This morning, as I settled down to my work, I took a moment to check out a few of my favourite blogs. I find it a good way to centre myself before getting on with my own flimsy attempts at being creative.
Over at Yeah, Another Blogger I came across this little gem from fellow ruminator, Neil. In case you’re too lazy to click on the link, it describes an almost encounter he had with the great John Lennon on the streets of New York in 1973. It’s well worth a read so why not pop over now and give it some love. I’ll wait.
See, told you it was worth it. Reading of Neils regret at not having had the presence of mind to approach his hero when the opportunity presented itself, got me thinking, “yes, but there’s the flipside to that situation as well”.
You see, I too once came unexpectedly across a personal hero and I did engage him. And the result was, well let’s just say, disappointing.
About two years after John Lennon was murdered (an event which had caused me a considerable amount of trauma), I relocated from Australia to Britain. I’ve written about the incident that followed my arrival before, in a piece about synchronicities. In that piece I wrote:
When I was nineteen, I decided to relocate from Australia to the UK. By this time my relationship with said girlfriend had pretty much petered out but we were still on reasonably friendly terms. On the day before I flew out, I went around to her place to say my goodbyes and the last thing she said as we parted was, “if you see any members of Queen over there, make sure you get their autographs.”
I probably smirked as I agreed to do so. I mean, what were the odds I’d bump into any mega famous rock stars in the circles I’d be moving in? Anyway, after a long flight that had me questioning the wisdom of my decision to emigrate, I duly arrived at Heathrow, passed through the wall of bastards (otherwise known as customs and immigration) and made my way to the baggage carousel. I’d been in the country maybe forty minutes at this point.
So there I am, bleary-eyed and travel grimed, swaying on my feet with exhaustion when I happen to look to my right at the guy standing beside me.
It probably took me a full twenty seconds to process the visual information my brain was receiving from my tired eyes urgently telling it that the ‘guy’ was, in fact, Freddie Mercury.
I. Shit. You. Not.
I was stunned into near immobility but, with my girlfriend’s parting request still ringing in my ears, I realised I was just going to have to approach the clearly leery rock god in question.
I’m not proud of how the next thirty seconds went. I turned to face Mr. Mercury (who visibly flinched at what he obviously knew was coming) and spoke the immortal words, “if I had a pen (I didn’t by the way) would you give me an autograph?”
Now there are as yet undiscovered tribes in the deepest Amazon who knew what was coming next and I guess I did too. Barely meeting my gaze, Freddie uttered a one-word response and returned his attention to the circling baggage. The word was “no” in case you were having trouble discerning the inference.
I later read that it was Mercury’s policy never to give autographs. Ah well, I tried.
You may have noticed I kind of shoved the fandom element off onto my girlfriend there but, truth is, I was a huge fan of Mercury myself. I was actually carrying a tote bag that I’d meticulously drawn the inner sleeve pic of the Queen II album onto when I approached him. That probably made it look – to him – like I was a crazy fan (true) who’d known all along that he would be there (not true).
I get how that might freak a big star out so soon after what had happened to Lennon.
Anyway, the point of rehashing all this is that, though Neil may regret not talking to Lennon, I kind of regret that I did talk to Freddie. Even though I can fully appreciate famous people not wanting their space invaded in places like airports, I was nevertheless stung by that rejection. It didn’t change the way the young me felt about his music but it did change the way I saw Freddie.
In my eyes, he instantly became more cold and aloof than I’d previously thought him. I know it’s pretty ridiculous the way we as fans believe we somehow know these stars we’ve never met. How could we know the first thing about who they really are outside the arena of fame?
However, the personalities we imbue our heroes with are nonetheless important. As I think I’ve said before, Rock ‘n’ Roll is the modern mythology.
The archetypes that once inhabited the tales of ancient cultures live on in these larger than life Rock Gods we worship so devoutly. These giants stride the stages of our aspirations and give us something wonderful to love – or hate – which exists outside of the grey mundanity of modern life.
That had been the role that Mercury (even the name is mythological) had played in my teen life. In my suburban world of jean-clad yobs, Freddie – like Bowie – had blasted across my sky; some androgenous messenger from Olympus bringing the spark of redemption and hope to every willing, yearning heart.
If that last bit sounds somewhat over-egged, it’s also accurate. That’s exactly how I’d felt growing up in my suburban wasteland. And it was the likes of Freddie, Bowie, and Kate Bush who kept the promise (and probably me) alive.
So, that rejection from one of my big heroes shattered more than just my preconceptions, it put quite a crack in my mythos as well. They do say you should never meet your heroes. Maybe, in this case at least, they’re right.
That said, I really envy Neil’s close encounter with one of the absolute gods of my world.