What prompts you to embark in a long and expensive bus trip in the easternmost outskirts of Glasgow on a nice and sunny Sunday? Of course, the greatest band that has ever performed live. Let me be clear on this: Queen is the band that has taken live gigs to the craziest level of entertainment. I probably haven’t been to as many concerts as you, reading out there, but I’ve seen plenty of Queen lives. I also went to a couple of “Queen” concerts in 2005 and 2008, trying to experience half of the joy that Queen fans could have felt in the 70s and 80s. Half as the lineup: Roger and Brian are the only left since Freddie’s death and John’s departure. Half as the fun: Paul Rodgers as a singer is OK, but the way he mocks Freddie and over-does the final verses is unbearable. I liked how Queen managed to do in the last album what they’ve done their entire career: put everyone’s input so that each component’s quality would be shown at his best. Unfortunately, the presence of Paul made the quality of the album plummet with respect to previous Queen albums. And Brian perhaps exaggerated in his astronomy complex.
I grew up with Queen. Freddie Mercury was my personal English teacher. I avidly asked for CDs as Christmas and birthday presents. I recorded VHS tapes with their shows, I bought some. Soon came the internet and I started downloading their most obscure gigs, the quality of which was so poor you could barely hear the music (thanks anyway, WinMX). I also downloaded videos with my old friend 56K modem, which needed an entire day to obtain the Bohemian Rhapsody videoclip, that I now have in every possible format and have seen one million times (yes, my generation didn’t have YouTube. We paid for stuff back then, be it the original price or the connection time).
Now Queen split up with Paul Rodgers and is perhaps dropping “nostalgia” and concentrating on good memories. That’s how Hungarian Rhapsody came to the world’s screens this past week. Yes, you go to a movie theater and you watch a “live” concert 26 years after. Why? Because it’s awesome.
First of all, a cinema gives you a better sound and video quality than your laptop or even your “home theater”. Second, it’s just like a concert: you find yourself surrounded by strangers who share your same feelings about the band. You’re not forcing your family to watch something on YouTube with you. And lastly, you pay due respect to the giants of live rock (who in fact look like giants on that huge screen). It’s the closest to Freddie you can get. If you’re not a creeper.
The concert in Budapest is preceded by some footage from 1986 (approx 25 min.) that explains better the reason why Queen put together the album “A Kind of Magic” and why they finally decided to go on a European tour. That same tour that featured Live at Wembley and the concert at Knebworth (yes, you nerd, you know what I’m talking about). And they were directed to Hungary because the smuggling of rock music, the opening of the Eastern Bloc, and the growing new audience basin had just ripened the situation for an epic concert on the Danube. The whole concert was filmed by a Hungarian director by the name of János Zsombolyai, who did a great job in fading in some backstage stories during the concert.
At the time, it was a big deal in so many ways: their stage was the biggest ever created, their audiences were the biggest a rock band attracted, it was their first time beyond the Iron Curtain, Freddie came in with a two-sided British and Hungarian flag for We Will Rock You and he sang a folk song in Hungarian (the rehearsals and backstage are fully provided in the movie). Here’s a sneak peek:
Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt, virágom, virágom // Minden madár társat választ virágom, virágom.
Yesterday, it was a big deal for me. I spent 2 hours on a bus getting lost to get to the cinema (ended up paying £5.30 for all the bus tickets I wasted), together with a Bulgarian friend we talked about music and politics under communism, and then we came back to the city after a full 6 hours journey to the past. The turnout at the movie theater was not especially great, but it taught me one simple thing: I was born in the wrong decade.
Thank you for your music, Freddie, Brian, Roger and John.