10 Things You Might Not Know About Freddie Mercury

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On September 5, 1946, the man who would become known as Freddie Mercury was born. This weekend, audiences will finally get the chance to see Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer's long-awaited biopic of the legendary musician. But the film doesn't tell the whole story. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Queen frontman.

1. HIS BIRTH NAME WAS FARROKH BULSARA.

Farrokh Bulsara started going by Freddie when he was at St. Peter's, a boarding school for boys near Mumbai. He legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury around 1970, when Queen was formed.

2. HE WAS BORN IN ZANZIBAR.

Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar (now Tanzania). His family moved there so that his dad could continue his career at the British Colonial Office. He grew up between Zanzibar and India before moving to Middlesex, England when he was a teenager.

3. HE AND HIS FAMILY PRACTICED ZOROASTRIANISM.

Mercury and family were Parsis and practiced Zoroastrian, one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. Even though he hadn't practiced in years, his funeral was performed by a Zoroastrian priest.

4. HE HAD A RECORDED RANGE OF ALMOST FOUR OCTAVES.

Mariah Carey claims five, for some perspective. When he spoke he was more of a baritone, but majority of his singing fell in the tenor range. In 2016, a team of scientists decided to study Mercury's voice. Among the many facts they concluded was that Mercury's vocal cords moved faster than the average person's. "While a typical vibrato will fluctuate between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz, Mercury’s was 7.04 Hz," Consequence of Sound reported.

5. HE DESIGNED THE QUEEN EMBLEM, A.K.A. THE QUEEN CREST.

Thanks to a degree in art and graphic design from Ealing Art College, Mercury was able to just more than be the face of the band—he also helped to brand them. The crest he designed for the band is made of the zodiac signs of the whole band—two Leo lions for John Deacon and Roger Taylor, a Cancer crab for Brian May, and two fairies to represent Freddie's Virgo sign. The "Q" and the crown represent the band name, of course, and a phoenix protects the whole thing.

6. HE WAS REPORTEDLY VERY SHY.

Although he known for his wild, outgoing antics on stage, most people who knew Mercury personally said he was very shy in his personal life, which is one of the reasons he very rarely granted interviews. "In real life nobody knew Freddie," bandmate Roger Taylor once said. "He was shy, gentle and kind. He was never the one, he was on the stage.”

7. HE REVEALED THAT HE HAD AIDS JUST ONE DAY BEFORE HE DIED.

Mercury and his manager issued a statement confirming that he had AIDS the very day before he died. It had been widely speculated for a couple of years due to his gaunt appearance and Queen's sudden lack of touring. Some people were very upset by this delayed statement, saying that an earlier announcement could have raised a vast amount of money for the cause.

8. HE WAS A DEVOTED CAT LOVER.

He loved cats and had as many as 10 at one point. He even had an album and a song dedicated to his cats (Mr. Bad Guy). He wrote a song about his favorite cat, Delilah. Here's a bit of it:

Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my - you're irresistible
You make me smile when I'm just about to cry
You bring me hope, you make me laugh - you like it
You get away with murder, so innocent
But when you throw a moody you're all claws and you bite -
That's alright !
Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my - you're unpredictable
You make me so very happy
When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me
And then you make me slightly mad
When you pee all over my Chippendale Suite

9. THE "BOTTOMLESS MIC" WAS AMONG HIS MANY TRADEMARKS.

Here's how that happened: early in Queen's career, he was apparently mid-show when his mic stand snapped in half. Instead of having it replaced, Freddie just used it as-is. He must have liked it, because he used the mic "stick" from then on.

10. HE WORKED AS A BAGGAGE HANDLER AT HEATHROW AIRPORT.

Long before he became one of the most celebrated singers in music history, Mercury held a slightly less glamorous position: baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. To celebrate Mercury's 72nd birthday, several of British Airways's Heathrow baggage handlers took time out of their day on September 5, 2018 to entertain travelers with a choreographed tribute to their former co-worker.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2009.

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

There was a surprise waiting for Canadian buyers of The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979, a greatest hits collection by the musician that was released in the summer of 1998. Inside the package was a notice announcing the arrival of BowieNet, a major undertaking spearheaded by the legendary musician that promised a unique portal to the internet. For $19.95 a month, users could access BowieNet in the same way that they logged on to America Online, signing on via a dial-up connection to gain access to the web, email, and a variety of perks for devoted Bowie fans.

The news was a little premature. The Canadian version of the album had been released too early, and BowieNet wasn’t yet up and running when fans first read the news. But by September 1 of that year, Bowie had launched a pioneering effort in the intersection between music, the internet, and fandom. In many ways, BowieNet anticipated the concept of social networking five years before MySpace debuted and six years before Facebook came into existence. It was a fitting accomplishment for an artist who spent his entire career looking for revolutionary ways to share his work.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

Bowie, who first rose to fame during the 1970s glam rock era, had long been fascinated by the promise of digital connectivity. He was reportedly using email as early as 1993. In 1994, he released a CD-ROM of his single, “Jump, They Say,” that allowed users to edit their own music video for the song. In 1996, he released one of the first digital singles, "Telling Lies," and sold 375,000 downloads in just two months. In 1997, Bowie presented a “cybercast” of a Boston concert, which ultimately proved to be too ambitious for the technology of the era (viewers of the live stream were confronted with error messages and frozen feeds).

Clearly excited by the unexplored possibilities these cutting-edge efforts offered, Bowie decided to stake out more digital real estate right around the same time he released "Telling Lies." In 1996, two internet marketers named Robert Goodale and Ron Roy approached Bowie with the idea of building an online fan club that would double as an internet service provider (ISP). In essence, Bowie would be offering online access via a dial-up number using a turnkey web design system from a company called Concentric Network Corporation. The site was developed by Nettmedia, which had worked on web content for the women-centric Lilith Fair music festival that had caught Bowie’s attention.

While users would be free to access any part of the internet, their default landing page would be DavidBowie.com, a place to access exclusive Bowie photos and videos, as well as a unique @davidbowie.com email address and 5 MB of storage space so that they could create their own content. If they wanted to remain with their current internet service provider, they’d pay $5.95 a month for membership.

Bowie liked the idea and became the first investor in UltraStar, Goodale and Roy’s company. More than a figurehead, Bowie actively helped to conceive of BowieNet as having a unique identity. Whereas America Online was a little sterile, Bowie’s aesthetic was more experimental. There were 3D-rendered environments and Flash animation sequences. The CD-ROM sent to subscribers included a customized Internet Explorer browser and music and video tracks, including encrypted material that could only be unlocked online.

More significantly, Bowie used his branded portal to interact with fans. Posting as “Sailor” on the BowieNet message boards, Bowie regularly logged on to answer questions, debunk news reports, or comment on ongoing conversations. He also hosted online chats in real time. In 2017, Newsweek shared excerpts of one 2000 session:

gates asks: "do you gamble in casinos Dave?"
David Bowie answers: No, I only do cartwheels—and don't call me Dave!

queenjanine asks: "Is there anyone you haven't worked with (either dead or alive) that you wish you could?"
David Bowie answers: I love working with dead people. They're so compliant, they never argue back. And I'm always a better singer than they are. Although they can look very impressive on the packaging.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

In his loose interactions with fans, Bowie and BowieNet anticipated the explosion of social media. It was an area that interested Bowie, as he often spoke of the idea of art being unfinished until an audience provided their reaction.

“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here—the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the gray space in the middle,” Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “That gray space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”

With BowieNet, the artist was helping to facilitate that response, in one instance even soliciting a co-creator relationship. In 1999, Bowie took lyrics from an online songwriting contest to help create “What’s Really Happening,” which he put on an album released that same year. He also planned on having a working webcam that peered into his recording studio (though it’s not quite clear whether he achieved it). Ultimately, it was the advancement of internet technology that led to BowieNet's downfall.

With the dissolution of dial-up, BowieNet went from a high of 100,000 subscribers to becoming largely irrelevant in the early 2000s. In 2006, UltraStar’s assets were sold to Live Nation and BowieNet was quietly shut down—though it would take another six years for Bowie to actually announce that fact, via his Facebook page of all places.

But for the 10 years it lasted, BowieNet was the artist's strange, revolutionary predictor of the growing importance of fandom online.

“At the moment,” Bowie told CNN in 1999, the internet "seems to have no parameters whatsoever. It's chaos out there—which I thrive on.”

13 Things You Didn't Know About Sam Goody

Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Sam Goody dominated the music marketplace for decades, but after several buyouts and mergers, the once-ubiquitous retailer dwindled to a few storefronts before finally fading into mall history.

1. SAM GOODY WAS A REAL GUY.

The man who founded the ubiquitous mall chain was born Samuel Gutowitz on February 25, 1904. Friends and family dubbed him “Goody” when he was just a child; according to the The New York Times, Gutowitz eventually made the moniker his legal name.

2. INSPIRATION STRUCK AFTER GOODY ACQUIRED RECORDS FOR A CUSTOMER.

Though Goody had entrepreneurial ambitions from a young age, he wasn’t always in the music business. One of his first ventures was a toy and novelty store in lower Manhattan. In 1938, a customer stopped into his shop looking for old records of Enrico Caruso, Alma Gluck, and Paul Reimers. Goody was perplexed—“I thought [records] went out with the dodo birds,” he said—but promised to deliver for his customer. Goody recalled a stack of old 78-rpm disks in the basement of his apartment building in Washington Heights, so he went home and offered his landlord a can of beer in exchange for the pile of junk. (Over the years, Goody also said the exchange cost him three cigars.) After cleaning the records, Goody resold them for a whopping $25—and realized he was in the wrong business.

3. IN THE EARLY YEARS, SAM GOODY RAN PLENTY OF OFFBEAT PROMOTIONS.

When long-play records first hit the market, Goody courted customers by giving complementary turntables to anyone who spent more than $25. He ended up giving away 40,000 of the new-fangled devices—but in spite of the incredible cost to his company, Goody considered the promotion a success. “That meant 40,000 new customers,” he said.

Not all of his promotions were music-related. Goody once purchased 400,000 silver dollars and gave them to customers who spent $15. When the promotion proved successful, he repeated it with half-dollars, buying 400,000 JFK 50-cent pieces to give to customers spending $10. Though the gimmick worked, Goody later had some regrets about the promo. “I should have kept the silver dollars and given away the business,” he said. “When the silver price jumped like never before, I could have gotten $10 million for my $500,000 purchase.”

4. HIS FLAGSHIP STORE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR 7 PERCENT OF U.S. RECORD SALES.

The unique promotions clearly worked. Goody’s flagship store on West 49th Street was constantly deluged with customers—up to 4000 a day. In 1955, business was booming to the point that the flagship location sold 7 percent of the 33 1/3-rpm disks in the entire nation, with a gross income of close to $4 million.

5. SAM GOODY PRICES WERE SO LOW THAT THEY “ROCKED” THE COMPETITION.

Not all of Goody’s promotions were gimmicks. He also managed to undercut his competition: One 1962 advertisement offered three LPs for $7.99 compared to a $13 price tag, or $4.49 per record, at Goody's competitors (in today's money, that would be a savings of $45 dollars, or $15 per LP). When Goody took an ad out in the Western edition of The New York Times advertising Bob Newhart albums for $1.89, his competitors were angry. “What does Goody pay for this product to be able to sell it for less than I can buy it?” one competitor complained to Billboard Music Week in 1962.

6. SAM GOODY SALESPEOPLE WERE INCREDIBLY KNOWLEDGEABLE.

To have a job at the Sam Goody flagship store, employees had to prove they possessed a vast knowledge of music. Being well-versed in top 40 hits wouldn’t cut it; Goody employees had encyclopedic knowledge of all things music, from opera to punk. And he paid them well to do it—according to one employee who worked there, even part-timers received medical insurance, sick pay, vacation pay, and retirement benefits.

7. GOODY SOLD OUT TO THE AMERICAN CAN COMPANY.

In 1978, Goody sold all of his stores to the American Can Company, which owned another mall-centric music store that was one of Goody’s biggest competitors: Musicland. It was under American Can leadership that Goody became a staple in shopping malls across the U.S., with store numbers ballooning to 250 nationally. Goody stayed on as a consultant with American Can for five years, earning an annual salary of just $35,000.

8. HE SOLD THE BUSINESS TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.

Sam Goody’s 26-store empire had a stellar reputation: Low prices, vast inventory, knowledgeable salespeople, $60 million in sales. So why did he cut the whole thing loose for just $5.5 million in 1978? According to Goody, he gave the company away “cheap” because of his sons, Howard and Barry. "They loved each other then and they still do," he later said. "But they competed with each other on everything and soon even the help was taking sides. I could only see them breaking it all apart. So I sold the company."

9. THE COMPANY FACED AN EARLY ANTI-PIRACY SUIT.

Music piracy wasn’t invented with Napster—illegal tapes flooded the market long before the internet made music sharing commonplace. In 1981, Sam Goody Inc. faced a lawsuit for dealing counterfeit cassette and eight-track tapes. The suit alleged that more than 100,000 illegal tapes had been sold at Sam Goody stores, resulting in lost revenue of more than $1 million for artists like Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Paul Simon. In a plea agreement, the company pled no contest and was fined $10,000 for transporting counterfeit Grease soundtracks from Queens to Minnesota.

10. BEFORE AMERICAN IDOL, THERE WAS SAM GOODY’S “BANDEMONIUM” CONTEST.

Long before celebrity judges listened to local talent for reality TV purposes, Sam Goody tapped the unsigned band market for promotional purposes. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sam Goody held their "Bandemonium" contest, pitting acts against each other in a battle-of-the-bands-style competition. Winners included Bobby Llama and Darwin's Waiting Room.

11. IN 2000, SAM GOODY GOT SOLD AGAIN.

The American Can Company sold Musicland and Sam Goody to Best Buy for a cool $425 million in 2000. But the relationship didn’t last long. By 2006, the stores were sold to another competitor, Trans World Entertainment. Trans World eventually converted all of the Sam Goody locations into f.y.e. stores—except for one.

12. THE LAST SAM GOODY STORE CLOSED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012.

The last Sam Goody holdout, located in San Diego, shuttered its windows on Halloween 2012. According to a company exec, the single store remained partly because the giant neon signs bearing the company logo were simply not economical to replace in that particular location.

13. A "ROUGH TRADE" RECORD STORE WAS REBRANDED AS SAM GOODY IN 2015 FOR AN HBO PROJECT.

Your eyes didn't deceive you if you think you spotted a retro-looking Sam Goody store in Brooklyn in 2015. A British-based record store called Rough Trade agreed to allow a temporary redesign in order to accommodate the production of Vinyl, an HBO drama executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.

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