Disability, Deformity, Dynamite with a Laser Beam - The Academy Awards
Queen rocked the Prospector Theater through the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Audiences flocked to the theater like it was 1985 Live Aid. Well, not quite, but it was a smash hit on our screens, ranking our 7th best movie of all time, running for 7 weeks, and selling over 5000 tickets - some to people other than me (I saw it 9 times; couldn’t stop myself).
Why did I love it so much? The sparkle. The talent. Freddie’s father’s mantra that becomes Freddy’s “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”; the failure-is-not-an-option Freddie. “When I know they’re listening, when I know I really have them, I couldn’t sing off-key if I tried”.
Mercury was a magnificent and eccentric entertainer. He fed off the energy of the audiences and played conductor to 72,000 fans at Live Aid, as they parroted his impressive range. This performance was considered by many as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music, and I feel like I was there - Remi Malek as my Freddie Mercury, 9 times on the Prospector’s screens.
What I loved most of all: judged by looks alone, Freddie Mercury seemed an unlikely frontman-superstar in our world of aesthetics. Had he been less of a force of nature, he could have allowed others bias’ to disable him, and the world would have been robbed of the short time we had with this legend. Consider Bohemian Rhapsody’s depiction of Freddie meeting Brian May and Roger Taylor for the first time:
Freddy Mercury: I write songs
Brian May: Our lead singer just quit
Freddy Mercury: Then you’ll need someone new
Roger Taylor: Not with those teeth, mate
Freddy sings. Brian and Reggie harmonize. There is a moment of silence. Eyes and mouths wide open, in dazzled disbelief, Freddy explains what they just heard, nodding to the jab they took at his teeth:
Freddy: I was born with four additional incisors, more space in my mouth means more range
Biologically, Freddy’s theory of his teeth may not be true. Less than 1% of the population have more than two additional teeth called “supplementaries”. These additional teeth fit into Freddy’s jaw and created an overbite, but not difficulty speaking or eating like many other people with this disorder. Scientists believe that Freddie’s vocal gift was not due to his extra teeth, but in his super ability to use his vetibular fold (false vocal cord). His teeth were a gift and a curse.
Farrokh Bulsara was bullied as a boy. Bullied bad. Boys at his boarding school called him “Bucky” because of his unusual overbite and buck teeth. But music was in his bones, and their taunts would not stop him from becoming a superstar.
This boy became Freddie Mercury, ranked 18th greatest musician of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine: “a hard rock hammerer, a disco glittered, a rockability lover boy, Freddie Mercury was dynamite with a laser beam, his four-octave range overdubbed into a shimmering wall of sound”.
Freddie Mercury was fabulous, darling.
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury was fabulous, darling.
Freddie credited his 4 extra-teeth as a great asset. While many people criticized and questioned his decision not to have orthodontic surgery, Freddie believed his teeth were gifts to his talents. Rami Malek expertly conveys Freddie’s self-consciousness with his chompers. It’s been reported that he obtained a set of “Freddie Mercury teeth” as soon as he learned he was in consideration for the part, a year before filming. He knew how difficult speaking was going to be - let alone singing - with Mercury’s magical teeth. In the movie, he portrays Freddie covering his teeth with his lip, covering his mouth with his hand, and growing mustaches to help disguise the teeth that were both a blessing and a curse to the legendary musician. Malik is rumored to have plated his "Freddie Mercury teeth” in gold as a memento.
Were his teeth a deformity, or dynamite with a laser? Maybe both. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Freddy Mercury was a legend, and that includes his teeth. Surgically changing his teeth would have risked losing his superpower: a four-octave vocal range.
Disability, “deformity”, and “different” can often be viewed as a super negative, and people can be quick to dismiss or “correct” it. Freddie believed his to be a gateway that extended his range, giving him the ability to rock us and become a champion. The world lost a flamboyant, eccentric, operatic, cat loving queen when Freddie died of AIDS in 1991 at age 45. Sadly, he died just a few months before new experimental AIDS drugs began starving off symptoms, allowing the diagnosed to be given a long-term prognosis.
Hopefully Rami Malek wins big at the Academy Awards tonight for his genius portrayal of Freddie Mercury. Even Queen guitarist Brian May said Malek “inhabitated Freddie to the point where we even started to think of him as Freddie. Really remarkable”. If he’s not holding a golden statue at the end of the night, at least he will have a golden set of teeth at home. And the thrill of having played a legend, darling.