Chapter 1: Prologue
The Roxy, Sunset Strip
West Hollywood, California
A little light had come back into the world and I was at the source. I should have ordered that double bourbon I thought about earlier but I didn't trust myself. My emotions ran the scale from sheer joy to utter despair and alcohol would only magnify them-- as well as my already questionable judgment. I stood at the bar, as far away from the stage as I could get. The Roxy was much smaller than I imagined for a legendary rock venue and I wanted to take it all in-- the room with it's cement floor, already sticky with spilled beer. ...and the 70's rock and roll crowd-- a kind of Three Dog Night meets New York Dolls affair. Long hair was in abundance, accompanied by over flowing side burns and bell bottom jeans, brushing against platform shoes. In the “cool kids” camp were the glam rockers-- aloof, yet preening with their gypsy haircuts, satin blazers and wrists stacked with jangling bracelets. Then there was me, Joanna Grace, a woman out of time-- or ahead of it, depending on your perspective. I nervously ran my fingers through my long, platinum bangs and ruffled what what was left of my hair at the nape of my neck. One week ago, I was a redhead with a shoulder length bob. My scalp still felt tight from the bleaching process. At first, I didn't recognize the person in the mirror before me and then, I remembered her. This was the woman who attended concerts, danced in clubs, laughed easily and always made it to work on time, no matter how late she was out the night before. This was younger Joanna 2.0 and I liked her. I felt like myself again for the first time in a decade. For that, I had to credit “Bohemian Rhapsody” the movie. It lit something in me that got lost over the years, as I sleep walked through my life. At first, it was just a flicker and a kind of malaise set in, as I began remembering better times but regretting choices I had made. When I saw it a second time, the flicker became a flame. I left filled with Queen's music in my head-- all those songs I loved-- and my passionate crush on Freddie Mercury burned anew and something opened up in me. Like Freddie, I was ready to become the person I was always meant to be. Which led me here, on a “mission from God” so to speak. I prayed I could pull it off and return somewhere close to my own time. I tightened the belt on my vintage, burgundy leather coat and checked for the pictures, and the note from Brian. They were still there, secure in an inside pocket.
Suddenly, the lights went dark and I heard the unmistakable sound of Brian's guitar pierce the air. Excited whoops erupted from the packed house and grew louder when we all heard Freddie's voice for the first time as he sang “Here I stand...” My heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest. When he got to “Now I'm here” and “Now I'm there” the spotlight briefly flashed over a slim figure, dressed entirely in white, the billowing sleeves of his satin top swirling in the glow like angels wings. Then their powerful voices and all the instruments came together-- and in a flash of lights the stage exploded with Queen. Freddie's arms were opened wide in an embrace or a pronouncement, perhaps a bit of both. He soared into the first verse of the song, like it was as effortless to sing like a god as it was to have a conversation. His black hair fell long and smooth against his shoulders and those Cleopatra eyes lowered with an invitation. He traveled the length of the stage welcoming all worshipers to the Queen altar. ...and I just stood there, heart racing, gaping at my teenage fantasy come back to life...my demon prince who was dressed like an angel. I shouted over the music to the barmaid, for that drink.
“Do anything you have to, to get near him.” Brian said. “He has to see the photographs-- all of them. You don't have much time.”
His words echoed through my mind and presently, the seriousness of our ambitions and the likelihood that any of this would actually work, came washing over me like a hurricane. I swallowed my drink in a few gulps and then ordered another, just a single this time. I'd been here for awhile already and done my research. I knew where all the bands went after the shows and Queen didn't have another performance for two days. They would most definitely, be out on the strip tonight, looking for booze and sympathy. ...and God knows what else that came the way of young, hot bands on the road-- most likely women-- many, many women. One thing I knew for sure, one of those women was going to be me.
Brian was a little worried. Joanna had been gone quite awhile at this point-- longer than he calculated. He knew how high the risk was but he had a very unscientific amount of faith. Without being able to prove it, he truly believed everything would work out. Nevertheless, he already made the arrangements with Jim and had the trust drawn up. She had taken a great risk for them. He wanted to make sure she was secure financially-- whether she returned in a few more weeks-- or fifty years from now, when they were all long gone. The third possibility was that she never returned at all, lost forever in time and space. He didn't want to think about that. She accomplished so much already, more than he could have hoped for. He pulled himself from his thoughts and looked at the three men before him-- a sight he never thought he would see. Queen was back together and rehearsing for a world tour. After the success of their film, they were as inspired and nostalgic as their fans. It appeared that the entire planet was longing for better times and the healing power of music. ...and let's face it-- rock and roll, real balls to the wall rock and roll had been dead for almost twenty years now. It was about time to hear raw, organic, music again-- loud and emotional, full of life and completely devoid of bullshit. People young and not so young were hungering for it. There were a handful of young, new rock bands-- but not many. He hoped the interest in their story would change that.
He smiled as he thought of the reaction from their ever cautious friend and manager, Jim Beach: “Mercury's the only one among you that still has the stamina for such a grand adventure. Are you sure you're up for this?”
“Really Jim? You're insulting me now? I'm as fit as I have ever been and high on starlight, I might add.” Brian responded.
“Yes, yes, of course, you all look great but need I state the obvious? The last time you embarked on a tour of this scale, you were barely forty years old. This will go on for months.”
“Listen mum, we'll be fine, stop clutching your pearls.” Brian replied. “Rufus is coming along, he's been doing rehearsals with us and he can fill in for Roger, here and there, if it starts getting a bit rough. We're not fools and we're the same perfectionists we always were. We don't want anyone disappointed with the show-- including ourselves. Good times are to be had by all. Besides, we have the best singer in the world. His voice will carry us through.”
The sound of the piano and the voice of a rock god pulled him from his thoughts again. It wasn't a Queen song. The haunting melody of “Rule The World” echoed through the studio:
“You light the skies up above me. A star, so bright, you blind me. Don't close your eyes, don't fade away, don't fade away. Yeah, you and me we can ride on a star, if you stay with me girl-- we can rule the world...”
He stopped when he saw Brian starring at him.
“I've always loved that song. Wish I wrote it. Such a beautiful melody and lyrics. I was thinking we could do it for an encore. I think I'd strip it down-- maybe just me on piano and all three of us singing together? Then perhaps we could go really old school-- like the tour in '74? We'd do this for the first song and then go loud and proud with “Modern Times Rock and Roll” and end with “Jailhouse Rock”. I'm feeling it. What do you think?”
“I think it's a brilliant idea.” Brian said. He had to turn away for a moment. Uncharacteristically, he was overcome with emotion. He still couldn't believe the Queen family was back together-- even the elusive “Deaky” had come out of retirement. ...but the mention of the tour in 1974 brought his concern for Joanna to the surface again. He was glad he convinced Jim to draw up the trust. He couldn't take any chances-- and they had a bargain. He planned on paying her anyway, even if she came back and nothing had changed. It was the honorable thing to do. He wondered where she was. Was she still with young Freddie? They planned her new look together because he knew Freddie would find her interesting. They had so many women swirling around them in those days that it was important for her to stand out. It was even crazier in America because they were such a novelty, with their androgynous good looks and English accents. They were very naughty boys in those days. Temptation was everywhere and the girls were just so lovely. Whatever they were in the mood for was offered on a silver platter and variety was in abundance-- tall or short, slender or round, pretty or plain, fair or dark-- whoever struck your fancy-- she was there. Freddie had very specific taste. In the later years, Brian had to admit he found his taste in men a bit-- surprising. For some reason, he assumed Freddie would like pretty boys but that was not the case. Perhaps this assumption was based on the women he found attractive. When it came to women, he liked them feminine and with a touch of glamor. This was in complete contrast to the hyper masculine and often, unpolished appearance of the men he chose. It was so Freddie. He had a penchant for the “old Hollywood” leading ladies. Along with the famous photograph of Greta Garbo downstairs, his bedroom in Garden Lodge was filled with prints he had been collecting of mostly, nude women. They were done in the Art Deco style. Some were willowy and some were curvaceous but they all had a sensual, glamorous quality. He had his share of gorgeous girls but often it was someone with a bit of a different edge that struck his fancy. He recalled telling Joanna to “do anything she had to, to get near him”. He regretted the words the minute they left his lips because of how they could be interpreted. He wasn't setting her up to be a time-traveling tart. He just new it would be easier for her to get to Freddie, if he was intrigued by her-- if the way she looked played to his artistic sensibilities. Getting his attention was the first challenge, keeping it was another. He sent her with enough money to buy a car, find quality accommodations and travel from gig to gig if she had to. Time passed differently when one was traveling through it, passing more quickly in the present. He wondered where Joanna and Freddie were at this exact moment. For surely, by the scene in the studio, if they had not already met-- they were about to.
Chapter 2: Great King Rat
The Rainbow Bar and Grill
Los Angeles, California, 1974
I'm pissed and not in the American sense. I'm drunk, in my cups, however you want to say it. I mean, I can see straight, hold a conversation-- but the walls of will power are crumbling around me like dust. Poof. I've been staring at an unusual woman for the last hour or so. She truly looks like no else in the entire bar. Probably a Bowie fan-- or she's into the burgeoning punk scene-- but she looks too posh for that. I wasn't sure if punk even made it to the west coast of The States yet. It certainly didn't seem in sink with the sunny days, tan skin and general cheeriness of southern California. Yet, here she was with her boyish haircut and feminine clothes and I couldn't quite peg what she was about. I liked that. I liked things and people that were unique, undefinable. I was always attracted to the exotic, from a very young age and my interests were vast: music, art, poetry, fashion, mythology-- especially the grand epics. I loved the drama of the ancient Greek and Roman legends-- the great battles between gods and mortals. I often wove some of these themes into my songs. Lately, my creativity has been off the chain. I've been writing a lot, every day really. I always have a notebook with me or some paper stuffed into the pocket of a jacket, in case a random thought or lyric pops into my head. I have to write it down immediately because even though I'm young (I just turned 28) the minute one idea invades my brain, another one follows and I'll completely forget the one before it. I don't want to forget anything. I told Brian the other day that since we've been on this tour I have been virtually, bursting at the seams with ideas for the next album. He just looked at me and gave me one of his trademark quips: “Are you talking about new songs or your trousers, Fred?”
Cheeky Dr. May, cheeky. Brian's not really a doctor but he studied astrophysics at college and that's what I call him when he shoots off those sarcastic little barbs about my clothes. If it weren't for me, Queen would still be called Smile. They'd be wearing kaftans and denim trousers with their frayed hems picking up all the dirt from the London streets. Can you imagine a band with the name “Smile” filling a stadium in the 1970's? Nor did I. They would have faded into the ether along with every other student band playing the pubs at the time. Names are important. Names are everything. What you call yourself matters. I broke my dad's heart when I legally changed my name to Mercury. He took it as a rejection of our family and our heritage but that wasn't it all. I just wanted to be the person I was meant to be, the person I always knew I was and our family name did not fit the bill. Farrokh Bulsara was a tiny man tucked away in a laboratory somewhere, analyzing cells beneath a microscope. He came home to a wife that complained and kids that ignored him. Boring. Freddie Mercury, however, was a rock and roll star, darling. A fucking super nova that lit up the stage, blew the roof off the concert hall and then went home with the doe-eyed tart in the front row...and her brother. Farrokh Bulsara would grow old and die. Freddie Mercury would live forever.
So, I would embody my new name for the rest of my days with absolutely not one ounce of regret. Check your assumptions and everything you think you know about me at the door, thank you very much. I am a person of incredible appetites-- for music, for creativity, for love and sex. I wasn't sure one body or one life time could contain me. I sang loud, heavy rock music but I loved opera and ballet. I enjoyed beer as well as a fine champagne. I'd shag your brains out then take your mum to tea because...I love tea. I wore ladies clothes but don't let the silks and satins fool you. I'm most definitely, all man. Much later, I would find out how fascinated people would become with my personal life, always trying to put a label on me or get me to define myself. What can I say? My layers are ever evolving and changing. As an artist, I'm stimulated by contrasts. I like men who look like men and women who look like women. I am equally delighted by soft skin and tits you can drown in, as a hard cock and a mustache. The rest my dears...is none of your fucking business.
I sit at the bar for a few more minutes, seeing if I can catch her eye, looking for a hint of an invitation. This is another one of my layers. I boldly spoke of tits and cocks and shagging but I'm a little shy with strangers. I have enough drink in me to swagger over to her table, play the velvet clad rock star and brazenly tell her what I'd like to spend the rest of the evening doing to her. But even with the demon rum flowing through my veins, I'm still an English gentleman. Shocking isn't it? I've likened myself to a super nova, yet I mind my manners and I am wondering if this woman would welcome me or spit in my eye. That is the rub about women-- like cats, they are always unpredictable. If you try to understand them, you'll never enjoy them. So...I just live in the moment. Men are easier to read, most men anyway. We're all horny and if we see an opportunity for a casual interlude we'll usually take it, unless we are absolutely not attracted to the person who is willing to give up the goods-- and even then, all bets are off. Yes, there are happily faithful husbands and partners-- don't despair. But in the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the late sixties, most young people were willing to explore their carnal natures without apology and with less social stigma. ...and my world was rock and roll...a glittering circus of debauchery in those days. Believe me, I wasn't the only randy bastard. We were four lads away from home for months at time. At this point, even though we were selling out clubs and halls all over the States, a long phone call home was an expensive luxury. So, despite the band rarely discussing our individual exploits, if we were honest with ourselves-- it was probably fifty percent a desire to get shagged and fifty percent loneliness.
I worked on finishing the remainder of my drink as I perused my target. It's difficult to tell with women if they are tarts or angels just by looking at them. One's mode of dress can or cannot be a dead giveaway. I learned a few things on this tour about the lovely lasses of conservative America. My head could be turned by a pair of round thighs in the shortest skirt I've ever seen-- but she may not even let me buy her a drink. She really was there just to see the show. Yet, travel through the even more conservative southern states where we'd be told not to curse on stage (we really didn't anyway) and where my black nail varnish and androgynous clothing were met with suspicion-- it could be a different story entirely. These performances usually turned out to be the ones that garnered the most invitations. Why, you ponder? Because the concert halls were an incubator of repressed desires and unspoken truths. I stomped about on stage with the crown jewels on full display, in trousers that were more anatomy class than clothing-- long hair flying, rivulets of sweat running through the hair on my naked chest as I sang about ogres and fairies, kings and queens, love and desire. When the show was over I looked like a wilted stripper-- eyeliner dripping to my cheekbones and my black hair clinging to my face. A regular rock and roll Gypsy Rose Lee. Yet, there would always be someone who wanted a piece of the particular brand of salvation that I had to offer. Some nights it would be a young man, sometimes too young. So, I'd send him packing, back to his mum and tell him he'd half to sort out his needs on his own. I was hardly a saint but nor was I a pervert or a baby sitter. Most nights, it would be a fresh young woman knocking on my door. Under eighteen, I'd kiss her on the cheek and send her home. “Glad you enjoyed the show darling but I can't get arrested-- we have a tour to finish.” If she was over eighteen, I'd decide what kind of mood I was in. Really, some nights I just wanted to go back to the hotel or bus and have a few drinks with the lads. However, if the great king rat was...rising...I'd pull her into my dressing room, lock the door and marvel at how some of these women even screamed in a southern drawl: “Oh Gawd, Oh Gawd.” ...and I'd answer them with a laugh and whisper in their ears.
“Yes, yes I am.”
I stood up and took the last swig of my liquid courage (it was just so much easier when they came up to me) and turned toward her booth. Her head snapped up at that moment and our eyes met. Just what I was hoping for. I grabbed the bits of napkin that contained the scribblings of a new song and stuffed them into the pocket of my delicious velvet coat and headed toward her, anxious to discover what delights or frustrations the rest of this evening might contain.
Freddie Mercury was looking at me. I never thought I would say those words in a hundred life times, let alone this one. I sat solo in a booth at the Rainbow Bar and Grill and tried to look occupied. I ordered some food, even though trying to eat at this moment was about as easy as plucking my own eye out. I needed something to occupy my hands and bringing a book to read at a famous rock bar seemed ridiculous and decidedly un-sexy. I was here by pure chance or by destiny, who knows? What I knew for sure, was I had left my role as a passenger in life behind and was now driving a bullet train into changing the future. Hopefully, if I didn't screw things up. How I got here is a novel in itself, honestly, it's a Steven Spielburg movie. I'm going to give you the short version because how I got here doesn't really matter. That's not the story. I'm sure Dr. Brian May will write a four hundred page book about it some day. The simplest explanation is that time, is not linear. It's more like a circle. The past, present and future are happening all at once. Brian explained this to me in terms I could understand and without any sort of condescending attitude-- but I already knew it was true. I had known this for many years through my good friend Vida, a gifted psychic and astrologer. This appeared laughable, to mention to a man with a doctorate in astrophysics, so I said nothing. Also, I have a few abilities of my own that I will explain later. Traveling from 2018 to 1974 and arriving exactly where I was supposed to was a physical and spiritual effort. Spiritual on my end because I was praying the whole time. I didn't want to wind up imploding and dissolving into space dust-- my essence scattered to some unknown corner of the universe. So, if you want the details, you'll have to read Dr. May's book. Although, I'm quite sure he'll leave out the part about how he sent me back here because, well, that was our secret. We were going to take it to our graves, no matter what happened. I was to find Freddie and convince him to temper some of his behavior-- so in the dark days of 2018 we could bring Queen and rock and roll music back and heal the planet. I know, this sounds incredibly cheesy, like “Wayne's World” meets “Back To The Future”. However crazy it sounded, it was the God's honest truth. The planet required healing. We needed to start acting like brothers and sisters again, like the Live Aid days. We needed to take care of each other. I was sent here as both inspiration and warning, the cautionary tale that Freddie never wanted to be. Brian warned me what a difficult task this was because in his words: “Freddie never did anything he didn't want to do.” I was not here to scare him to death or turn him into a monk-- or try and change who he was. I was here to explain what an impact he would have on the world-- how Queen's music could unite even the most diverse people and how we needed that now, more than ever. The worldwide success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” had awoken the planet. A candle was lit and now it was a flame burning across the globe. Queen fans old and new, young and not so young waxed poetic on YouTube, on Instagram, in the comment sections of every article or video posted about the band and the movie. They loved Queen, they loved Freddie and missed him desperately. Young people lamented they were born too late, older people wished they had paid more attention to the band, when they were younger. Then, there were the fans like me. Legions of us who had seen Freddie with Queen multiple times through the 70's or 80's or-- if too young for that, we discovered them through our parents. For us, Queen was the soundtrack of our lives. They were the music of our younger years or better times-- when everything seemed possible.
To me, this was very personal. So, as Freddie looked at me, casually the first few times and then more intently as he rose and walked toward me, my heart felt like it was about to burst. I was very young the first time I ever laid eyes on him and I fell instantly in love. It was like being bitch slapped by Cupid. I couldn't understand fans that never explored their music beyond the well known anthems and who never saw Freddie before what I called “the pornstache years”. They never bothered to investigate early Queen and their loud, heavy, glorious rock and roll and Freddie's androgynous beauty. Not that he wasn't always handsome mind you, he was...and not that I am so shallow or such a goddess myself that I only cared about his looks. However, Freddie Mercury from 1973 to about 1976 was the single most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. My phone back home was filled with saved photos of him. I spent hours searching “Freddie Mercury 1970's “ online and then pouring through each picture and article I could find. After the movie opened I found myself, like every Queen fan in the world, searching YouTube for every crumb of concert footage available. For me, the highlight was the 1974 show at the Rainbow in London. Freddie was breathtaking on this tour. His hair was long, his clothes were glam and he was as lean as whip. It served him well onstage as he stalked toward the front row or jumped up on the drum risers and bent backward-- raising the microphone skyward, as Brian flew through a guitar solo. His voice was simply, magnificent. It soared above the rumbling drums and loud guitars of “ Stone Cold Crazy” like a cry to heaven. You could hear every word he was singing, clear as a bell. How I longed to have seen those shows. As time passed, it became much more than his beauty that drew me in. I loved Freddie Mercury to the depths of my soul. I loved the sincerity I saw in his beautiful eyes. I loved how he could alternately be bitchy and gentlemanly or macho and shy. I loved that he never dated a supermodel (at least, I don't think so) and that he could be sexy as hell but also, a little awkward here and there. I loved that he took care of the people that were his friends from the start and I loved that an air of mystery swirled around him then and still does now. Twenty-seven years after his death we're still talking about him, trying to figure him out. The film gave us a tiny peak into what a complex person he really was.
...and now I'm here, at the beginning of it all and Freddie fucking Mercury, the one of my girlhood dreams, is walking toward my table with a tiny curl of a smile on his face. His glossy black hair is tumbling around his shoulders in thick layers, a dark veil against the rich blue of his jacket. He's wearing black satin bell bottoms like a second snakeskin. His silky shirt is open and I'm trying not to stare at his chest and the slim, silver chains he's wearing, that draw even more attention there. I'm panic stricken-- both elated and terrified. I told Brian I could handle this but suddenly, my soul is aching. I'm looking at beautiful young Freddie and thinking of that last video, the one I can't bring myself to watch. I'm worried I'm going to do something really embarrassing and really American and start sobbing in front of a complete stranger. I can feel the tears rising to the surface but I think of Brian's kind eyes and gentle voice-- and more importantly, his faith in me, and I force them back.
Freddie plops down in the booth next to me, every inch the Vampire Prince and says: “Hello, darling. What are you doing sitting here alone? You are much too interesting for that.” My heart catches in my throat at the sound of his voice and the dark kohl-rimmed eyes fixed on me. I respond with the first thing I can think of that sounds normal and friendly.
“ Well, Hello Mr. Mercury. Great show tonight. I loved it.”
I say it likes it's the most normal thing in the world. Like he's one of many English rock stars that might approach me in a bar-- like I'm not fourteen all over again and he is not a god, that walks the earth as man. I call him “Mr. Mercury” in a flirtatious, overly formal way. It's an Oscar worthy performance and it's working. I've made him instantly comfortable. He smiles so broadly, he even lets me see a glimpse of those famous teeth. His canines almost look like fangs. It's incredibly sexy.
“So, really, you saw the show? I wouldn't have guessed that. You look more like a Bowie fan. I like your haircut...very brave...I love people who take risks with their look. Also, great coat, love the color.” He reaches out a hand and brushes my fur collar, which is dyed the same shade of burgundy as the leather.
“Thank you.” I respond. “...and I like Bowie. I just like Queen better. I love your music, it's so rich and unique. I have all three of your albums.” God, do I sound like a starstruck fangirl? Am I blowing it? Why can't I ever play it a little cooler? Why can't I just be a calm, confident seductress, like other women I have seen? I guess because I've never thought of myself that way...and I'm always a little too nice. Damn me.
“Well, I am definitely impressed now. You must be delighted to meet me.” He teases, with a smile on his face.
Random thoughts are running through my head that I struggle to push back. I want him to sink those teeth into me, anywhere and everywhere. I want to slip my hand inside that open shirt and feel the dark hair on his chest curl around my fingers. I want to feel the warmth of his skin, I want to run my hand along that beautiful jawline. ...but more than anything, I want him to live. So, I pull my head out of the trash bin of broken dreams and try to focus. Brian knows I'm a fan but he doesn't know how deep this ocean goes for his lead singer. I kept that to myself because if I didn't, he wouldn't have chosen me. I tear my eyes away from his chest and try to face him. My gaze must have lingered there a moment too long because there's a wicked light in those dark eyes and he's still grinning at me, teeth covered now. I notice the dimple on the right side of his mouth and it's beyond adorable. I feel he can see the blush creeping across my hot cheeks, even in the dark bar. He spreads both arms across the back of the booth and looks me up and down. Then he throws his head back and laughs out loud. It's a melodic baritone that bounces off the walls and surrounds me like wind chimes playing in a gentle breeze. Instantly, I know what God sounds like and he's wearing distractingly tight pants. I feel like I'm cuddling a thousand kittens while strolling through a moonlit garden...because Freddie Mercury laughing? Well that, ladies and gentlemen, is the stuff that dreams are made of.
“Oh my God, love. I have been wasting the last hour wondering if you are a tart or an angel and you are neither.” He moves a little closer to me and his right arm is around the back of my side of the booth.
“ A 'tart' or an 'angel'?” I question. “Those are the only categories? You must have a very limited view of women, Mr. Mercury. So if I am neither a tramp nor a nun...what am I?”
“You, my dear...are a kitten. A great big fluffy kitten with innocent eyes but mischievous ways. Let me tell you a secret.” He leans in. “I love kittens because they turn into cats and cats are one of my favorite things in the world...so beautiful and mysterious.” He's looking directly into my eyes. I still have a hard time meeting his. Lined as they are in black pencil, they look huge, dark as midnight and sparkling with warmth and good humor. He's still grinning at me like he is absolutely delighted, like I'm a favorite gift he just opened. I have read that he was really funny and one of the nicest guys in the band but he always looked so aloof in the 70's photos. He's rarely smiling and to me, always so exotically beautiful that I built up this image in my mind of an unreachable rock god. No time or interest in mere mortals. He was at the top of that stairway to heaven. He is so unexpectedly friendly that I can't help but start laughing too. I smile at him but look down.
“You are adorable, just adorable. I want to eat you up...among other things.” He leans in again and plants a kiss on my cheek, arm still resting around the booth. He looks away for a moment and calls a waitress over.
“Vodka please, darling and whatever the lady would like.”
I'm still recovering from the feeling of his lips brushing against my cheek and the hint of stubble that grazed my skin. This tiny, flirtatious gesture is nothing to him but everything to me. I feel like a Catholic school girl with my little plaid skirt all in a twist. ...and in 1974, I'm older than him by several years but he probably doesn't think so. In 2018 most of us don't tan or smoke, so we look much younger in the present than our 1974 counterparts. Freddie actually looks a little older than twenty-eight. Well, perhaps older isn't the right word. He appears more mature than his years. He looks and acts like a man. He's not been coddled and spoiled by his parents. He's been on his own for almost ten years now with three albums under his belt. How many people his age, who are not from wealthy families can claim that? At this point, the band are making a lot of noise with “Killer Queen” but they are not yet rich. They are surviving because they have vision, determination and balls, great big rock star balls.
“So tell her what you would like my dear.” He looks at me, still smirking and so sure of himself. I'm still in shock from the “adorable” and “eat you up...among others things” comments and I decide alcohol is a bad idea. I've read about his legendary charisma and the pheromones rolling off him and invading my senses already feel like a drug.
“Just a coke please, with a lime.” Did people order this in 1974? I'm not sure and I'm worried it sounded stupid. Freddie looks at me, frowns and lightly places his left hand on the waitress's arm before she can leave. She looks down at the polished black nails against her skin and then at Freddie and I know she is as hypnotized as I am. I suspect she might know who he is, the show at the Roxy was sold out for weeks and Killer Queen was all over the radio and no one in 1974 looked like Freddie Mercury-- except Freddie Mercury. However, it doesn't matter because he looks part demon and part angel and his voice could melt ice in the arctic circle.
“Make that a rum and coke, darling.” Then, he turns to me and shrugs. “I hate drinking alone. I could go back to my room if I wanted to do that.” He grins at the waitress one more time and I know she's going to do what he requests. She doesn't even bother looking at me to ask if it's O.K. I'm sure she has seen her share of rockers and stars in this place but she has been “Mercuried” and like me, she'll never be the same. I'm waiting for him to pat her on the butt, as she turns to leave but he doesn't. Maybe on the next round. I wonder if his behavior would be acceptable in 2018. First, there was the kiss on the cheek and now he's choosing my alcoholic drinks for me. Call in the National Guard. Once again, I have his full attention.
“So, you know who I am but I don't know who you are.”
“Joanna.” I answer. “Joanna Grace.”
“That's a lovely name. Joanna, Joanna full of grace. It's like a prayer...and I think mine have been answered.” He leans back in the booth again and just smiles at me.
Wow. This man could charm the lock off a medieval chastity belt. I am definitely not drinking around him. The three shots I had earlier, have kept me calm enough to talk to him like a relatively normal person. However, more alcohol, plus the way he's hitting on me is a recipe for distraction and a walk of shame. I decide to ask the waitress for a glass of water when she returns with our drinks. That is, if I can tear her attention away from one Mr. Freddie F. Mercury.
I just look at him and the shit-eating grin he has on that handsome face and laugh. “You...are trouble in satin trousers. I can only imagine the trail of broken hearts in your wake.”
"Broken hearts? Darling, I'm not after anyone's heart.”
This time it's my turn to throw my head back and laugh. At least I'm mature enough not to be delusional about the attention he's paying me. This is a man who wants to get laid. It's written in every look and flirtation. He has not really said or done anything inappropriate but he's definitely working the mojo and doing a slow, seductive dance around me. I can almost hear the snake charmer's music playing in my head. My laughter gives him more encouragement and he moves closer to me. His right arm is once again, resting around my side of the booth and with his left hand he runs his fingers through my long bangs.
“I still can't get over this haircut. It's so bold. I just love it...and the color too. It's like Bowie and Marilyn Monroe had a lovely, posh daughter.” He looks me in the eyes once more and lightly taps one of the large, gold hoop earrings I'm wearing. It's such a small gesture but somehow, so intimate. His fingers are long and elegant, the black polish on his left hand is oddly sexy. He is an intoxicating combination of flamboyant and macho. A rock and roll peacock in a woman's velvet blazer-- but the mane of dark hair on his chest is evidence of the testosterone flowing through his wiry, young body. He lowers his eyes and gives me that seductive, Cleopatra stare-- the same one he gave the audience at the Roxy. I'm doubting my ability to resist him and why should I? I may never see him again after tonight. I may never see anyone I know again. I could get stuck here or I could return a hundred years after I left. There were no guarantees.
We continued this flirtatious dance for the next hour or so. I managed to get a glass of water from the waitress and Freddie didn't seem to notice that I wasn't drinking my rum and coke. He was focused on getting me back to his hotel room but I can tell he was starting to get a little on the drunk side. He finished his vodka and ordered a second. He said he had been “wondering” about me for the last hour, so he had been drinking that long before we met. I think the show ended a good hour or two before that. So, at this point, he had been drinking a good three hours. He had to be fairly lit when he approached me because I read that despite his super confident and often sexy stage antics-- he was not comfortable with strangers. He was usually either shy or aloof. I met rock star Freddie tonight but there was so much more to him than that and I knew it. I guess I should be grateful for his imbibing because we might have been at a standstill if he didn't approach me. I left the Roxy with the false confidence of three shots of bourbon in my gut-- sure I could easily be a Queen groupie. I had a good look-- 70's fashionable with an edge. I bought the coat I was wearing years ago at a hipster resale shop on Melrose Avenue, when my cousin lived here. My boots were my own, a relic from my clubbing days. They were black platforms that hugged my calves and landed just below the knee. I was fairly confident about looking acceptably “cool” for Freddie-- even before the booze. However, when he and Roger and a few of the crew walked in the Rainbow, my confidence quickly waned. Compared to them, I was an imposter-- an actress with a good haircut and trendy clothes but I definitely lacked their swag. They were the real deal, you could feel it from across the room. All eyes were on them as they grabbed a few seats at the bar and started ordering drinks. In about ten minutes there were women and girls approaching them, either passing back and forth in their sight lines or boldly walking up to them.
I realized I would never feel comfortable doing that, especially with an audience of Roger and smirking roadies. I was thinking I might be able to catch Freddie alone, when he eventually left his seat and tell him I liked the show. I could have be waiting for that opportunity all night. I could easily blow this if I didn't swallow my pride and my own insecurities around men I was attracted to. The photos and the note from Brian were burning a hole in my pocket, telling me not to be an idiot. Thankfully, Freddie saved me from myself.
His arm had slipped around my shoulders and he moved in for a kiss. He brought his face close and lightly pressed those full lips against mine, lingering for just a moment. He was testing my reaction. Once again, that feeling of wanting to cry coursed through me and I had to force back the tears. I really needed to get control of this overly emotional reaction I was having to him. I had a really shitty last few years and beyond all reason, I was sitting here with my life long crush, who had his arm around me and he just brushed his beautiful, soft lips against mine. It felt surreal, like a lucid dream. I had to keep reminding myself, to him, it was just a game. I don't mean that as a slight toward Freddie or any guy that wants a little...something. He was just being a guy. He pulled back and for an instant, something unreadable washed over his features and then it was gone.
“It's getting late my dear. Don't you think we should turn in for the night? I think these nice people here would like to go home.”
I looked around and was surprised to see that we were only a handful of patrons left in the Rainbow. It was later than I realized and the bars in L.A. closed earlier than in other big cities. I think it was 2:00am around here and where I was from it was more like 4:00 or 5:00am, on the weekends. Jesus, what the hell was I going to do now? Go back to his hotel room after he spent the better part of his night trying to seduce me and tell him I just wanted to talk? Then I would whip out photos from the last forty plus years and explain that I was a time-traveling Ghost of Christmas Future...sent here by one Dr. Brian May? Somehow...I think that would go over about as well as telling him to button up his shirt and hide the forest. I needed more time. I had no intention of being a booty call, even though my heart and body wanted to throw caution to the wind. I was dying to have his arms around me and be pressed closely against him. I wanted a long, lingering kiss and to feel his hands roaming all over me. ...but Brian wasn't paying me to be weak. He was right to weed out the “Freddie groupies” as he thought he had with me. I had only been interacting with him for one night and I was ready to behave in a way I had never behaved in my life. Brian was counting on me to get our message across to Freddie, so he would want to use a little more caution with his life and still be playing music in 2018. I had to stop thinking I could be some super sexy “Bond chick” and fall into the satin sheets with him and then wake up in the morning with a gun to his head and tell him what I was really here for. That felt a little out of my league. Besides, even if I gave in to the call of the wild, I was afraid that would be it. He'd ring me a cab and send me on my way, already a distant memory and certainly, not unique from the myriad encounters I'm sure he was having on the road. I needed one thing to succeed. His trust. That would require a little bit of time which meant I had to keep him intrigued. To retain his interest I had to continue dangling the carrot...so to speak. One thing I learned about Freddie, is that he was easily bored. He would get fixated on a potential love interest and pursue that person relentlessly, until they gave in. However, once the object of his desire caved to his wiles, the relationship usually fizzled out fairly quickly. I knew I wasn't in the “love interest” category but I couldn't succumb to his allure right now and wind up in the “road booty” group either. I needed to form some kind of a connection with him, so, when I told him the truth, he wouldn't think I was out of my mind.
The waitress came over to let us know they were closing up and Freddie payed the bill. She was a very pretty California girl with long, sandy blonde hair and a slim, healthy figure. She smiled broadly at Freddie when he left her a generous tip. “Wow! Thank you.” she said to him, a little starry eyed.
“Thank you, my darling.” He replied. Then he reached out, took her hand and kissed it like a gallant Knight of the Round Table. “Good night my dear, have a pleasant evening.” The stars in her eyes turned to sunbursts and she looked at me for a moment with a combination of confusion and awe. She was probably wondering why he chose a woman with such short hair over the bevy of beauties with flowing manes that dotted the bar a few hours ago. Well, if you knew anything about Freddie Mercury, you knew he wasn't predictable. If I had not distracted him with my platinum hair and fashion forward look, she could have easily been the one in my place, or it could have been the bartender with the killer smile. Freddie was just...Freddie. She looked at us one last time and then turned and walked away.
Freddie stood up and as he did, he swayed a little bit. Two things struck me. One, was how tall he looked. He wasn't short anyway, but the three inch platform boots he was wearing made him almost Brian's height. The second was...he's a lot drunker than I thought. He moved back and gave me his hand to help me out of the booth. I stood up and he looked down at me with the delighted smile.
“Well, well...good things come in little packages.” he said, towering over me. Then he leaned down and planted a kiss on the top of my head and slung his arm around my waist, pulling me close. “Now let's go find a nice, comfy bed.” He led us toward the door but I stopped him.
“Freddie, where are you staying?”
He looked at me for a moment and held me a little tighter. I realized that his affectionate gesture was probably thirty percent flirtation and seventy percent he couldn't stand up without holding on to something. “I don't remember love. Roger and Ratty will know.” He turned toward the bar like he expected them to still be there.
“They left quite awhile ago.” I said.
“Did Rog leave with one bird or two?”
“I think they left with four or five women between the two of them.” I replied.
“Hmm...stamina.” He grinned and looked down at me with that wicked glow in his eyes. “Call me old fashioned but I prefer to focus on one beauty at a time. It's more enjoyable for both parties.” He gave me an extra squeeze on that last comment. His hand dropped to my hip, probably because it offered more support than my waist but he was really unsteady. I placed my right hand against his abdomen to help him. I tried to ignore the feeling of that hand brushing his warm, bare skin and the body hair that grazed my fingertips. Christ...why did he have to wear such low cut shirts? Freddie Mercury's chest hair was the stuff of my teenage dreams and all I had to do to touch it, was move my hand about an inch or two higher. How was I going to make it through this night? I prayed to God and the angels to help me...and my mom, who also thought Freddie was hot.
“You really have no idea where you're staying?” I questioned.
“Actually, no.” he responded. His eyes were getting heavy lidded and he was leaning on me a little more strongly.
“How about the crew? Do you think any of them would still be at the Roxy?” I almost said: “Why don't you text Roger?” but then I remembered what era I was in.
“No darling, long gone with birds of their own, I am sure.” He looked down at me again and smiled. He was still flirting, despite how drunk he was. I had to respect his “stamina” and determination. I laughed.
“Freddie, even if I let you have your way with me tonight...and by the way...that's a “no”. I am not sure you are in condition for anything to happen.” I teased.
He seemed to sober up momentarily at my words.
“Did I hear a 'no'...and 'not sure I'm in condition'? Challenge accepted. Believe my dear, I don't need to stand for what I have planned for you, my fluffy little kitten.” He squeezed me tighter and headed us toward the door again.
I laughed once more. I liked his machismo and humor. I didn't take all his suggestive comments that seriously. That's what was so sad about the world I came from. Everyone took themselves and every little remark made online or in person so damn seriously. We had lost the ability to laugh at ourselves and each other. That was another thing that was so interesting about Freddie. He was so damn sexy-- it should be against the law-- but he could laugh at himself. It was fun to flirt with him and go round about how this night would end up. He kept nudging me in the direction he wanted things to go. I kept pushing back, giving him a little shit and we could both giggle about it. Not once did I feel threatened by him. It's such a shame, in 2018, that we are often made to feel like we're walking on eggshells around each other...about everything.
We made it out of the Rainbow and onto Sunset Boulevard with Freddie's arm around my shoulders now. My hand was still on his stomach for support. The night was cool and a soft breeze washed over us and lifted Freddie's hair from the shoulders of his blue velvet coat. From somewhere, he had produced a black scarf, shimmering with silver threads, that hung casually around his neck, untied. It was almost a perfect match to the one I had wrapped around my throat and flowing over my black dress. His hair blown back drew more attention to the strong angles of his face and that perfectly straight nose. His sideburns were longer than I expected but that was 70's fashion. Once again, I was struck by his beauty and the fact that I was here with him, in this moment, on a lovely fall evening. We were walking and our bodies were touching. He smelled fresh, like he had recently showered and his hand gripping my arm felt large and warm. I sensed that ache in my soul rising to the surface. A horrible thought crossed my mind. He has less than twenty years to live at this point. I immediately stuffed it back down. I was going to do everything I could to change that.
“O.K. Freddie, one more time, you are sure you don't know the name of your hotel?”
“Not a clue, my dear.” he replied.
“What about the tour bus? Would that still be at the Roxy?”
“No, that's parked near the hotel. The equipment truck was at the venue. Where are we walking by the way?” he asked.
“To my car.” I replied. “It's just up the street and around the corner. Do you want me to drive back to the Roxy? Do you think some of the roadies are still there loading the truck?”
“I'm sure not. It's not like we're playing stadiums with a huge lighting rig and stage set.”
“Oh, but you will.” I answered. “You will.”
“Really sweetheart, you have that much faith in us? That's more than I have, lately. I don't doubt our talent but I often doubt our management. I'm not driving a Rolls Royce but our manager is.” he responded.
“Let me make another prediction Mr. Mercury. The Rolls will be yours, as well as the stadiums. I see it as clearly as I see you now. You'll be amazed at what can happen in a year or so. Anyway, can't you change your management? If you're under contract, why don't you consult an attorney when you get back home?”
He stopped walking and just stared at me. “Honestly, Brian and I were just discussing that this morning. ...and you've just made up my mind. Done. God, I love a smart and supportive girlfriend.” He leaned down and whispered in my ear. “...and you are so sweet as well, Kitten. I wonder what other sweet treats you are hiding from me in your lovely coat?”
Girlfriend. Freddie flipping Mercury just called me his girlfriend. He thought I was sweet. He gave me a cute name. If a hearse rolled past us I'd jump in because...I can die now. Of course, I knew that it was just his charming way of trying to lure me into bed...but those words coming from his lips, I will never forget. If cell phones existed here, I'd make him say it again and use it as my ring tone.
“So, you don't want me to drive you back to the Roxy and just check if any of the crew might still be there?” I asked.
“All I want right now...is a bed and you, my darling.” He swayed into me and laughed a little. I guided him up a hilly block of Sunset and then turned the corner onto a residential street where my car was parked. We walked half a block until we came to my powder blue Ford Mustang convertible. (Thank you Dr. Brian May.) I ushered Freddie to the passenger side. The top was down so he probably could have climbed in but I wasn't sure he was sober enough and he was teetering on three inch platforms. If he tripped, there was no way I could have picked him up and gotten him in the car. I opened the door and he kind of fell into the white leather seat. Cars were so much lower than they are now and I was parked on an uphill angle. A lot of streets in the Los Angeles area were hilly. After Freddie got in, I moved to put his seat belt on. This was unusual in 1974, it wasn't a law yet, that you had to wear one. However, there was no way I was driving around L.A. with a drunk Freddie Mercury in my car and no seat belt. As I reached over him, to click it in place, I felt his perfect nose brush against my neck.
“Mmm...you smell good.” he said. For the first time in my life, I felt what a man must feel when a woman is teasing him, incessantly and driving him mad with desire for her. It took every ounce of strength I had not to crawl into his lap, wind my arms around his neck and taste those lush lips. His raven hair fluttered against my cheek and it felt like I had been touched by an angel's wing. I was about to lose it again. I was either going to burst into tears or let him have me right there—before God and the stars and whoever was living in the house we were parked in front of. Maybe both. I managed to pull back, walk around to the driver's seat and get in. I looked at the dark prince sitting beside me and thought-- timing and fate are the cruelest of mistresses. Brian's face loomed before me. I made him a promise. I had already deceived him about my attraction to Freddie and the man trusted me. If I weakened now, got distracted, I could blow everything. Brian chose me because of a dream I had. That sealed his decision. Despite his chosen profession of science, he had a spiritual side. I wasn't about to go into details with him about psychics and angels, but my story moved him. You see, that is my little gift. Sometimes, I get messages in dreams or I just know things. I have premonitions. Thoughts pop into my head that I know are true. I don't have visions like my friend Vida and I don't see angels standing before me, as she does-- but they talk to me in my dreams. Well, two of them do. I hear their voices and their celestial music. It sounds like the softest tinkling of bells. One of them even gave me his name. I felt right now, letting Freddie touch me was the wrong thing. I just knew sex with him would be like eating carbs...once you started, you couldn't stop. I had a future to alter. I made a promise to one of the kindest, most intelligent men I had ever met, that I was up to the task. ...and he was paying me a small fortune to do it. If I was successful, I would want for nothing. I could live a life I had only dreamed of. No matter how much I wanted to, drowning in Freddie Mercury wasn't on the ticket. I knew in my heart, he didn't belong to me. Not in this life anyway. I didn't need the angels to tell me that. I put the keys in the ignition and started the engine. We pulled away from the curb and I turned the car around and headed back toward Sunset Boulevard.
“Where are we going, love?” Freddie asked.
“The Chateau Marmont.” I answered. “You don't know your hotel, so we're heading to mine.” I turned to smile at him and his dark eyes were sparkling with anticipation and a smug grin spread across his beautiful face.
“Sounds posh.” was all he said. Then he lifted his face skyward and let the breeze blow his hair back again.
“It is.” I answered. We looked at each other one more time at the stop light and then I turned to watch the road. No distractions. We sped up the hill into the gentle California night, the City of Angels glittering around us.
To be continued...