The Queen, Queen, and Me

According to my research, Queen Elizabeth II was 49 years old when Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” came out.

That’s how old I am now.

This terrifies me because the Queen has always seemed like an old lady to me. Part of what makes it feel so weird is that BoRhap — like the Queen — has never really gone away. It (not she) is constantly reprised (or should I say “revived”) on “rock” radio stations and on American Idol, so it doesn’t seem all that dated. Unlike, for example, any given Elvis song, which would invariably sound like it came from 1000 years ago.

But here’s the kicker — I’ve always hated “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I was a young teenager when it came out, all wrapped up in big-haired guitar music from Kiss, BTO, and the less subtle strains of Led Zeppelin. I couldn’t understand how the kind of highfalutin orchestration we hear in BoRhap was supposed to be cool. To my angry and unrefined ears it sounded like a cross between a Broadway show tune and the snooty music that tea-sipping ladies enjoyed — with a bit of unmelodious guitar banging thrown in at the end for good measure.

Queen!The worst part was the dancing. You cannot dance to Bohemian Rhapsody. At least you couldn’t according to the strict dancing codes we adhered to in the time and place of my youth. (In brief, you shuffled around, more or less in time with the music, being careful not to appear very good at it or to be having much fun, lest the banner of “fag” descend upon you.) Regardless, girls loved BoRhap. They’d want to dance to it so badly they’d even grab me — surly me, crunched up in a corner conspicuously despising everything — and drag me to the dance floor. I had no choice but to comply or my odds of necking with one of them would be reduced from a high of 1% to absolute zero.

So there I’d be, stumbling through the first part of BoRhap, which is too slow and theatrical to dance to. I’d awkwardly rock from side to side while the girl ignored me and twittered (in the old fashioned sense) with her friends who in turn were subjecting various other males to this torture. Then the tempo would pick up. In our current age — that of So You Think You Can Dance and its variations and offshoots — kids would start busting moves left and right. But back then all you could do was flail around a bit more, hoping she wasn’t really looking.

On it went, for what seemed like hours. When it was finally ending I’d pray for some kind of pop song, something that I would obviously despise but at least I could pick up a beat and maybe redeem myself just a little. There was no point in hoping for a slow dance, even though nothing could have been finer than for my virginal hands to encircle the body (the body!) of a nubile classmate of the female persuasion, and to actually touch (touch!) the fabric of her blouse and to smell the faint aroma of Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo from her hair. No, BoRhap got the girls too revved up for slow dancing so no DJ would make that kind of segue.

I’d invariably get my damned pop song, but then the girl would run off to giggle with her gaggle and I’d be left there, both tortured and humiliated.

Thanks a lot, Queen.

Regarding Michael Jackson

It gives me no pleasure to speak ill of the dead. Yet, amidst all this gushing hagiography I feel I have to say something about Michael Jackson.

I’d like to point out that Michael Jackson hasn’t done a single interesting thing, creatively speaking, for 20 years. His recent recordings were bland, over-processed, and derivative. His famous dancing, which set the world alight in the 1980s, didn’t change a step since then. But so what? Many people peak early, and the body of work from his early years is truly impressive.

Then there’s the weirdness. There’s the excessive consumption — it’s reported that he spend on average $30 million per year more than he earned, and this went on for a decade. There’s also the identity issue, made highly ironic and even offensive in the face of his “Black or White” song. And of course the allegations of child molestation.

Those are just the obvious things, and again one could ask “so what?” Michael Jackson had no monoply on celebrity weirdness. Heck, for the most part I admire famous people who are able to live strange and unusual lives (RIP, Hunter S. Thompson).

Where it’s different in the case of Michael Jackson is the extent that his weirdness directly affected other people. Namely, the trio of Fauntleroys that are generally referred to as his children.

I cringe every time I see a photograph of Jackson with his gauze draped kids, and I wonder what kind of mental development issues arise when you’re brought up by a self absorbed Peter Pan who has, at best, a faint grip on the reality of everyday life. Here is a “parent” who repeatedly shows no understanding of financial, personal, or any other kind of responsibility, charged with raising three children without another parent on the scene to try to balance things out. It takes more than hugs and cookies and Coke cans filled with wine to raise children.

As the fans and the media continue to gush, I keep coming back to those kids, and my feeling that maybe now there’s a chance they’ll have something resembling a normal life.

The Ubiquitous Gregory Charles

Gregory Charles is everywhere. He’s a multi-talented, classically trained pianist and singer who hosts TV and radio shows in French-speaking Quebec, has acted in numerous stage and TV productions, gets tremendous airplay for his recently released easy-listening record album, and makes guest appearances on every second TV and radio show in Quebec (at least the ones in French).

Martine and I will get in the car and start driving into town. Whose show is on the radio? Gregory Charles. Crossing the Jacques Cartier Bridge, whose mug is staring down from a billboard? Gregory Charles.

We go shopping for shoes. Whose voice do we hear smoothly serenading us in from the store’s music system? Gregory Charles. We go to a concert that night and who makes a guest appearance? Gregory Charles. Later, at home, we’re channel flipping on the TV. Oh look, there’s Gregory Charles. Oh, look, there he is again. And again.

The guy is amazing – and everywhere. It seems like there’s nothing he cannot do. He sings, he composes, he plays musical instruments, he acts, he hosts, and he seems able to learn new things at the drop of a hat. “Hey Gregory Charles, how about doing some brain surgery while tapping out a Latino reinterpretation of Lord of the Dance? And while you’re at it, could you juggle these chainsaws?” No problem for Gregory Charles.

If you want the ultimate Gregory Charles experience, listen to his weekly radio show on Radio-Canada, called Des airs de toi, on Saturday afternoons (4:05 PM-7:00PM). Basically, you get Gregory Charles, his piano, and his vast personal library of recordings. He plays records, talks about them, sometimes sings along with them, mixes them up, matches them up, cuts into a solo for a while, cracks a joke or two, and tells a few stories. It’s unusual radio for sure, and not just because there’s no advertising.

Listening to Des airs de toi, you get the impression he’s simply sitting in a room having fun all by himself and you just happen to be listening in. Other times, it’s like he’s the talent at a piano bar and there’s only you, him, and one or two other patrons. It’s very intimate and personal, and spontaneous, which is a nice relief from the standard blah blah blah BLAAAHHHH! type of loudmouth crap you get from most radio personalities. Martine and I have often wondered if such a show would work on English radio. Who would host it? Would English-speaking radio listeners enjoy it? Would the formula even work in English?

Well guess what? CBC has found someone to recreate Des airs de toi in English. The show will air Sunday mornings on CBC Two, and be rebroadcast Sunday nights on CBC One. It will be broadcast from the host’s living room, where he has a grand piano and a vast collection of record albums.He will mix and match music, sing along, tell stories and jokes and whatever else strikes his fancy. Free-form radio in which the host loves his medium, loves his message, and has total creative freedom to basically just banter and jam.

The host for the new show, by the way, is Gregory Charles.

I’ll soon be single

Martine phoned me at work today and gave the the worst possible news:

Crowded House is playing at the Théâtre St. Denis on Sunday.

Oh gawd, anything but that! Virtually every girlfriend I’ve ever had has been an enormous Crowded House fan. And why not? Neil Finn, the band’s vocalist and front man, is calm, intelligent, talented, good looking, and (if you go by his lyrics) really sensitive but not in that terribly emasculating way that was so popular in the 90s. In other words, Neil Finn is the perfect man. Or perhaps more precisely, Neil Finn makes you think your girlfriend thinks he’s the perfect man.

He can probably sing well too, but I wouldn’t really know. You see, every time a Crowded House song plays, [insert name of any girlfriend anyone has ever had] goes into a swooning trance and starts singing along, loudly. As a result, I think of Neil Finn as the backup vocalist to the world’s girlfriends. To the world’s girlfriends however, Neil Finn is everything their boyfriends can never be.

It’s not that I’m so bad, really, at least if you don’t make comparisons. But then, I don’t sing, I can’t play any instruments, and I complain about doing house chores. I’ve never in my life seen my own abs, I can’t remember a single mathematical formula, and I once shot a squirrel in the neck.

How’s that for an unfair contest?

So that’s it. I’m finished. It’s over. All the paella and paprika-dusted roasted salmon with maple-caramelized onions in the world won’t make up for the vast chasm between me and Mr. Goddamn Perfect. My only chance for survival is if the show is sold out.