Like many other people worldwide, I’ve held a long fascination for the talented Faroukh Bulsara. Faroukh is still considered one of the most compelling showmen to grace a stage, unashamedly strutting his stuff, his four-octave range voice ringing out across stadiums and indeed, across miles. He and his music were a liberating influence, not only my life, but that of friends and people all over the globe.
Developments in the twentieth century moved at a hectic pace when you look at history. There are few ages with as many multiple global altering situations as the last century. Look it up via Google or use wikkipedia. In terms of life changing things, man walking on the moon is right up there with Columbus setting sail for the “new world”. The advent of satellite enhanced communication; radio, film, television and the Internet ensure that our global village became tinier. These days we think nothing of picking up the phone and calling long distance, but I can remember when you had to place a call to an operator who would call back and put you through. With instant messaging you can talk in real time to your friend in Bali from the North Pole. Amazing how quickly we have come to take these things for granted.
This was our version of turbulent times, not for us the racism of the American South, nor the right to vote, ours was a global minefield, of rampant environmentalism, wars in far off places carried in real time on CNN, starving children, the ravages of AIDS. Mine is the generation that grew up with an understanding that we were poisoning the earth, we, a generation after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, who saw first hand through the magic of live television; the repression of apartheid, communism and that coups in third world caused immense suffering for women and children. Against this backdrop were a bunch of kids, like every other generation, trying to figure out there place in the world. Nothing like Live Aid to awaken the burgeoning knowledge that our parents and their parents were the ruination of our world. Every generation likes to think they’ve invented having a social conscience and mine was no different, we honed it to a fine art.
My memories of Live Aid are played out against a backdrop of recrimination, loud fights, of self-loathing learnt early from the slurs and anger of my parents. I spent an enormous amount of time trying to walk that line, protect my brother from the worst of my parents’ excesses and yet resenting that I did. Mine was a double existence, a devil may care attitude in public, I had it in spades, at home, the withdrawn teenager wanting only to be left alone. At school hating the hell out of teachers who didn’t understand the limitations while continuing to flee the repression of home, all those fights to referee; the wreckage of my parents life making me into someone suspicious of people, relationships, other than the handful of close friends who were in on the secret.
If you’ve never had to cope with people who are bent on destroying each other it is difficult to understand the collateral damage. Constantly having to keep up a front so no one would know, or so my mother preached, this despite the evidence presented daily in our faces. Powerless to do anything or defend yourself from the rages, your only answer to rage back or rebel, it’s safe to say that I was by any means an easy teenager. It didn’t help that I knew we got a bum rap, being the excuse of why they didn’t separate; you want to know what it’s like?
My father the compulsive gambler would gamble the money as fast as he made it, never bothering to take care of his household responsibilities. We would have to put up with a never ending litany of “what we’d done for us and how grateful we should be” though for what, we never quite knew, having the evidence presented first hand as he went through the groceries she struggled to pay for, cooking himself huge meals, eating and then discarding what he hadn’t, leaving the pots on the stove, open to the flies, the contents hardening to a crust that would have to be scrubbed with scouring powder to get them clean. The constant accusations, martyred mother, oh woe poor is me, my kids need a father, never mind I complain about him to them all the time. Never mind he insults me in front of them, throws dishes, mental abuse. Oh no, we must keep up appearances. Never mind the humiliation or never having enough money to do anything, always wondering how to make ends meet, depending on the kindness of relatives. She had to work and we did the best we could, I got my first job cleaning houses when I was twelve. What we do to our children.
My best friend V., at the time was struggling with his own sexuality. I suspect the reason his mother tolerated me was the hope that her son was in fact with a girl. We spent hours locked up in his bedroom, lying on his bed talking about everything under the sun, playing tons of records, English New Wave, Madonna and George Michael, his older brothers Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Who. Starved for affection or even a modicum of acceptance, my few real friends were my solace. Annie, Lisa and Shirley had been my buffer all during my high school years. We all avoided the circumstances of our less than stellar lives by re-inventing ourselves.
V. filled the void when us girls were separated but he had his own battles to fight, with me by his side. It was V. who first played Do They Know it’s Christmas for me, on his turntable, we listened to it together, over and over again. It was also V who made me appreciate that someone could love you, platonically, just for you. For years we wrote each other long letters, bought funny cards, sent poems, music and held each other’s hands through the best and worst of times. Pictures of us from then reveal an extremely skinny girl with flashing eyes and a mischievous smile and shy bearded guy hanging on to girl for dear life. We were soul mates in our fight against oppression, we’d both learnt guilt at an early age, we felt responsible for everything and everyone.
It wasn’t easy everyone probably thought we were locked away fucking our brains out. I cannot claim to have been the chaste type; I didn’t care, after years of trying so hard to do something right, to have someone proud of me I’d about given up. If you wanted to think I was a fuck up well fine, that’s what I was going to be. But V was the one person who didn’t want anything from me and who accepted me for me. My friends always said that I was too old for my years, and I was. Having to sort out everybody else does that you but we were survivors.
Faroukh Bulsara, or as he is more commonly known, Freddie Mercury became a symbol, an obviously gay, camp man, not funny like Elton John. Queen’s set at Live Aid showed Freddie strutting, working the crowd, proud to be him. We looked at this Asian man who had reinvented himself and though, we can do this too. V and I planned to move to New York and live in Greenwich Village, I would write and he would design. Or something like that. I wanted to work for Greenpeace or become a UN Volunteer, my career guidance counselor, a really nice woman called Claire tried hard to steer me in the right direction. She’d figured out early that I wasn’t going to be “normal”. She’s also the first person who understood my self-doubt, I’ve always thought I was dumb as a cluck but she didn’t.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to wish, or plot, you also had to find ways to do. Stuck here while V. escaped to New York, to live our collective dream for a while; I found a different calling, environmental protests, making television, finding friends who didn’t accept the status quo, who let me out of my box. Learning not to blame myself for the wreckage of my family anymore. Not apologizing for this, always standing on my own two feet pushing slowly forward.