Who Will Rock Me?
We Will Rock You is a musical by Ben Elton, based on the songs of Queen. When arranging the tickets I made very sure Dad was aware that it was a musical. With musical numbers in it. Sung by people in character. It’s a singy play. You know, like an opera but less in German, and with more drums. There’s going to be dancing. There’s a high likelihood of the audience being bullied by the cast into clapping our hands above our heads in certain parts. Are you really sure you want to come, Dad? Because Mum does want to see it, and if you’re just going to come and have a sitting-up nap or fume all the way through, please allow me to not get you a ticket.
No, no, he assured me. He really wanted to come. He likes Ben Elton’s work. He loves The Young Ones. And he was sure he would like this because it had rock music in it, and he loves that. All would be well.
And all was well. Dad seemed to very much enjoy the show. During the interval he was complimentary. He said he liked it as much as Jersey Boys, which is the only other musical I’ve ever heard him be less than scathing about. ‘This is very good too,’ he declared. ‘I’m impressed with all the songs. Jersey Boys had all the Frankie Valli hits to work with so that made it easier for them. That Ben Elton’s had to write these songs as well as the story. These songs are really pretty catchy.’
Mum, H and I looked at each other in a certain amount of befuddlement.
‘No, Dad,’ I said. ‘These songs are by Queen. All of them. Queen.’
‘Are they?’ he said. ‘I don’t recognise any of them.’
He thought for a moment.
‘Queen,’ he said. ‘Now look. She’s a lovely lady, despite being completely unsuitable and unqualified to be our head of state, and I’m quite used to being made fun of, but it stretches the imagination beyond breaking point for you to claim she wrote all those songs.’
H and I were gobsmacked. I wouldn’t describe myself as a Queen fan, really – I’ve never bought an album or even a ‘best of’ compilation – but I can still sing most of the words to at least half a dozen of their songs. And I recognize probably another half-dozen as being their work. How can a person not know Queen?
Then we realised. Between 1977 and 1985, the years in which Queen had the vast majority of their hits, my parents were the parents of three small children.
‘You’ve got to understand,’ Dad said, in his defence. ‘For about six years a big night for us was watching Pot Black on TV.’
‘What was Pot Black?’ I said.
‘It was a snooker show from Britain, hosted by a man called Whispering Ted Lowe,’ Mum said. ‘We also watched Zed Cars.’
For them that was a decade of pregnancies, babies, toddlers and cloth nappies. Those are the wilderness years when it comes to keeping up with popular culture.
H and I made merciless fun of Dad last night, but then it occurred to us that maybe, just maybe there are things going on in popular music right now that we have no clue about. It’s just possible.
Every January when we listen to the Triple J Hottest 100 we play a game called ‘Don’t Know That Song; Never Heard of That Band’, and with each year that passes we score higher and higher. We don’t listen to new music on the radio that much, and certainly not the rubbish that passes for music with young people these days.
It’s entirely possible that in thirty years we’ll realise, like Dad did last night, that we’ve missed something important in pop culture. Who is the Queen of today? Is it Flume? I’ve heard that name a bit of late. What even is Flume? A band? A person? A dance move? A consequence of global warming?
You’d think that after coming to that shattering realisation that I might come home and look into some new music; that I might go so far as to hit the ‘new releases’ or ‘charts’ tab on Spotify while I waited for the fish fingers to cook this evening. But I had a more important job to do. I downloaded all the Queen songs I could find and made May Blossom and Garnet listen to them. We can’t let the mistakes of their grandfather be revisited upon our children. And no way should I have to be the only one who grapples for decades with the grammatical oddity of the lyric ‘this is ourselves under pressure’.