Friday, January 29, 2010

We Are The Champions

Sometimes, whether to be open or not is a close call. I don't mean "open" as in "for business". But as in how much to say. What to tell folk. How far to go with details.

Almost 20 years ago, the death of Freddie Mercury rocked the world. Twenty years before that, I was there for Queen's rise to fame. It wasn't my kind of music... I've never been into rock. But this group's rise was meteoric. Down the years, we've had our share of pop icons over in England... the Beatles, Bay City Rollers, Rick Astley... to name but a few. I think everyone will agree that both sides of the Atlantic, Freddie Mercury was an icon. His death on November 24th, 1991 was a shock. But what I found most shocking of all at the time, was discovering what he'd died of. He'd died of complications arising from AIDS... and he'd kept it to himself.

AIDS was a modern day leprosy. You'd catch it if you so much as looked at someone who had it. You had to be careful who you were standing next to on a bus. And whatever you did, you mustn't touch them, or you were on a death sentence. Don't go near those kind. They were dirty. That's how you caught AIDS... by being dirty. Ignorance has this way of breeding fear.

From 1988, the rumours surrounding Freddie Mercury's health were rife. He denied that he was ill in any way. He was just exhausted from performance. His fans were many. Like... too many to count. And with so many people hanging on to your every move, your every word, your every breath, you're in a position to make a difference in the world.

Fans listen to their icons. That's why product placement is so sought after. Put a glass of Pepsi in a pop idol's hands and watch the money roll in. Let a soap opera beauty be seen with a jar of face cream, and you're ready for Wall Street big time. Sit by the bed of an AIDS patient, hold his hand... and you've blown the whole lid off the myth of a terrible ignorant scourge.

Freddie Mercury's death angered me. He had been in a position to do so much for so many. He was no real Royalty with a capital "R". But he was royalty within his own industry, and he had one almighty following. He was in a position to be the rock world's Princess Diana. He could have raised so much awareness while he was living. He could have sent the AIDS coffers all Wall Street.

I've never forgotten how I felt back then about Freddie Mercury's passing. I was so angry. Without awareness, myths perpetuate. Ignorance abounds. And many people suffer unnecessarily. I'm older now, and maybe a little wiser and more understanding. Maybe Freddie Mercury felt dirty. Maybe he didn't want the press eviscerating him. Maybe he just plain felt that it was nobody's business but his own. It was his illness afterall, and for whatever reason, good or bad, he chose to keep it to himself and not share.

My husband has just had some serious surgery. He's suffered since childhood... keeping it to himself because... well, you just don't want to tell people that kind of thing. Oh, how typically nineteenth-century-England that is. Keep everyone in the dark, and let the ignorance breed. My husband has Crohn's Disease. And before you say, "Oh, yes... I've heard of that", let me tell you... you've maybe heard the term. You've probably heard nothing about the condition, and the feeling of leprosy it forces you to live with.

I can't be a Freddie Mercury. I have to be a Princess Diana. I don't have the rock star fan base that could help to make any real difference. But I can certainly do my little bit to bring this God-awful condition out into the open, and maybe bring about a different understanding the next time a guest at your dinner table leaves a full meal uneaten. Or constantly refuses your repeated invites to lunch, weddings, or funerals.

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