There’s a moment in every single Queen documentary that runs to the end of the story. I’ve seen enough to know it’s coming, and how it will be framed. Everyone does it, nobody can resist. It still makes me cry.
Basically, this was the last video that Freddie shot. And Freddie’s part in it is just standing at the camera, looking kind, moving his hands and head, and singing the lines. He’s heavily made up, but he shines with life, despite everything. His eyes tell so many stories.
Anyway, the point is, this was the last video, and the last words he says to the camera, his last official words to the public, are there, at the end of the song.
I still love you.
The second whispered repeat gets me every time. It’s too much.
It’s an awfully cheesy song. Simplest piece of songwriting ever. Simplest structure. Those congas. Just a gentle quiet song, looking back.
And it’s perfect for it. The perfect quiet goodbye. The perfect gift to be left with. The one you need.
Sometimes I get to feelin’
I was back in the old days – long ago
When we were kids, when we were young
Things seemed so perfect – you know?
Nostalgia made so supremely honest and heartfelt by the emotion and moment it’s situated in. Freddie looking back with the band at childhood, and the life they spent, crazy and young.
It’s Roger’s song, of course, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the band’s goodbye, in many ways. It’s just that it’s Freddie that makes you believe it. It’s Freddie you want to be sharing those memories with, looking back with. It’s Freddie who you need to hear say he loves you, one last time.
Those days are all gone now but one thing’s still true
When I look and I find, I still love you,
I still love you.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute concert remains one of my earliest memories. I can’t actually remember finding out that Freddie had died, but I remember being huddled round a television watching a parade of people I didn’t really understand singing his songs. It was a powerful coming together, and I assumed the whole world was in mourning. But it was also joyful. Partly as a fuck you to an illness that was destroying so many beautiful people. Partly as resistance to a homophobia still rife and powerful. All of that was so important, if likely over my head at the time.
But I don’t think I realised how personally I took the loss until I started connecting to this song, years later. Looking back and realising how huge Freddie had been in my childhood. How much I needed to hear that he loved me too. Shedding tears for a friend I never met, a loved one I’d never held. They can pour out of me, my heart bursting as I think of this huge, powerful entity in my life. This beautiful, expressive beacon of light. Taken from me before I could realise his importance, but not taken at all, because I still had everything laid out in front of me.
He could still talk to me. I could still talk to him. Sure, I’d never know him, but that was true no matter how things had turned out.
I’m writing this at the end of 2016, as so many beautiful celebrities appear to be dying. A cynic in me is reminding people that this is just demographics. We made more people famous for longer over the 60s, 70s and 80s than ever before and life expectancy is a bell curve. The permanence of our media and the impermanence of our bodies make this inevitable.
But that’s not the end of the story, because the truth is, my heart is breaking, again and again as we hear this news. As I find out what these beautiful strangers meant to the people I know, the people I love, I am reminded of how amazing people actually are. These creative figures we idolise are legitimately wonderful, making huge powerful art that stands bigger than they could ever be alone. They bring us closer together, and closer to them, through their expression. They touch us.
It’s okay, too, because they always will. We can still hear them at the press of a button. We can still be close to them, hear those stories and songs again.
Even without that, the marks they make are real too.
That’s the other thing to remember. It’s really concrete with the musicians, you can put on the record and cry and be close. You can hear the sounds they left behind, wrap yourself up in them. But we’re all records, etched with the details of years, and years of infinite detail.
Freddie wasn’t the only childhood loved one I lost. He’s just the one you’re most likely to have heard of. But everyone makes marks, everyone etches records, everyone touches everyone else.
With that, the impermanent becomes eternal. Message burning from person to person forever. Every action, every person, we are all leaving marks and memories, and they add up to this huge monstrous and occasionally beautiful thing we call life.
In the song, it’s always ‘those were the days of our lives’, but the title says otherwise.
These are the days of our lives. They still are. They always will be. Even once we’re gone.
The ‘our’ is also critical. We live out lives together, shared and sharing. Everybody’s lives, wrapped in everybody else’s.
Never forget the impact we have on each other, and never forget how powerful that is.
Whether you’re writing a song that can make someone cry, or putting a hand on a shoulder to so you care. Whether you’re hammering at that piano at Wembley in front of thousands of people or in a house with a friend, you’re still making beautiful music that lasts and matters and counts.
People dying will always be sad, but it isn’t actually the thing we have to worry about. It’s the way we’re living that counts.
These are the days of our lives.
I don’t care how trite or obvious it is. It makes me cry. And that matters.
I still love you.
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.