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Freddie Mercury and Queen; concerts records and films

Lesley-Ann Jones' biography, The Real Life of Freddie Mercury: Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mecury, revealed a bril­liant musician keep­ing his true self hidden from an adoring world-wide audience.

Farrokh Bulsara/Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was born on the small British protectorate island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous reg­ion of Tanzania that specialised in spices. When he was 8, his relig­ious Parsi parents Bomi (a British civil servant) and Jer Bulsara sent him to an English boarding school outside Bombay.

At St Peter's School, Freddie loved music. The school prin­cipal noticed Freddie's musical talent, and wrote to his parents suggesting that they might want to pay an extra on Freddie's school fees to help him musical­ly. They agreed, and Fred­die began to learn to play the piano. He also became a member of the school choir and took part in theatrical pro­ductions. In 1958, Freddie Bulsara and four other school friends formed a rock band.

But it wasn’t a happy time – he left India as soon as he finished school. But in 1962, due to polit­ical unrest in Zan­zi­b­ar, many of the British and Indians left and re-migrated to the UK. At 17 Freddie got his Art A level & was accepted by Ealing College of Art, doing a graphic arts course.

In London, his closest friend was Reginald Kenneth Dwight, later Elton John. Both young men were a] devoted to their mothers, b] studied piano at an early age, c] developed an unusual look to disguise self-perceived ugliness, and d] were confused about sex­uality. After Jimi Hendrix became huge in 1967, and Freddie became an ardent fan, he spent time sketching and drawing his hero.

Queen, 1976
From the left Roger, John, Freddie, Brian

A fellow student at Ealing College was bass player Tim Staffell. As Tim's and Freddie's friendship became closer, Tim took him along to rehearsals of his band called Smile, with Brian May on guitar and Roger Taylor on drums. Freddie was close to Brian & Roger and greatly admired Brian's guitar-playing and musical experimentation.

Freddie left Ealing College in June 1969, with a diploma in graphic art and design. He moved into Roger Taylor's flat, and opened a stall with Roger at Ken­sington Market, selling the students’ art.

As he entered his 20s, Mercury played piano and sang in a number of bands. With Brian May and Roger Taylor, the three decided to join forces in the band that became known as Queen! In 1971 John Deacon joined the band and Queen were complete. Queen then released three records while building a reputation as a very popular live act.

In 1975, the band released A Night at the Opera, the most expensive album ever produced, which featured Queen’s biggest hit, Bohemian Rhapsody. It was this album and this song that launched Queen into global fame. Freddie was the front-man of the band, and wrote many hits for Queen, including my favourite We Are the Champions. I was in love!

Musicians could have fallen apart from drugs or alcohol, but fortunately Mercury was secured throughout his career by band mates who were good value. Jones noted that the other three members of Queen were clever university students who enjoyed each other’s company and avoided the crises that split many bands. Rough yes; stupid no.

In 1975 Freddie was gradually changing his image: he cut his hair and grew a moustache.

In 1978, the singer and Queen went to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland to record the album Jazz. Mercury fell in love with peaceful Montreux and Lake Geneva and decided to settle in a flat with a view of the lake. He bought the Mountain Studio recording studio and recorded a total of seven albums at Mountain Studios.

In late 1982 Queen all agreed they wanted to take break from the ban-- Freddie had been thinking of making a solo album anyhow, so he booked studio time at Musicland in Munich in 1983. There he was introduced to Georgio Moroder, who was working on a re-release of the 1926 Fritz Lang silent science fiction film Metrop­olis. Moroder needed a contemporary musical score for the film but Freddie had never before co-written with anyone out­side Queen. In Sept 1984 Freddie's first solo single (Love Kills) was released, co-written with Georgio Moroder.

In July 1985, Queen performed in front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium and two billion tv viewers for the Live Aid Concert - possibly the greatest performance of all time. Queen secured their place in history.

The band had a hugely successful tour of Europe in summer 1986. But the final show of the tour, at Knebworth Park before 120,000 people, was the last show Queen would ever play with Merc­ury. There were more Queen albums and two solo Mercury records.

Freddie spent nights visiting the gay districts of the world’s capitals. He may have been infected with AIDS before the disease had been identified. He was diagnosed in 1987.

In March 1987 Freddie flew to Barcelona to sing with a Spanish opera diva, Montserrat Caballé. In Oct 1988 Freddie and Montserrat appeared at the huge open air festival in Barcelona. This was the last time Freddie Mercury performed on stage. He was secretly ill with AIDS, although he continued to compose and record songs.

Freddie Mercury
front man of the band

In Nov 1991 Freddie died at his London home of AIDS-related disease. Jones said the best tribute was the album Made In Heaven, taking previously unused final recordings composed by Freddie and released in 1995 by the remaining members of Queen. In my opinion, there is a better legacy: We Will Rock You was adopted as an anthem by the Manchester United soccer club, and We Are the Champions will be sung in football fields forever.

Lesley-Ann Jones proposed that Freddie’s childhood strongly influenced his later life. Mercury clearly struggled for years with the balance between his conservative upbringing, his rock fame and his closed off homosexuality. He was forced to restrict his life as the disease took over. But why did he keep his homo­sex­uality a secret, even as he withdrew to an isolated room? Did his conserv­ative, religious parents never know about his sexuality?

I haven’t read Harry Doherty’s 40 Years of Queen, but the book was recommended because of its lavish photos that conveyed that crazy time. The film Bohemian Rhapsody will open in cinemas here on 1/11/2018.








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The catastrophic pogrom in Kishinev (Russia 1903)

50,000 Jews lived in Kishinev (now Ukraine) in 1900, 46% of the total population. Kishinev was the 5th largest Jewish city in the Russian Empire city after Warsaw, Odessa, Lodz and Vilna. Thanks to the book, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History (Steven Zipperstein, 2018) and to my grandfather.

Rumours of attacks surfaced before Easter each year in Kishinev. Acc­usations of ritual murder in Pavel Krushevan’s anti-Semitic newspaper, Bessarabets, remained ugly; there were rumours of menacing anti-Jewish meetings held in the back room of a Kishinev tavern, and leaflets calling for the beating of Jews were left in bars and cheap restaurants. By then Bessarabets had launched a semi-secret, anti-Semitic soc­iety.

Against this backdrop, Jewish anxieties were heightened. Jewish shop owners took home bank records, receipts and financial doc­u­ments for safekeeping. Employees were told that shops could stay shut after the Passover festival.

Heartbroken fathers claimed their children's bodies

By late morning, well-dressed Christian families sauntered out of church and into the cluttered city square. In previous years Easter had celebrated with a merry-go-round, but officials seeking to dampen holiday revelry shut it down in 1903. Some Jews gravitated to the square, despite warnings that Jews should go directly home after Passover.

Then groups of young boys start­ed roughing Jews up. People jostled in a sparsely policed public square, lined with Jewish-owned shops. The taunting continued, but most assumed it was only a harmless prank. When adults started tossing rocks at Jewish shop windows, police intervened but they caught only a handful of thugs.

As the Easter crowd grew, some became very drunk. Russian Orthodox students in uniform came from the local seminary, inciting the crowds. And workers sporting festive red shirts were rabble-rousers close to Pavel Krushevan.

This was the pogrom that took place in Kishinev, then the capital of the Bessarabia Governorate, in mid April 1903. In the First Kishinev pogrom, 49 Jews were murdered, many Jewish women were raped, 1,500 homes were burned and 600 shops were destroyed.

Jewish-owned shops in the central square were ransacked. Liquor shops were targeted first. Tobacco shops were ransacked next. Then the rioters arrived at the New Market, one k from the city centre. They stole clothes off the racks of Jewish shops and walked through the city streets with the goods. Unwanted merchandise was piled onto roads. The rioters thought to be most fierce were Mold­ov­ans, hailing from the adjacent villages west of the Ukraine. Many arrived with wagons to carry away the contents of Jewish shops.

But as no more than 2-3 dozen people were respon­sible for the rioting, they were written off as rowdy drunks. However by 4 pm, the seminarians guided the mob to Jewish homes to destroy them. Cries of “Death to Jews!” and “Jews drink Christian blood” could be heard. Jews begged the police for help but were told that the mob was beyond police control.

Christians scrawled crosses on the windows of their homes to prot­ect themselves from attack, and doctors helping wounded Jews wore crosses on their clothes. Meat slabs found cooking in a Jewish shop owner’s home/shop were shown to rioters as the “remains of a Christian child”.

Public transport (trams) across town was infrequent so the rioters had to pillage mostly by foot. Yet two-thirds of Kishinev had been affected by violence; entire streets were largely levelled. Late on the first night, Jewish merchants gathered their neigh­bours tog­ether and distrib­uted iron bars and wooden clubs, to fight the next day if attacked by adults. Those with money fled to nearby hotels, or to board trains for Kiev, Odessa or Vienna.

Homes destroyed and furniture thrown into the courtyard

The next morning 150 Jews converged on Governor General Raaben’s off­ices. A small delegation could meet him and were assured that order would immediately be restored. Alas the Governor General was believed.

Distant Lower Kishinev, built on hills above Byk River, was dotted with tiny shops, synagogues and houses built around courtyards crammed with very large Jewish families and Moldovan Christian families. Neighbours had previously been friendly, or at least neutral. So it was more typical than elsewhere in Kishinev for Christian families to take dangerous risks to save their Jewish neighbours.

Nonetheless on Day 2, violence in Lower Kishinev was concentrated in inter-connecting alleyways, pack­ed with flimsy structures that collapsed under attack. The mob engulfing Lower Kishinev included villagers from outside the city, driving wagons in to steal Jewish goods. In poor synagogues, holy Torah scrolls were desecrated. Jewish reports focused attention on Lower Kishinev’s poor; it was a catastrophe of the many poor, and not of the fewer rich.

Corpses were tossed onto the street, and lay there for hours until cleared by the army. Yet by the end of the second day, only 900 rioters had been arrested. Even two months later, rough boards covered the broken windows, shattered doors and damaged roofs of many houses, and dried blood was everywhere.

City newspaper and journal articles soon downplayed the role played by seminary students. And Krushevan’s anti-Semitic newspaper was relegated to a minor role. The story was reduced to a “few hours of intense violence that erupted just hours before the pogrom was ended”.

The Second Kishinev Pogrom took place in mid October 1905. This time the riots began as political protests against the Tsar, but turned into an anti-Semitic attack when another 19 Jews were killed and dozens injured. Jewish self-defence leagues, organised after the first pogrom, stopped some of the violence, but not totally. And 600 further pogroms swept the Russian Empire after the October Manifesto of 1905.

With all those murders and rapes, only two Christian men were sen­tenced to 5-7 years and 22 were sentenced for 1-2 years.  Hun­dreds of thousands of Russian Jews left for Palestine or The West.

Chaim Bialik was sent by Odessa’s Jewish Historical Commission to interview pogrom survivors and re­port. His famous poem was called "The City of Slaughter". In Ephraim Moses Lilien work “To the Martyrs of Kishinev”, the Jews’ martyrdom became a medieval-like tale, wrapped in a trad­itional prayer shawl. Israel Zangwill wrote the post-Kishinev play “The Melting Pot” in 1908.

Map of Novorossiya/New Russia, 1900
My family lived near Odessa, Simferopol (Crimea) and Berdiansk (B marked on Azov Sea)


  


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The Klimt and Schiele film: 100 years since Austria's golden era

The film “Klimt and Schiele: Eros and Psyche, 1918-2018 - Scandals, Dreams, Obsessions in Vienna's Golden Age” analysed turn-of-the-century Vienna art. The film guided viewers through the Albertina, Belvedere, Leopold, Freud, Kunsthistorisches and Wien Museums and through exhibitions of Klimt and Schiele’s works. The film retraced this extraordinary era: a magical moment for art, music and literature, in which new ideas circul­ated. Life took place in salons where artists, politicians and scientists met each other. Talented women like Alma Mahler-Werfel, Lina Loos or Bertha Zuckerkandl began to emancipate themselves.

The Kunstschau/Art Show of 1908 was arranged by artists in the Gustav Klimt Group and coincided with celebrations held in Vienna for the 60th anniversary of Emperor Francis Joseph I’s reign. The artists were offered the use of vacant land, which had been designated for an eventual Konzerthaus, as an interim exhibition venue. In only a few months, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, Otto Prutscher, Koloman Moser and others built and furnished temporary buildings holding 54 exhibition rooms, gardens, interior courtyards, café, a summer stage and a furnished two-storey country house. For young artists and students like Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, the Kunstschau was their first exposure to foreign art, and a brilliant exposure it was.

Klimt and Schiele: Eros and Psyche, 1918-2018 
Scandals, Dreams, Obsessions in Vienna's Golden Age

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka used their good connections with Vienna’s New Money, to establish a new world for the arts. And they interacted with other Viennese intellectuals.

Recently the masterpieces of two artists, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918), attracted visitors from all over the world, in Vienna as well as at the Neue Galerie in New York. Together with designer-painter Koloman Moser (1868–1918) and architect Otto Wagner (1841-1918), all these vis­ion­ary artists died in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

Note that 100 years later, we have re-examined their works, found somewhere between Jugendstil & Expressionism. As the thunder of WW1 cannons was dying out in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was beginning to disintegrate and Vienna’s Golden Age was waning. Since the turn of the century, Klimt and Schiele reflected the new feeling of art, paintings that port­rayed the era’s restlessness, fears and desires. Society was shocked! Presented in high definition, the film is a must-see for both art & film lovers. The images had extraordinary visual power, going from the charming enveloping decorations of Klimt’s works, to the anguished linework in Schiele's magnetic nudes and contorted figures.

The Vienna Secession Exhibition, 2015
Leopold Museum

The motto that stands in golden letters on the Secession building, inaug­urating a new era, says: "At every age his art, art his freedom". Eros and Psyche was set in the very city where Hugo von Hofmannsthal, young Ludwig Wittgenstein, future directors Fritz Lang and Erich von Stroheim met on the streets and the opera Salome by Richard Strauss opened. Despite the artists being quite different, both turned their backs on academic conventions. The film showed images of great strength, with the enchanting and enveloping decorations of Klimt's paintings, up to the tormented lines of Egon Schiele with its painful eroticism.

Eroticism was the secret thread of this story. In the publication of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, the unconscious rose strongly on the surface. Psychoanalysis, with its disruptive theor­ies of infantile sexuality and repressed emotions, shook a normal society that opened its eyes to the profound nature of the ego.

Consider the Vienna of music, between the rhythm of the Strauss waltzes father and son that resounded in the squares and in the cafes. And remember the memory of the giants of the past, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. From this tradition the young Arnold Schönberg started, planning to subvert his own art. Vienna was a city in which the master confectioners handed down the recipe of Sacher torte and jewellers took up the liberty designs.

On the same two days, Saturday 27th and Sun 28th Oct 2018, “Klimt and Schiele: Eros and Psyche, 1918-2018 - Scandals, Dreams, Obsessions in Vienna's Golden Age” will be showing at the Cinema Nova in Melbourne and many other art cinemas in Australia’s capital cities.

Read Klimt /Schiele @ the Royal Academy for a detailed analysis of the two artists' drawings from the Albertina Museum in Vienna, now showing in London.







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