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The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Was 20 Years Ago Today

On April 20, 1992, a veritable “Who’s Who” (and, in a few cases, “Who’s That?”) played before 72,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium to celebrate the life of Freddie Mercury and to raise funds for The Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity organization that is still active today. Tickets sold out three hours after they went on sale, before any artists other than the remaining members of Queen had been confirmed to appear. It was an emotional day for all involved, and despite the best efforts of all the performers, the fans and critics agreed that even though he appeared only in video clips on the giant screens, it was Freddie himself who, one last time, stole the show. Here’s just a very brief recap of some of the more memorable performances that day:

Axl Rose and Elton John

Just days after Freddie’s funeral, Axl Rose phoned the Queen Productions office in London and told the band’s manager (regarding any sort of future tribute), “I don’t know what you guys are gonna do, but I’m in.” Rose had mentioned in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview that while growing up he’d always buy the latest Queen album when it was released, and that Queen II was his favorite. The Guns N’ Roses frontman was infamous for his many homophobic slurs in the press, so it was a particularly poignant moment during “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he embraced Elton John onstage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T_naBRNLlo

George Michael

Michael’s note-perfect recreation of Freddie’s live version of “Somebody to Love” convinced fans that this man probably spent many childhood hours in the mirror singing Queen songs into a hairbrush. Michael’s Tribute Concert performance was released on an EP called Five Live in 1993 and went to Number One on the UK charts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYAR8RigqDA

Extreme

Extreme had always listed Queen as one of their main influences, and that fact was never more obvious than during the Freddie Tribute Concert. Taking their cue from Queen’s Live Aid performance, they played a medley of hits that showed off their tight vocal harmonies. They also tossed in a snippet of fan favorite “Mustapha,” using it to segue into “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Freddie often did on tour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00L_4GhiAJA

Robert Plant

One bittersweet treat for fans was hearing later Queen songs – those recorded after the band had stopped touring – performed live for the first time. Former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant gamely attempted “Innuendo” (the epic title song from the last Queen album released during Freddie’s lifetime), reading the lyrics from sheets taped to the stage floor. Plant had been just one of many stars who’d asked aloud during rehearsals, “How did he (Freddie) hit these notes?!” The Zep classics “Thank You” and “Kashmir” were less of a strain for his vocal range and after nailing those tunes he visibly relaxed before launching into “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7LM9s3Lm4A&feature=related

Roger Daltrey

Who singer Daltrey, no slouch himself when it comes to showmanship, described Freddie as “the best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time.” Roger chose to sing “I Want It All,” another tune that Queen had not previously performed live, and did a credible job with it. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath was also on hand adding his signature guitar wizardry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXO6BYFDiC8

David Bowie

For a time after “Under Pressure” was released in 1981, Queen guitarist Brian May often imperiously referred to David as “Mr. Bowie” with just a hint of derision. Apparently during their time in the studio together, May got the feeling that Mr. Bowie was rather dismissive of guitarists in general. Luckily that hatchet was eventually buried and Bowie was welcomed to the Tribute Concert. He sang his own hit, “Heroes,” accompanied by former bandmate Mick Ronson on guitar. The two hadn’t performed together since 1973, and by this time Ronson was very ill with liver cancer (he would succumb just a year later). Between songs, Bowie knelt down and recited The Lord’s Prayer in tribute to both Freddie and another friend who was ill with AIDS at the time. Shrugged a confused May afterward, “He didn’t do that during rehearsals.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0fTEll9Fzk

Liza Minelli

Judy Garland’s daughter may have seemed like an unusual choice to sing “We Are the Champions” to the casual viewer, but Queen fans knew that the Broadway legend was one of Freddie’s main influences. “Liza, in terms of sheer talent, just oozes with it. She has sheer energy and stamina,” he once enthused in an interview.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwLoK0P-zpA

You can see who else performed that day over on Wikipedia. Forty years after their first album was released, Queen’s back catalog is still selling strongly. What’s your favorite Queen song? If you were organizing a similar tribute concert today, what song would you assign to, say, Lady Gaga? Or Adele? Or….(fill in the blank)?

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Mad Magazine
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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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iStock
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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
iStock
iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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