Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It was in the East Wing of Somerset House where I spotted Brian May down the white marbled corridor. I calmly weaved around the arty types, standing by the trestle tables with their stacks of hardcover photography books. All the while, I felt quietly stunned that even from across the room, his expression seemed to suggest that he knew that I had come there for him. In my dramatic retelling of the encounter, I wave my hands about to indicate that it must have been my slinky 1974-era Freddie Mercury aesthetic which had given my intent away. The crowds parted as I came up to him. I smiled shyly, held out my hand and laughed: "It's been twenty-five years leading to this moment."

The truth is that I had come to terms with the idea that I would never meet Brian. As a Queen fan, I had heard the stories of friends eagerly waiting at airports and stage doors, often armed with their own replica Red Special guitar to be scribbled on with black marker. There have been stories of a friend holding the real Red Special in a studio, recalling "the neck was too thick and he didn't drink the tea I made for him". Yet, for all the premieres and launch parties I had managed to wrangle my way into, I could never actually make it happen. It seemed like behind every velvet rope was another velvet rope... and behind that velvet rope was a VIP area that excluded my types from entering.

"What would you ask, if you had the opportunity?" I had years to meditate on this point, but I never managed to articulate a single question for him. I would always say that I just wanted a meaningful dialogue, an ordinary encounter except with my greatest creative influence. There'd be certain qualities that I'd hope for, a kind of warmth and a genuine interest, even if it was a momentary thing. I can only assume this is what we're looking for when fans share these types of stories with one another: a vicarious joy and curiosity when you hear of the circumstances that transpired in meeting the musician you love. You want to hear of every detail, if only to say, "You are so lucky, I'm so insanely happy for you!"

It was a disjointed encounter, with VIPs continuously tugging at his sleeve for attention. He'd return to me though, as I would madly flip through my mental filing cabinet to recall every Queen anecdote that might be of some vague interest to him. I told him of my brother's ability to identify the specific location of where Queen photographs where taken in Japan in 1975 and 1976. "How does he do that?" Brian asked. "By analysing the buildings and the topographical details of each photograph. He can come back to me within the hour with a link to where the photo was taken Google Street View." Before I'd get any response, we'd be interrupted...

"So, what about you? What do you do?" I laughed and I panicked, in much the same way that I do when anyone asks such a confronting question. "Well, I live this pseudo-bohemian lifestyle where I live and work in this youth hostel in Bloomsbury but then I travel and go to museums and I write essays about music and relationships..." We were interrupted again by an older, more important man. Brian would come back to me with that dialogue still intact. "It doesn't sound like you're pseudo-bohemian, it sound like you're a proper bohemian." Of course, there's a retrospective agony in using that word, bohemian, as if I used it as a knowing reference...

It was like an awkward Tinder date where all the silences would be filled with speedy anecdotes of how I have attempted to analyse and honour his band for literally decades. I felt embarrassment, as every utterance seemed to straddle the fine line between the gushy and the academic. I'd be spouting these seemingly endless stories of my own creativity, hoping for an apt reply or connection, while knowing that Queen isn't his central priority anymore. His interests lie in astronomy, animal conservation, stereo photography and politics, quite simply in another universe well beyond the scope of this little band that was established nearly five decades ago.

Yet like any good fan, I guard memories of those tiny interpersonal details, like how he had hot pink nail polish painted on his left ring finger: "I have no idea how it got there." Randomly enough, I had gold nail polish painted on my right ring finger. There was a sweetness and warmth in asking how to spell my name and then signing his own, marking a little cross and then looking up to smile at me. When we went in to pose for a photo together and how we laughed after I said: "You would tell me if I had something on my face, yeah?" Among all the well wishes and hopes that we would meet again, I shook his hand and then he placed both his hands on my upper arms and kissed me on both my cheeks. I blushed wildly.

They're the details that get conveyed in frantic post-meeting phone calls and notebook ramblings, but they never really get conveyed when you upload a photo to Instagram. On Tumblr, a certain sweetness was recognised: "So wonderful. That gentle hand on her shoulder 💜" Perhaps it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it's interesting to think about these sorts of encounters and what they mean to fans. How can you possibly manage the awkwardness and the luxury of such a moment when you've had a lifetime to imagine what you could say. There's a risk they could be disinterested or there's the chance that you could articulate the enormity of it. More than likely, you'll just get the chance to say what we've all said: thank you for your time, thank you for your music.


Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Scandipop Podcast #64
Peter Bjorn & John - Second Chance
Kakkmaddafakka - Restless
Veronica Maggio - Vi Mot Världen
Fallulah - Out of It
Per Gessle - Galning
The Mary Onettes - Lost
Susanne Sundfør - Slowly
Simian Ghost - A Million Shining Colours

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