The second of two less-than-reverent commentaries inspired by the passing of B.B. King. The first one was better.
I was making burritos for the kids’ lunches early Friday morning. My wife entered the kitchen, and I greeted her somberly.
“B.B. King,” I said, “is with Freddie now.”
And so continued a perverse tradition that traces its roots back more than 20 years, to the floor of a mammoth freshman dormitory on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue.
It began in April 1992, when a bunch of us packed into one of my good friend’s rooms to watch the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Queen’s legendary frontman had died the previous November, and the all-star concert at Wembley Stadium was meant to pay tribute to his memory while raising money for AIDS research.
Memory might be playing tricks on me, but I do not remember the concert being all that convincing.
I remember my friend — the one who hosted us in his room — was let down because Metallica had been advertised on the commercials, but wasn’t actually included in the TV broadcast.
Maybe the whole thing seemed entirely too worshipful. Maybe it was because 1992 wasn’t a great year for rock n’ roll. Maybe it was because Nirvana had already ripped the chrome skin off of the entire institution of arena-rock, rendering everyone onstage irrelevant to a greater or lesser degree.
Or maybe the real problem was that Freddie Mercury was the quintessential rock n’ roll frontman, in addition to being a talented songwriter … and nobody on the stage that day in April 1992 quite measured up. At any rate, none of us came away from the event feeling any too reverential or impressed.
Three days after the event, the respected Indian film director Satyajit Ray died.
We’d seen him on TV too, in the same friend’s little room, just about a month before. Frail and bedridden, he’d appeared via satellite on the Oscars telecast, accepting an honorary award.
In a bit of black humor, his acceptance speech had become an inside joke among my group of friends. Whenever the subject of movies came up, one of us would wheeze, “My father … introduced me … to the cinema.”
It was inevitable, then, that when we read in the Boston Globe that Satyajit Ray had died, one of us (a wisecracking Persian kid from Rhode Island, I suspect) would put two and two together and proclaim:
“He’s with Freddie now.”
I haven’t seen any of my floormates since 1996. But I explained the reference many years ago to my girlfriend, then fiancee, then wife, who managed to understand the gist of it.
My callow, irreverent 18-year-old is probably not a side of me that deserves to be immortalized and encouraged. But he’s put his sneakers up on the coffee table and made himself at home; and any time someone noteworthy dies, he chimes in.
I’ve even thought that my own tombstone should read “WITH FREDDIE NOW” (or — even better! — “ASLEEP IN FREDDIE”) … and the only reason I’m not serious about that is that I don’t want a tombstone.
It doesn’t pay to get too reverent about either death or music, I guess.