES - BOOKS
· Jones,Lesley-Ann. 1997. Freddie Mercury: the Definitive Biography. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Please purchase the 1997 edition.
· Please have assigned materials read and/or viewed before class, as they are an integral part of discussion.
REQUIRED PURCHASES - MUSIC
Spotify Account: You’ll be required to listen to the Queen albums and various Freddie Mercury solo projects as well as playlists of artists associated with Queen. (The comprehensive list of songs you should listen to for which you are responsible is posted on Blackboard.) Please sign up for a paid Spotify account, www.spotify.com – they often offer a free 30-day trial; after that the monthly fee starts at $9.99. This will be the best way for me to share playlists pertaining to classes. Free accounts are restrictive: your listening time will be shortened, and interrupted by ads.
Please note: ultimately this course is about the music. Reading and discussing it are fine, but listening – and truly hearing the music – is the primary aim of this course. Please listen, and listen often to the music on your own time.
· Auslander,Philip.2006. Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
· Books, Greg and Simon Lufton, eds.2008. Freddie Mercury: His Life in His Own Words.London: Omnibus Press.
· Freestone, Peter with David Evans. 2001. Freddie Mercury. London: Omnibus Press.
· Hoskyns,Barney. 1998. Glam!: Bowie, Bolan and the Glam Rock Revolution. London: Faber and Faber.
· Rock, Mick. 2004. Blood and Glitter. London: Vision On.
OUT OF CLASS FILM AND VIDEO SCREENINGS
Most of these videos are available, or will be available, on reserve at Bobst Library’s Avery Fisher Center. You are responsible for viewing these on your own. Special class screenings may be set up. Be sure to watch all the special features. DVD numbers correspond to Avery Fisher Center call numbers.
§ The Velvet Goldmine (1998, dir. Todd Haynes, 124 minutes) DVD 3229.
§ Cruising (deluxe edition) (1980, dir. William Friedkin, 106 minutes) DVD 10915.
§ Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen - Live in Budapest ‘86 (2012, dir. Janos Zsombolyai, 115 mins).
§ Excerpts from Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid (2007, dir. Saul Swimmer, 138 minutes).
§ Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender (2012, dir. Rhys Thomas, 107 minutes).
A NOTE ABOUT ATTENDANCE: Attendance is mandatory; you may not miss class. Because this course is just seven (7) classes, more than one unexcused absence may adversely impact on a student’s grade. If you feel you may miss more than two (2) classes, please reconsider taking this class. Students are required to provide advance notice of any absence from class. Please communicate with me via e-mail any extenuating circumstances or illnesses; provide a doctor’s note for the latter. Please clear absences due to religious holidays up front Students are responsible for work missed while absent from, or late to, class.
A NOTE ABOUT GRADES: Your final grade will be determined by your attendance, class participation, five quizzes, and your prompt and successful completion of your final project with proper documentation. Assignments are due at the beginning of class. Late assignments will not be accepted.
BREAKDOWN OF GRADES:
Attendance/On-time/Class Participation: expected
Group Discussion: expected
5 Quizzes (classes 2 through 6): 25%
Group Presentation: 25%
Final Essay due: 40%
The Abstract-Paper Proposal is due in the third week of the class (November 14th).
GROUP PRESENTATION (25%)
Groups of two-four will do a fifteen-minute summary presentation on the readings. The presentations start week two and end week 6. Further information is on Blackboard.
FINAL PAPER (40%)
· Compare Freddie Mercury to one of his pop music contemporaries; i.e., Marc Bolan or Elton John or David Bowie or Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger or Sylvester or ELO or Michael Jackson, or one of today’s artists that appears to be highly influenced by Freddie Mercury or Queen, like The Scissors Sisters, Lady Gaga, Cee-Lo Green, The Darkness, Adam Lambert, etc.
· Any aspect related to gender and sexuality in popular music; or camp and queer aesthetics
· Any relevant aspect of pop and opera or classical music
· Any relevant aspect of Hard rock, metal or glam rock genres
· The business aspects of Freddie Mercury and Queen, or related rock bands.
· Race, nationality and postcolonial/cosmopolitan identity in popular music.
WEEKLY CLASS BREAKDOWN
WEEK 1: OCTOBER 24
WHY FREDDIE MERCURY MATTERS +
FREDDIE MERCURY’S POSTCOLONIAL ROOTS IN AFRICA AND INDIA (1946-1964)
Special Guest in person: ASHA PUTHLI, Mercury contemporary and Indian recording artist
READ BEFORE FIRST CLASS:
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 1 - “Introduction;” Chapter 2 - “Spice of Life;” Chapter 3 - “From Zanzibar to Panchgani…” (pages 23-73).
· Fitzpatrick, Liam. 2006. “Asian Heroes: Farrokh Bulsara,” in Time, Monday November 13.
WATCH IN CLASS:
Excerpts from Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story (2000, dir. by Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher)
OCTOBER 31: Cancelled class due to Superstorm Sandy
WEEK 2: NOVEMBER 7
FREDDIE MERCURY BEFORE QUEEN (1964-1970) +
THE CLOSET AND CAMP IN POPULAR MUSIC
Special Guest in Class: TAVIA N’YONGO, Associate Professor, Performance Studies, NYU
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 4 - “Ealing;” Chapter 5 - “Queen – the Beginning;” Chapter 6 - “Freddie Comes on Board;” Chapter 7 - “And It Was Mary” (pages 75-142).
· Sontag, Susan. 1966. “Notes on Camp.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Anchor Books (pages 275-293).
· Halperin, David. 2012. “The Beauty and the Camp.” How to Be Gay. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (pages 201-222).
· Spotify playlists called “Influences on Queen” and “Influences on Freddie”: includes Little Richard; Chopin; Lata Mangeshkar; Shirley Bassey; Liza Minelli; Chopin; Mantovani; Pink Floyd; Freddie King; Jimi Hendrix; Deep Purple; Blue Oyster Cult; Black Sabbath; Elton John; The Kinks; and many more.
WATCH IN CLASS, DEPENDING ON TIME:
Excerpts from Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story (2000, dir. by Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher) and Queen: Days Of Our Lives (2011, dir. by Matt O’Casey)
WEEK 3: NOVEMBER 14
QUEEN AT THE END OF GLAM:
EXPLORING EARLY QUEEN ALBUMS + BRITISH ART ROCK (1970-1974)
Quick Chat with Special Guest By Skype: PHILLIP AUSLANDER,
Professor, School of Literature, Media and Communication, George Institute of Technology
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 9 - “All the Young Dudes;” Chapter 10 - “Killer Queen” (143-173).
Auslander, Philip. 2006. “Chapter Three: King of the Highway, Queen of the Hop: Marc Bolan and the Evolution of Glam Style” and “Chapter Four: Who Can I Be Now? David Bowie and the Theatricalization of Rock.” Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (pages 74-169).
Thompson, Dave. 2009. “Queen Causes ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ in 1974,” Goldmine, July 17; (pages 32-36)
Feaster, Felicia. 1999. “Velvet Goldmine" in Film Quarterly, LIII, Fall (pages 42-44).
REQUIRED LISTENING: LISTEN TO ENTIRE ALBUMS
· Queen (1973); Queen II (1974); Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
You should be able to identify: “Keep Yourself Alive” “Liar” by “Seven Seas of Rhye” “March of the Black Queen” “Killer Queen” “In the Lap of the Gods” “Stone Cold Crazy”
· You should also be able to identify: “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix Experience; “Bang a Gong (Get It On) and “Hot Love” by T. Rex; “Space Oddity” by David Bowie;” “Rock ‘n’ Roll (Part 1)” by Gary Glitter; “All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople
· Spotify playlists called “Influences on Queen” and “Influences on Freddie.”
WATCH IN CLASS
Excerpts from Queen: Days Of Our Lives (2011, dir. by Matt O’Casey) and Queen: Under Review 1973-1980 (2006, dir. by Chris Davies)
WATCH OUT OF CLASS:
The Velvet Goldmine (1998, dir. Todd Haynes, 124 minutes) DVD 3229.
NOVEMBER 21: THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY
WEEK 4: NOVEMBER 28
RE-HEARING “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY” (1975)
Guest Speaker by Skype (recorded earlier): BARNEY HOSKYNS, Author and journalist
Guest Speaker by Skype: BARRY WALTERS, Senior Critic, Rolling Stone
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 11 - “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (pages 173-186).
· Cunningham, Mark. 1999. “Just One More Galileo.” Good Vibrations: A History of Record Production. Chessington: Castle Communications (pages 221-236).
· McLeod, Ken. 2001. “Bohemian Rhapsodies: Operatic Influences on Rock Music.” Popular Music, Vol. 20, No. 2, May (Read excerpt: pages 189-194)
· Koestenbaum, Wayne. 1993. “Opera Queens” and “The Queen’s Throat: Or, How to Sing” The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire. New York: Poseidon Press. (9-45; 154-175).
LISTEN TO ENTIRE ALBUMS:
A Night at the Opera (1975); A Day at the Races (1976)
You should be able to identify the following songs: “I’m in Love with My Car;” “You’re My Best Friend “Love of My Life;” “Bohemian Rhapsody;” “Tie Your Mother Down;” “Somebody to Love;” “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.”
WATCH IN CLASS:
Excerpts from Queen: Days Of Our Lives (2011); Classic Albums: The Making of a Night at the Opera (2006, dir. Matthew Longfellow); The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody (2004, dir. Carl Johnston)
WEEK 5: DECEMBER 5
FREDDIE MERCURY, MASCULINITY + SPORTS ANTHEMS (1976-1980)
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 12 – “Fame” and Chapter 13 – “Queen Limited” (pages 187-245).
· Whiteley, Sheila. 2007. “Which Freddie? Constructions of Masculinity in Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins.” Oh Boy!: Masculinities and Popular Music. New York: Routledge (pages 21-38); and excerpts from “Popular Music and the Dynamics of Desire.” Queering the Popular Pitch. New York: Routledge (pages 257-260)
McLeod, Ken. 2011. “We Will Rock You: Sports Anthems and Hypermasculinity.” We are the Champions: The Politics of Sports and Popular Music. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate
Stewart, Tony. 1977. “Freddie Mercury: Is This Man a Prat?” in New Musical Express (NME), June 18.
Lee, Nathan. 2007. “Gay Old Time” (on Cruising) in Village Voice, August 28.
"William Friedkin: The Hollywood Flashback Interview," http://thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com
LISTEN TO SONGS FROM:
· News of the World (1977); Jazz (1978); The Game (1980); Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack (1980); Hot Space (1982); selected tracks by The Darkness
You should be able to identify the following songs: “We Will Rock You;” We Are the Champions;” Mustapha;” “Fat Bottomed Girls;” “Bicycle Race;” “Let Me Entertain You;” “Don’t Stop Me Now;” “Play the Game;” “Another One Bites the Dust;” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love;” “Save Me;” “Flash’s Theme;” “Body Language;” “Las Palabras De Amor;” “Under Pressure;” by Queen; “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness
WATCH OUT OF CLASS
§ Cruising (deluxe edition) (1980, dir. William Friedkin, DVD 10915). Watch the special features too.
WATCH IN CLASS:
· Excerpts from Queen: Days Of Our Lives (2011)
WEEK 6: DECEMBER 12
QUEEN AS VISUAL INNOVATORS +
GLOBAL LIVE TOURING ACT (1981-1985)
Invited Guest Speaker by Skype: MICK ROCK, Queen’s early Art Director and Photographer
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 14 – “Queen of the South” (247-263); skim through chapters 15 and 16; Chapter 17 - “Under Pressure: Sun City Rollers;” Chapter 18 - “Queen of the Road;” Chapter 19 - “We are the Champions;” Chapter 20 – “Budapest” (313-378)
· Fast, Susan. 2006. “Popular Music Performance and Cultural Memory: Queen, Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, London, July 13, 1985.” Performance and Popular Music: History, Place, Time, ed. Ian Inglis. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate (pages 138-154).
· Freestone, Peter with David Evans. 1998. “Chapter One” in Freddie Mercury. New York: Omnibus Press (pages 1-74).
LISTEN TO SONGS FROM:
§ Live Killers (1979); The Works (1984); A Kind of Magic (1986); Live Magic (1986)
You should be able to identify the following songs: “Radio Gaga;” “I Want to Break Free;” “Hammer to Fall;” “One Vision;” “Kind of a Magic;” “Is This the World We Created?;” “Friends Will Be Friends;” “Who Wants to Live Forever”
WATCH IN CLASS
· Various clips from Queen: Greatest Video Hits I and 2 (2002; 2003, various directors).
WATCH OUT OF CLASS:
· Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen - Live in Budapest ‘86 (2012, dir. Janos Zsombolyai, 115 minutes).
· Queen performance from Live Aid (1985, dir. Vincent Scarza, 18 minutes).
MAKEUP CLASS: date TBA
FREDDIE MERCURY’S SOLO VENTURES (1985-1991) +
HIS ARTISTIC LEGACY (1991-2012)
Guest Speaker in Person: JIM FOURATT, Veteran record label executive and activist
· Jones 1997 - Chapter 21 - “The Court of King Freddie;” Chapter 22 – “Barcelona: Who Wants to Live Forever?;” Chapter 23 - “To Eternity” (379-437)
· Halperin, David. 2012. “Gay Identity and Its Discontents” and “The Queen is Not Dead.” How to Be Gay. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (69-81; 109-128)
· Milner, Greg. 2006. “God Save the Queen: Why are Bands Suddenly Waxing Rhapsodic over Freddie Mercury?” in Spin, December, 31-32.
· Regen, Jon. 2010. “The Boy Who Knew Too Much - On Knowing Just Enough” (on Mika) in Keyboard, 36. 2 (Feb): 30-31.
· Weiner, Jonah. 2012. “Adam Lambert’s Emotional Rescue” in Rolling Stone, May 24. (pages 28,30)
LISTEN TO SONGS FROM:
· Mr. Bad Guy (1985); Barcelona (1987); The Miracle (1989); Innuendo (1991); Made in Heaven (1995)
· You should be able to identify the following songs: “The Great Pretender;” “There Must Be More to Life than This;” “Barcelona;” “I Want It All;” “These Are the Days Of Our Lives;” “The Show Must Go On.”
· Spotify playlist called “Queen’s Legacy” which consists of Artists-Inspired-by-Freddie Mercury including: Dream Theater; Meatloaf; Nirvana; Extreme; George Michael; Robbie Williams; Oasis; fun.; The Scissor Sisters; Katy Perry; Keane; Radiohead; Lady Gaga; My Chemical Romance; Muse; Mika; Adam Lambert; Neon Trees, etc.
WATCH OUT OF CLASS:
Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender (2012, dir. Rhys Thomas)
FINAL PAPER DUE: WEEK 8 – DEC 19th