Once again, I get shivers down my spine, and think ‘I’m too old for this shit’ or some kind of slightly less action film centric notion of weakenss.
This time, it’s mostly a particular synthesiser pick, eerie as all hell, kitsch as anything, but somehow still genuinely unsettling.
It’s probably easiest to think of this track as about deterioration, whether physical or mental. Let it take you down a melancholy route, reminding you of mortality and inevitability of loss. It’s certainly easier than acknowledging it’s not entirely kind treatment of mental illness.
Apparently though, Freddie just wanted to make something Noel Cowardy (and you can here his vocal stylistics revel in it throughout the song), and so he stayed up late with a friend thinking up one liners.
That’s your whole story, right there.
I’m one card short of a full deck
I’m not quite the shilling
One wave short of a shipwreck
I’m not my usual top billing
I’m coming down with a fever
I’m really out to sea
This kettle is boiling over
I think I’m a banana tree
The thing that feels most familiar, though, is the inability to really express with clarity mental processes and mental state. The song is constantly reaching for absurdity and euphemism, because it can’t actually put a name on what it’s talking about. The idea of madness is always approached indirectly. We can’t tell at all what is actually going on. We can hear the cry for help, but not ever understand what’s behind it.
Speaking as someone with knives in my brain and claws around my gut and fears quivering quietly under every inch of my skin, I can speak to that, even if I couldn’t quite get it across.
Because that could just be the point.
It’s more than a little terrifying, to see yourself unravelling. To know that something’s wrong, but not be able to explain. To recoil and act in ways you don’t quite have a handle on.
But it’s only slightly, right. Only ever slightly mad. However inevitable. However huge and monstrous. Because to admit to being all the way, that would be unthinkable.
So yes, I don’t know if Freddie’s being silly and childish or desperately crying out for help, but you can’t see it for the smirk. Can’t see it through the innuendo.
Just very slightly mad !
And there you have it !
The videos of these last few songs are haunted by documentary footage we have of the filming. The awareness of just how ill Freddie was, and how much work was being done to try and hide it (and it all feels pretty plain, with hindsight). Black and white film and heavy make up and two layers of clothes. Anything to keep working and keep up the pretense. Trying to conceal the obvious, and making it more so.
The story we always get is that Freddie just wanted to keep working, keep being Freddie for as long as possible. It’s heartbreaking. But it makes me treasure these moments, these images, even as they conceal and carry so much pain.
And that synthesiser still freaks me out.
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.