Specifically, apparently, a cat.
He admitted at one point that this lovely song about death, nostalgia and loss is basically about when his cat died when he was little. Which is a pretty reasonable way to learn about death, and this is a pretty good lesson to take from it.
Her ways are always with me
I wander all the while
But please you must forgive me
I’m old but still a child
The piece starts with a set of piano flourishes that sound like they belong in the credit sequence of a Hayao Miyazaki film. Brian sings throughout, mostly accompanied by piano, with bass and drum only dropping in for half of each chorus.
It’s May with almost no guitar. When his guitar does sweep in, it’s something totally incredible, a strange uplifting swirl of a solo that simply acts as a form of ascension narrative, just a chorus of upward motion (and a slight drop).
I really like this. It’s one of those strange entries into the back catalogue that sound like nothing else Queen have done, but could also only have been made by them. It’s a bouncily melancholy piano track, with additional instrumentation used simply to punctuate and emphasise. It’s only the repetitions that are accompanied, warmed with bass, drum and extra harmonies, creating this sense of motion and evolution. Moving forward, and then returning.
I don’t often pay attention to lyrics when I first hear songs, which makes a lot of what I’ve written in this blog somewhat disingenous. I’ll often assess something just from choruses, title and mood.
And weirdly, this track always struck me with a very specific image, that has little to do with the song itself. I always picturerd the narrator walking through an almost naive countryside apocalypse, surrounded by dead after some monstrous cataclysm, and managing to be surprisingly upbeat about the whole thing. A lovely country walk through mass graves, somehow managing to stay alive and sprightly as everything else fails.
I guess it’s partly the cover of the record. The enormous monstrous robot, the crowds fleeing, the sadness and incomprehension, the dead bad members. I was always looking for an apocalyptic reading within.
I love the cover, incidentally. Simultaneously terrifying and celebratory, it’s like nothing else.
Wikipedia is enlightening. The band saw the original painting, a robot holding up a dead body and asking ‘Please…fix it, daddy?’, on the cover of an issue Astounding Science Fiction. Queen approached the artist, and asked them to repaint it, with them in it. There’s an arrogance there, but it also creates one of the great album covers, and the sad uncomprehending face of that robot (Emma says he looks like Vladimir Putin) is intensely evocative.
Anyway, it’s worth remembering that Queen are an intensely visual band, creating one of the most iconic music videos of the early form, as well as valuing their stage theatrics so highly and wrapping themselves in big weird art.
But I don’t think the SciFi is actually here. The album doesn’t quite tell a story (although many of the songs do). I guess it is just news of the world. News from a world.
And sometimes a dead cat makes the news. And sometimes that’s a beautiful enough thing in itself.
All Dead All Dead
All the dreams we had
And I wonder why I still live on
It’s a terrifyingly sad song, on many levels, but it’s sprightly piano line lets it slip into your heart.
I love it.
Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.
Illustration by Emma.