Friday, August 27, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)

I've found that I have a much easier time with my Queen Song of the Week posts if I have some sort of theme. It's so much easier to pick a RT solo song because it's his birthday or to just go through the set list of a concert, like I did with the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon Christmas Eve show. The alternative is just plucking a song out of thin air and when a band's catalog is as massive and prolific as Queen's that can be a rather daunting task, even for the biggest of fans!

A possible solution was to feature all of the songs on one of Queen's albums. But which one? I mean, there are 15 (excluding The Cosmos Rocks which was recorded with Paul Rodgers in 2008).

Image courtesy of
Finally I decided to go with the obvious choice: A Night at the Opera. Widely considered Queen's masterpiece, there's actually an entire special dedicated to the recording of this album (click here to purchase or alternatively for all you Netflix users, it's available in your instant queue!). Completely coincidentally, as I was writing this post, I realized that VH1 Classic was airing this special! I, of course, rewatched it!

I've already featured several songs off A Night at the Opera (click here for I'm in Love with my Car, here for '39, and here for Bohemian Rhapsody, but the album contains nine other tracks that deserve a little love themselves!

So let's start at the beginning: Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...) was written by Freddie Mercury and is the first track on Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera.

Video courtesy of spaccapassa                                                         

The song itself is supposedly written about the band's former management. At the time that A Night at the Opera was recorded, Queen had already released three albums and several popular singles. However, the band was not receiving the royalties that they were expecting and wanted to know why. Prior to recording A Night at the Opera, the band signed with new management who instructed them to go into the studio and record, they'd deal with the contract issues.

Nearly the entire band has spoken about the lyrics of this song. I find it rather amusing since they describe the lyrics as vicious and mean, but honestly, they aren't that bad. I mean, they aren't nice, but they aren't so bad that Dr. May should have felt uncomfortable singing them, as the story goes. I guess Dr. May really just is a really nice guy! Personally it makes me laugh when Freddie sings, "Shark," and I always imagine him imitating a fin on his head with his hand.

Here's a link to the lyrics: what do you think? Am I just desensitized to mean lyrics?

In 1976, Freddie told Sounds magazine, "When the others first heard it they were in a state of shock. When I was describing it they went, Oh yeah, and then they saw the words and they were frightened by it. But for me the step had been taken and I was completely engrossed in it, swimming in it. Wow! I was a demon for a few days.

The album needed a strong opening and what better way than to have the first words, 'You suck my blood like a leech'? Initially it was going to have the intro and then everything stop and the words, 'YOU, SUCK, MY' - but that was going too far."

The opening of this track is amazing and considered by many fans (myself included) to be the best opening song on any Queen studio album. It perfectly sets the stage for what the listener has in store for them with the perfect combination of drama and heaviness.

Queen's influence continues to grow, even now nearly twenty years after Freddie Mercury's death. Just this week, VH1 named Queen #17 on its list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. Back in 1998, Queen was ranked #33 on the same list. Maybe by 2022, they'll be #1!

Happy Listening!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Spread Your Wings

I make it no secret that bassist John Deacon is my least favorite member of Queen. I mean, I don't hate him or anything, but between my appreciation of RT, my new found crush on Dr. May, and Freddie Mercury, who's awesomeness speaks for itself, there's not a lot of room in my world for John Deacon love. That said, I went back and looked at past Queen Songs of the Week and was shocked that I've only featured one John Deacon song (click here).

Well yesterday was John Deacon's birthday and since RT and Dr. May got Queen Songs of the Week in their honor on their birthdays (click here and here), Deaky gets one on his birthday too! It's only fair that way!

Spread Your Wings was written by John Deacon and appeared on Queen's 1977 album News of the World. It was released as a single in the U.K. and peaked at #34 on the charts. One rather unusual feature of Spread Your Wings is that it contains absolutely no harmonies. This was virtually unheard of in the early days of Queen.

This is a rather catchy song, but the thing that I always associate with Spread Your Wings is the music video. Shot on a blisteringly cold day at RT's newly purchased home, the band also decided to shoot a video for We Will Rock You at the same time. Unfortunately the previous owners of the home had yet to move out, forcing the boys to stay outdoors the entire time. Poor Deaky and Dr. May couldn't wear gloves because they needed to be able to "play" their instruments and Freddie Mercury attempted to warm himself by consuming just a bit too much alcohol. It's also rumored that he nicked a pair of ratty gloves from a gardener working in the yard. You can also see RT shivering throughout which I find equal parts absolutely adorable and completely pathetic.

This is one of those Queen songs that I like, but always forget about. So it's rather fitting that Deaky wrote it since a lot of people probably feel the same way about him. In the future I'll try to feature a Deaky song as a Queen Song of the Week more often. I promise!

Happy Listening!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Birthday John Deacon!

Today is John Deacon's 59th Birthday! John has been in retirement for the last several years and no longer makes public appearances (Queen-related or otherwise). Spotting John Deacon out in public has become a bit of an urban legend - not unlike catching a glimpse of bigfoot in the wild!

Happy Birthday, John (wherever you are!)!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

*Disclaimer* I hate book reviews that give away too much of the plot so I don't do that. You should feel free to read this review even if you haven't read the book already: mostly it is just details found on the back of the book or in the front cover and my ramblings about the process of me reading the book!

I was a reading fool while on vacation in July! I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (reviewed here) and just finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (which I hope review soon). Between those two books, I read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

Four years ago I read The Time Traveler's Wife. I was stranded in the Atlanta airport. I was by myself and my flight had been delayed for something like twelve hours. I needed something to keep my mind busy so I wouldn't freak out so I wandered into the bookstore. I don't remember why I picked up The Time Traveler's Wife. If I'm being completely honest, it probably had something to do with the cover. In my mind I equate a glossy cover with only words on it with more of a chick-lit/mass produced author (i.e. John Grisham). However, a nice matte cover with a cryptic photograph? Oh la la - now you're talking.

I devoured The Time Traveler's Wife. I read it the entire time while I was in the airport. I read it the next three evenings after the work conference I was attended ended. And finally I finished it in my own apartment upon returning home a few days later. I loved every minute of reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Then, for some reason, I flipped to the back of the book and read the Reading Group Guide. I have no idea why I did this. I had finished the book already. I think it had actually been weeks since I had finished the book. And I most certainly was not in a Reading Group. But despite this, I read the Reading Group Guide.

And suddenly I thought the book's protagonist Henry was a manipulative jerk. Suddenly Claire, his wife, was stupid and naive. Suddenly the whole book was just a shadow in the greatness of which I had praised it just days earlier. And suddenly the title of the book made sense because all Claire ended up being was the time traveler's wife. She had absolutely no other identity and I hated her for it.

So with this history with Audrey Niffenegger, why on earth would I decide to read another one of her books, you ask?

Simple - I figured I'd read the book and then not read the Reading Group Guide.

Genius, right?

Unfortunately, I fear Ms. Niffenegger caught wind of my sneaky plan.

There is no Reading Group Guide in Her Fearful Symmetry.

Damn you, Ms. Niffenegger. Damn you.

This book starts off interestingly enough and Ms. Niffenegger lures you into her little trap. On the first page, Elspeth dies. It is her will that sets the events of the book in motion. She leaves her estate to her two nieces, Julia and Valentina, whom she's never met. Julia and Valentina move to London to live in Elspeth's apartment for one year. Julia makes friends with their neighbor Martin, who suffers from OCD and hopes to someday travel to Denmark to reunite with his estranged wife. Valentina, on the other hand, befriends Robert, another neighbor and Elspeth's former lover who is struggling to get over her death.

Her Fearful Symmetry includes a lot of descriptions as opposed to dialogue. A central location of the book is a historic cemetery where Robert works and Elspeth is buried and Ms. Niffenegger seems to believe that the layout and appearance of the cemetery is of utmost importance to the reader. In the back of the book, it is revealed that Ms. Niffenegger herself is considered a historian of the cemetery, which actually does exist, so her extensive descriptions were possibly a bit unintentionally self-serving.

In contrast to The Time Traveler's Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry operates in a world of blatant fantasy. At one point, I complained to Husband that the book was getting a little too unrealistic for me and that it surprised me. Then I realized that the other book I'd read by this author is titled The Time Traveler's Wife and is by definition complete fantasy. But my recollection of The Time Traveler's Wife is that Ms. Niffenegger attempts to set forth a scientific explanation for Henry's time traveling. And frankly, time traveling is something that I'm much more willing to accept as a possible occurrence than ghosts. Ms. Niffenegger offers no explanation for Elspeth's presence as a ghost: in this world, ghosts apparently exist and people just go along with that.

Because there is no Reading Group Guide in Her Fearful Symmetry, Ms. Niffenegger takes it upon herself to make each and every character completely and totally dislikable during the course of the novel. Maybe I'm wrong on this and maybe some of you will tolerate, or perhaps even like, some of these characters, but by the end of the book, I thought they were all rather contemptible.

Part of my dislike of Valentina and Julia, who I suppose are designed to be the most sympathetic characters in the book, stems from their complete and utter inability to separate from their twinness. Now granted, I know next to nothing about being a twin. One of my good friends from law school is a twin. And for a while, I cornered the market in babysitting twin two year olds. But an expert, this does not make me. I just have a very difficult time grasping Valentina and Julia's inability to function other than as a pair because has not at all been my very limited experience with twins. Julia didn't want to go to school so Valentina doesn't either. Julia wanted to go to London, but Valentina really didn't. Julia becomes upset when Valentina stays out late on a date with Robert. They slept together in the same room, in the same bed, despite being adults. God forbid these girls live separate lives! At a certain point, these young ladies needed to learn to function on their own and yet no one in their lives ever seemed to encourage or demand that.

Here's the problem though: I enjoyed reading the book, despite being thoroughly annoyed and unsatisfied with it. Ms. Niffenegger writes short chapters and dangles small cliff hangers at the end of every section, tempting you to move on to the next page. Will I read Ms. Niffenegger's next release? Probably. And I'm rather confident that I'll hate that book when it's all said and done too.

I think Audrey Niffenegger is the perfect example of an author whom I love to hate!

Now I know millions of others have read and enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife and by no means am I trying to dissuade you from reading Her Fearful Symmetry. Go ahead, read it. I'm glad I did. I just was rather disappointed with all the characters by the end of it. Perhaps I'm just used to a world where someone is likeable (I remember when Husband and I watched Arrested Development and I was convinced that Michael Bluth was a good guy when he's actually really not!). It's really hard to like any of Ms. Niffenegger's characters though.

Does that make her a bad author? Of course not.

Does it make this a bad book. I don't think so.

So if anyone else has read Her Fearful Symmetry I'd be interested to hear your response to it. Am I just being overly sensitive and expecting too much from her characters? Or am I right in thinking they're all a bit horrible?

I just finished The Thirteenth Tale a few nights ago so a review of that is forthcoming!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Week 3: Keep On Running

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later: a week where I didn't get my act together and complete all my scheduled workouts. This week between doctor's appointments, my office picnic (which lasted hours longer than anticipated), continued hot temperatures and a fair amount of laziness, I skipped my long run which was supposed to be 8 miles. I also only managed to do one afternoon of yoga.

Let's see what I did do:

Monday:       2 miles
Tuesday:       Yoga
Wednesday:  3 miles
Saturday:      5 miles

It looks rather pitiful listed out like that, doesn't it. Bah! I'm entitled to a bad week every once in a while but I'm still not happy about it.

And now as punishment, we don't get to listen to RT's cover of Keep on Running, we have to listen to his unreleased solo song Two Sharp Pencils, which features RT's voice being electronically lowered and is about as dreadful as my training was this week.

Sorry to do that to you, folks. I'll try to get my act together next week!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Bring Back that Leroy Brown

We made it! Today is the last song in the set list of Queen's 1975 Hammersmith Odeon Christmas Eve concert! As I stated previously, a lot of these songs are much less well known and as such less has been written about them. However, my two favorite Queen websites Bechstein Debauchery and Queenpedia both rose to the challenge and include information about even the most rare Queen songs. Great work!

Bring Back that Leroy Brown was written by Freddie Mercury and appeared on the band's 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.

If the style of Bring Back that Leroy Brown sounds familiar, it's because the song is part of Freddie's exploration of vaudeville-esque music. Other songs in a similar genre include Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (discussed here), and Seaside Rendevous.

Bring Back that Leroy Brown also includes a ukelele solo which was Dr. May's idea! Although the song itself is rather short (2:13), it features strong performances by all four members though RT has suggested that perhaps some studio effects were used to speed up the song and get the desired sound.

Happy Listening!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Queen Anniversary: Knebworth Park Concert

Today marks the 24th Anniversary of the last time that the four original members of Queen played together in concert. The show took place at Knebworth Park in Stevenage, U.K. on August 9, 1986. For a full account of the day, including video and audio footage, click here to visit another one of my favorite sites Queen Concerts.

Originally the band wasn't going to play a show in Knebworth during The Magic Tour, but the gig was added at the last minute due to the high demand for tickets. Many speculate that at the time Freddie Mercury already knew of his illness and those in attendance reported that the band seemed particularly energetic and passionate at the show, as if they perhaps knew it would be their last time touring together.

Of course, once this show officially became Queen's last performance as the original foursome, those who claim to have been in attendance increased exponentially to the point that basically anyone who happened to be alive and living in the U.K. in 1986 claims to have been there. In reality, the crowd was estimated at about 120,000 which didn't even fill the venue.

Here's a clip from the show (unfortunately the video is rather spotty) of the band performing Who Wants to Live Forever.

Happy Listening!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Week Two: Keep On Running

Alright, readers, it's time to check in on my weekly half marathon training schedule. This week, due to a few unforeseen appointments, I ended up doing my first "brick" workout, which means two workouts-a-day. The heat has also caused me to slow down tremendously. A rule of thumb is that your pace slows 15-30 seconds/mile for each 5 degrees over 65: it was 80 degrees this morning when I finished my long run so you do the math. Perhaps I should call it my weekly long "crawl".

Monday:          3 easy miles
Tuesday:          5 miles (1 mile, 2x1600 m w/ 800m recoveries, 1 mile)
Wednesday:     Yoga
Friday:             2 easy miles/Yoga
Sunday:            7 mile long run

Yay! Week 2 is a success! In celebration, let's listen to RT's version of this post's namesake: Keep on Running (if I hadn't completed my workout this week, I would have made you listen to The Whisperers, probably the worst song ever so be grateful that I struggled through today's long run!).

Let the celebration and well wishing commence!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Son and Daughter

Remember way back when before Nelson Mandela Day (click here), Dr. May's birthday (click here), and RT's birthday (click here) when we were working our way through the set list of the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon Christmas Eve concert? Well, despite our three week detour, we have two songs left on the set list.

Son and Daughter was written by Dr. May and appeared on the band's 1973 debut album Queen. It was the B-side to Queen's first single Keep Yourself Alive, which did not chart.

Son and Daughter is one of the first songs that Dr. May ever wrote for Freddie Mercury to sing. The vocal range is much more in line with Dr. May's abilities rather than Freddie's. As Dr. May grew more comfortable with and knowledgeable of Freddie's voice, he was willing to take more vocal risks in his songwriting. The backing track is strictly RT and Dr. May, however, singing male alto and baritone, respectively.

Some fun facts about Son and Daughter: The lyrics of this song are also rather unusual for Dr. May and are available here. And according to As it Began, the official Queen biography, this is the first Queen song that bassist John Deacon ever learned to play.

Happy Listening!