20 August, 2011

Something that bothers me

(... because I'm a queer-identified feminist)

I don't mean to pick on Brian, but after a while I've decided I don't feel comfortable not addressing this. I've touched upon it here, but I need to expand on this.

Brian's been quoted as saying he dislikes that the track Don't Stop Me Now implies a separatism because the late 70's was probably the peak of Freddie's homo-tastic sexual adventures. So the song is very much Freddie going, "I'm a dude and I like sleeping with dudes, and it's a lot of fun!" and Brian has expressed discomfort.

On this same track of thought, Brian's said he prefers songs with romantic content to be universal and apply to everyone of every sexual orientation (as demonstrated in songs that avoid pronouns or other cues which may imply gender... "gender" being used very loosely here). That's beautiful and great, but... Brian, dude, your straight privilege is showing.

If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.

In (just about?) every culture in the world, heterosexuality is considered the default, or the norm. So even if some of Queen's love songs (or songs by any other artists for that matter) don't blatantly illustrate a hetero dynamic, it's universally implied that they are anyway. And while Don't Stop Me Now isn't literally screaming "I'M A BIG 'MO!" casual listeners probably wouldn't consider it more than just a song meant to boost the mood and get people amped up. But Brian was uncomfortable anyway because he knew where Freddie was actually coming from.

The idea of Brian wanting songs to be relevant to all sexual orientations by not always hinting at pronouns/stereotypical gender cues sounds great in theory. Same as folks who proclaim that people are people and things like race, gender and sexual orientation shouldn't matter, so let's just never talk about it!

To quote this article, "Being queer is one aspect of my identity and while I don’t need you to focus solely on it, I do need you to recognize that it is an aspect of my identity which is oppressed, and thus it does matter."

And to further illustrate my point, one of my favorite comic strips which translates the "we're all just people" mentality:

It's like saying, "my heart is in the right place, but fuck I'm stupid."

Does this make Brian homophobic? I'd say he would benefit from taking the time from his schedule to examine his views a little more closely. And I'm confident that he's open enough to learn from it if someone chooses to directly call him on it.

And I should clarify, because I can see this reaction coming from miles away, that calling someone out on their shit is NOT the same as telling them that they're a horrible person. Brian May is a wonderful and decent human being and musician and I am in no way implying otherwise.


  1. Hi Zander. I was bothered for a long time too, by the "separatism" label on Don't Stop Me Now. I couldn't put a finger on it, so thank you for calling it out: straight privilege indeed! Am of two minds about the non-gender specific pronouns in lyrics though. As you say heterosex is the norm, so for a good while by making genders ambiguous in a song about relationship, was enough to "de-center" the straight viewpoint and get people like Morrissey and Pet Shop Boys questioned whether they're 100% straight.

    Brian said he made a quasi-pact with Freddie to write non-gender-specific, gradually into the 80s. I don't think writing ambiguous lyrics is quite the same as, a Queen fan emphasizes they're straight, then claims to have no problem with Freddie's gayness but still don't want to talk about it 'cause it's irrelevant to the music. The difference is a Queen fan gets to talk about straight sex above all other kinds, while in a Queen song Brian's proposal was to not put any kind above another (which works as a transition in culture, as it's unrealistic to demand the knife immediately pulled out of the back entirely to start healing - to twist Malcolm X's metaphor. Think of the ambiguous pronouns of "You/I", as the "getting straights to even acknowledge there's a knife in back, period", I guess.)

    What disturb us about this "separatism", is double-standard that claims Queen music doesn't exclude anyone, yet Brian objects to one-member-out-of-four's gay-specific experience (whereas Roger recognizes it's a genuine "cry from the heart"!) More to your point, neither pushing gay nor straight experience above the other may seem too passive for OUR interest, but Queen as a band belongs to more than Freddie, just as it doesn't belong to Brian exclusively (in theory, not so much 2011 LOL.) IIRC, he got Freddie to add "supersonic woman", so straight listeners might feel "roped off" - his word choice. (To be fair, Brian's attitudes have undergone lots of changes in 30-odd years since Don't Stop Me Now; he's way relaxed about Body Language and finds it funny.)

    I won't even get into his calling DSMN's lyrics a "threat" in Freddie's life, or disliking it as "too pop" (Killer Queen, You Are My Best Friend were pop & big hits! Y'know the longer guitar solo was dropped:P)

    Anyway, how a song is sung and by whom, throws a monkey wrench into the lyrics too. This is really funny: in the last 10 years, Brian claimed Fat Bottomed Girls included everyone, even with the country/bluesy-rooted rock style and pronouns of man/woman - just because everyone believes now "girls" is codeword for "boys" - by virtue of Freddie singing it! I hope you agree it's possible to be subversive in performance even without changing the lyrics/pronouns. Examples are, Sid Vicious' take on My Way; Freddie sounds more "metrosexual" in Crazy Little Thing than rockabilly was accustomed to. In Fat Bottomed Girls' case, I just can't take Brian's claim seriously. We know he writes for, around and in reaction to Freddie a lot, so it arguably puts in a last stand for heteronorms, during a time when he saw growing "separatism" in the band!

    This tug of war within the band is interesting. Do you know if a book out there has addressed it? (I'm sorry to be so long-winded - you wrote a thought-provoker!)

  2. It is very interesting, isn't it? I think what I tried to say, but ultimately failed, is that culture as we currently know it favors heterosexuality, and the media industry is blatantly homo/trans/queerphobic. So considering the millions of songs out there that are blatantly aimed at straight audiences, for Brian to be concerned that ONE song will alienate straight audiences when they're easily represented and thought about in every other respect is really busted. Not that anyone could expect anybody to be conscious of that in the 70's, but it's still frustrating to think about.

    I'm glad Brian's relaxed a lot, as you say. I do believe his heart is in the right place and he has the best of intentions in everything he does, but I wouldn't bring any of this up if I didn't look up to him so much :-)

    As far as books, I'm still currently reading Is This The Real Life by Mark Blake. I'm past the parts about Jazz, but I'm sure Don't Stop Me Now gets addressed there...

    Be as long-winded as you want! I like these discussions!

  3. on the one hand I totally agree with you.. I definitely have noticed that Brian was, more so than Roger or John, judging Freddie for his lifestyle... it is apparent as early as ~'77 in some videos. in earlier ones Bri looks amused by Freddie's antics, but a bit later on he's like, move away from me, you perv. And that's not cool. He looked like he came to some sort of acceptance of it by '85 or '86 or so, BUT (and this leads me to the second point), this is also the time when Freddie started his (more or less, in the early days) monogamous relationship with Jim Hutton. And this sorta makes me suspect that what Bri was really having a problem with was not as much homosexuality per se, but rather Freddie's blatant promiscuity, which, according to one of the documentaries, he was very much into starting in the late 70s, like going to all those gay clubs where anything went, doing things with multiple dudes, etc etc etc. And of course this, rather than homosexuality per se, is most likely where he got AIDS from. Of course, that all was part of the gay culture paradigm of the moment, where some rights and recognition had been won and there were no apparent risks and an atmosphere of excitement and celebration (hence Don't Stop Me Now)... and IMO the fact that Freddie came from a traditional culture in which homosexuality was a taboo, so once he went overboard with that, he *really* went overboard - so all in all behavior was totally understandable, and fit into the gay cultural atmosphere of the time perfectly. Also, I feel a bit funny judging Brian for having been judgmental - but I'm certainly familiar with the sentiment.

  4. I don't know if Brian was being judgmental or worried (or maybe even jealous??). At this point (1978), they've been working together for 7 years and are mega-successful, and have also avoided many of the pitfalls of other bands. Yes, they indulged in the rock star lifestyle, but none of them were so heavy into substances or other things that would endanger the work they were doing...but then Fred starts indulging, and doing it in a way where he is separate from the rest of the band. If they're going out after a performance, Freddie's going to a different club than the other 3 and that can put a strain on band dynamics, especially if you've been a cohesive unit of 4 for this long. This song may represent anxiety about his livelihood as much as anything else.

    That said, I do kind of think Brian has moved a bit backwards in his thinking: I saw a clip of him and Roger on a morning show from right after Freddie died, and I thought he said the right things about Freddie being gay, but more recently, as moori wrote, he has said that it's irrelevant. But it isn't! He was outrageous and flamboyant in a very gay way! He would not have been the same performer if he were straight, and saying that it's irrelevant is wrong. Not to mention, let's take a moment to realize how great it is that in a world where queerness is still not really cool in most places, that someone like Freddie is so universally loved. So, it's a bummer when Brian says things like this now, especially when it seems like he was more open a decade or so ago.

    I suppose I can play devil's advocate for a moment - he obviously knew Freddie very well and knew "the whole person" so his being gay really was just one aspect, and maybe he was so close to him that it was just "Freddie being Freddie", not "Freddie being gay" and now Brian fears that all of Fred's being is going to be lost to just the fact that he was gay and people are going to somehow forget he was an amazing performer, phenomenal songwriter, loving and generous friend...as if!

    I did read a book that talked about the separation a bit, but I can't remember what it was now (I moved recently and my Queen books are still in a box)...I think it was mostly about their recording, and it talks about how starting with News of the World, they all weren't really in the studio at the same time as they had been before, but there was no particular analysis of why the separation was happening.