By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — I have a love-hate relationship with Queen.
Not the Queen, as in Queen Elizabeth.
But with Queen, the rock band suddenly mythologized in a biopic film focused on the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury.
Queen has some of the best songs I ever heard – including “Under Pressure” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” – but some of the worst, too.
On my list of all-time songs that make me feel like I have Lyme Disease all over again, there are three Queen – yes, three – Queen songs.
And topping that ignominious list (which also includes Queen songs “Bicycle Song” and “Somebody To Love”) is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which happens to be the title of the movie that was just nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Rami Malek, who has been stellar in every role he has played).
Its critical and box office success has me thinking about other musical acts and artists whose stories would potentially show well on the big screen.
The Beatles and Elvis? Too many to count. Dylan? In 2007, there was a flick called “I’m Not There” with six different actors – including a woman and young black boy – portraying six sides of his public persona. Kind of killed that one for now. Rolling Stones? Eh, maybe, but not yet. It would kind of kill the mystique. Ditto for Led Zeppelin. The Doors? Been there, Oliver Stone done that (with Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison better than Morrison could have himself). The punk era was covered in “Syd and Nancy.” Johnny Cash? Check.
This doesn’t mean we are without options.
Consider a sampling of five that did make the cut?
1) Fleetwood Mac – Drama, drama, drama. Heck, just the drama around the making of the top-selling “Rumors” album, with the songs all about the members of the band breaking up with each other – Lindsey Buckingham with Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie getting divorced, all while Mick Fleetwood lurked in the shadows — would be enough without spreading it out over a period of years. People having to play and sing background vocals about how they should “go their own way” would be worth the price of admission.
2) Carole King – It used to be commonplace for Broadway musicals to successfully transition into feature films. The 1960s alone saw likes of “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Oliver” (1968), but there hasn’t been anything noteworthy since “Chicago” in 2002. For example, “Jersey Boys” (2014) was just average. “Beautiful,” the story about singer-songwriter Carole King is a script with terrific music screaming out to be adapted for the big screen. So adapt it already, will ya?
3) Otis Redding – You may only know him as the “(Sittin’) On The Dock Of The Bay” dude, but there is so much more to his story. For one, his greatest success, the aforementioned No. 1 hit, did not top the charts until after his death in a 1967 plane crash when he was just 26. Although his gospel-inspired singing style inspired many more popular contemporaries, as well as a litany of soul singers to follow, he is only mentioned as an afterthought. A movie delving into his interesting life could bridge that divide. The Georgia native quit school at 15 to help his family by pursuing a music career, and was a married father a month before his 20th birthday. His breakthrough came in 1966, when his version of “Try A Little Tenderness” reached No. 25. As time went on, he began writing a lot of his own material on a beat-up acoustic guitar. The batch of songs included “Respect,” which became Aretha Franklin’s signature anthem. With a gregarious persona, Redding was large in stature (6-1, 220 pounds), athletic and a sharp-dressed man (200 suits, 400 pairs of shoes) who was close to his family and successful entrepreneur. With the right actor in the lead role, this could be a stellar period piece that could introduce more of his lesser known music to the world.
4) Frank Sinatra – Yeah, sure, you are not supposed to mess with the Chairman of the Board. However, he has been dead since I was 30 (1995). That’s a long time ago. The only real dedicated screen time has been a character loosely based on him — Johnny Fontaine in “The Godfather,” which apparently drew an assault by Sinatra on Mario Puzo after the book was published. There have also been a few cheesy movies about the Rat Pack, but that’s about it. Let’s just pick a period of Sinatra’s life — like when he has down and out and came back, or his second run of popular success in the 1960s – and start filming tomorrow.
5) Bruce Springsteen – Don’t sigh, don’t moan and groan. You knew this was coming. It actually goes to the point about Carole King and Broadway, as the curtain just fell on Springsteen’s “Bruce on Broadway” run. The show has since been released on Netflix and, to be honest, was hard to get into at first. A lot of his spiel was verbatim from his autobiography or from stories I have heard him tell before. While the Netflix version picked up momentum toward the middle (we still haven’t reached the end), it occurred to me that his words and music are so visual that that maybe a movie of his life – with some selective narration over it – would be a logical next step to cement the legacy.
This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 27, 2019.