Teri Orr: Bohemian … then Rhapsody
I was such a … not exactly wanna-be in high school — but more what you might call, in a horse race — an “also ran.” Not the cheerleader but a “spirit leader” — not the award-winning gymnast, just a competitor… In an AP class but just one — English. Not the valedictorian but the other “speaker” at graduation. Most of my life has been the not — quite, tiny spot, in-between other’s shiny spots.
I have tried explaining that part to my 17-year-old granddaughter — who is a musician, a gifted writer of songs and a funny, kind human who likes/loves all kinds of people — so she sorta understands. For all her life she has been coming to the variety of shows the Institute produces here and she thinks that is me. The person on stage who books The Act and introduces The Band.
All my grandparents died before I turned 16 so I don’t really have any role models for her being her age and me being my age and having a grandparent because I didn’t — if that makes sense?
We have traveled alone out of state together and gone on Utah adventures together and because she was the first of the grandchildren I have spent more time with her than the rest. She likes to take photos now, shoot videos and has a fashion sense, best described as, eclectic casual. Something I understand quite well.
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So at Thanksgiving when she said wanted to see the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and I said — so do I — and she said let’s go … we set a date and did. We went on a Sunday. We met downtown in Salt Lake City where she lives at one of those theaters with the recliner chairs and kettle corn popcorn. We were both late — so we ended up in the front row — and there was no one else there. Somehow being that close made us the only ones in the theater in a good way — for a few hours.
I admit I wasn’t following rock bands closely in the mid ’70s. I was raising babies and running a children’s clothing store I had started and trying to escape an abusive marriage before the phrase, domestic violence, existed. But when “We Will Rock You” hit the airwaves and “We are the Champions” and other Queen, disco danceable beats were blaring — I was singing them. It had more than a tiny bit to do with the man about my same — mid 20s age — who owned the gift store next door to me. Tommy was my first gay friend. A fact he kept closeted from his customers and family. There was many the night he would lock his shop at 5 and drive the four hours to San Francisco from our stores in Tahoe City and return just a little late to open his shop again at 10 in the morning. His secret life was daring and glamorous — he always returned with stories of high-profile people who were now hanging out in the Castro district.
Until his death from AIDS in the late ’90s I didn’t see his life as tragic. He was handsome and knew real love with a long-term partner eventually, and in his last chapter he had his dream job — the manager of the Valentino boutique on Rodeo Drive — until he grew too sick to work anymore.
Since I had tried not to read much in advance of seeing the Freddy Mercury film, I didn’t realize that his sexuality was as much a part of the story as the music, the band fights and the stadium shows. His family’s confusion over his sexuality was something I understood all too well. When Tommy died — his parents, still in denial — said he died of pneumonia. Tommy had arranged a Neptune Society burial and there was no ceremony for his/our goodbye.
So in watching the film I was thrown into a time warp of great music and bad clothes and big hair, I was remembering how my friend was always forced to live two lives.
Before there were cellphones and the internet and mass concerts everywhere all the time — that LIVE NATION event to raise money for starving Ethiopian children made us all care together with a global awareness of need and of the redemptive power of music to tell the message. More than 1.9 million people watched the concert simulcast from two locations — London and Philadelphia. That number represented 40 percent of the world’s population at the time.
In the beginning of the film when Freddy’s father is trying to instill in his son sacred values he repeats “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” In a pivotal scene near the end of the film — right before Freddy leaves to perform at the concert — Freddy parrots those words back to his father. They are the basis of the religion the family practiced — the Zoroastrian religion — which predates Christianity.
His concert performance is, of course, legendary. All performers were given 20 minutes to shine. Freddy used his a powerful time as a tour d force of emotion and passion, operatic in its execution.
All during the film Iz and I were spellbound. We didn’t speak a word. We sat there for all the credits — still in silence with our own thoughts. On the way out she kept saying “Wow” — and “that was so good” and “wow.” I was flattened by it all. So before she had to run to her job I quickly told her about my friend Tommy and how the movie had brought up a lot of memories for me. She cocked her head slightly when I got to the end about his family never having accepted his authentic life. Then we hugged hard. And went to our separate cars.
It was not exactly your standard holiday movie with a grandchild. But it was a most excellent Sunday (slightly out of) the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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