In case you didn’t know, Freddie Mercury of Queen (d. 1991) was the greatest and most iconic male rock singer this side of Elvis. I have blogged on Freddie before in an article where I established beyond a doubt that I am a big fan. So it was with great interest that I began to follow the surviving members of Queen as they recently launched a Youtube contest to invite entries for the ultimate Queen tribute band. In the short time that the contest has been open, one entrant named Marc Martel emerged from the pack. Marc has three things going in his favor: (1) he’s Canadian; (2) he’s a Christian; (3) he attended Briercrest College in Saskatchewan (where I taught for a year). The Wall Street Journal has observed that Marc Martel “channels” Freddie, in voice, persona and even looks. Here is his entry:
The Wall Street Journal blog asked Marc about any potential tensions with his performing as Freddie given the late entertainer’s, er, “sexual proclivity”. Marc replied:
“Freddie Mercury wrote songs that were real and true. Rock and roll reaches people because it’s honest, and doesn’t shy away from the issues. You can have a great voice, but people can spot a fake from a mile away. Our music may come from a biblical standpoint but we don’t shy away from true experiences – doubt, loss, pain, sorrow – we want to deal with all of that. Queen’s repertoire deals with those emotions and feelings too and I love singing their music because at the end of the day, it’s just true.”
True enough. When you’re in a tribute band, you’re playing the role of an actor. Can a Christian actor play the role of a non-Christian person? Of course. The key is not that the character have all his or her theological ducks in a row. Rather, the key is that the character have sufficient substance to make the performance worthwhile. There is not enough substance in much popular music to justify a tribute performance. But there are depths in the music of Queen that are waiting to be explored, and it looks like Marc may be just the one to lead the way. Indeed, if I may be my typically provocative self, there is more existential truth in one performance of the angst-driven “Somebody to Love” than in ten narcissistic performances of Jesus as my boyfriend songs at comfortable Sunday morning suburban church services. (Michael Frost has a great discussion of Jesus as my boyfriend worship songs in his book Exiles. They are songs that could be sung to your boyfriend simply by changing “Jesus” to “Doug” or “Al” or whatever.)
I would go further than Marc however. Note again the way he puts it: “our music may come from a biblical standpoint but we don’t shy away from true experiences – doubt, loss, pain, sorrow….” Why “but”? Actually, the biblical standpoint (or, more correctly, many of the biblical standpoints) include doubt, loss, pain and sorrow. I can readily see a modern day Qoheleth (author of Ecclesiastes) belting out a bracing version of “Somebody to Love” or “I want to break free” or “Who wants to live forever” and I can see God doing great things with it. Indeed, I suspect that in his better moments Freddie was a modern day Qoheleth, and perhaps Marc can be as well.
By the way, Marc also channels Keith Green: