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Queen Holds Court in South America

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A couple of years ago, Roger Taylor was doing about 145 miles an hour in his Ferrari on an alpine road in Germany when suddenly one of the chains went, the cooling system died and the car caught on fire. He managed to extinguish the flames just in time – there were about fifteen gallons of gas onboard. "Burned all my clothes to a cinder," he recalls. "Another minute and it would have hit the tank and that would have been it. I would have been vaporized completely."

Since then, Taylor hasn't been quite as enamored of fast cars, but he still relishes the kind of lifestyle rock & roll has afforded him. In that sense, he's probably closer in personality to Freddie Mercury than the other two band members. "Ah, yes," he says when I bring up Queen's rather decadent image. "I like that sort of thing. I like strip clubs and strippers and wild parties with naked women. Sounds wonderful. I'd love to own a whorehouse. Really, seriously. What a wonderful way to make a living."

"Roger is very much in the tradition of the successful rock & roll musician," John Deacon explains. "He wants the things that go with it, and it is what he really wanted to be. I'm sort of the opposite of that. It was never my burning ambition to be in a successful band. It has helped my confidence a bit, but it's different things for different people. And we are four very different people."

Offstage, while Taylor and Mercury are out carousing, Deacon frequently spends time with his wife and three kids. Though he may seem out of place in the flashy world of Queen, Deacon is actually the band's stabilizing presence. He oversees much of the group's business matters – Queen does not have an official manager; instead, it employs a coterie of advisers who leave final decisions to the band.

The disco hit "Another One Bites the Dust" is Deacon's creation. "I'm the only one in the group, really, who likes American black music," he tells me. "And with The Game, it was Freddie's idea that instead of arguing over which songs to put on the album, we'd split it up: Freddie and Brian would have three tracks apiece, and Roger and myself would have two. But we had arguments over whether "Bites the Dust" should be a single. In the end, it began attracting a lot of attention on black stations and in discos, so the record company wanted us to put it out. But it would never have been chosen as a single by the group as a whole."

Given his low-key personality, I wonder how Deacon feels about the image conveyed by Mercury. His answer is blunt: "Some of us hate it," he says. "But that's him and you can't stop it. Like he did an interview in one of the English national papers, and it was all like, 'We're dripping with money, darlin',' or, 'What's a mortgage?' Brian, for one, just hated it."

Like Deacon, Brian May is quiet and tends to keep to himself. He, too, has brought his wife and child along. When not touring, he's an avid gardener – "I've been known to be out there looking for slugs at one o'clock in the morning," he says – and he tries to keep up with astronomy by reading journals and talking with his former university colleagues.

"I think it's essential that you have things that you get into apart from music," he says. "You have to maintain your balance."

May seems to care the most about the group's audience, and he supervises the fan club. "I think people can listen to some of our stuff and actually get something out of it spiritually, if I may be so bold," he says. "I enjoy the fact that a lot of people have written to us and said that a particular song helped them when they were in a difficult situation. That's a great feeling."

All in all, the Big Event was a success. The attendance was staggering: in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the group played in front of 131,000 people one night and 120,000 the next. The press had also been good: one American writer even mentioned Queen's shows at Velez Sarfield in the same breath as the Beatles' at Shea Stadium.

Though this tour seemed rather tame compared with previous Queen endeavors, that probably says more about South American governments than it does about the band. When the group's advance men first arrived in Buenos Aires, for instance, their backstage passes were seized briefly by customs officials, who deemed them pornographic (they depicted two nude women embracing).

But basically, things went smoothly – not unlike some master plan. That concept was brought up again and again when I discussed Queen with some of its associates. "They want to conquer the world" was how one person put it. For a group of this stature, a group that presumably has made enough money to last a lifetime, Queen maintains a very busy work schedule. After the release of The Game last June, the band did a major U.S. tour, recorded Flash Gordon and played some more dates in Europe and Britain. Then came the Japanese shows, the South American trek and a solo LP from Roger Taylor. This June they plan to begin work on another studio album, but before that comes out sometime next year, they will release a greatest-hits package (which reportedly will vary from country to country, depending on what songs have been hits in those areas).

Four years ago, in Queen's last interview with Rolling Stone, Freddie Mercury said, "Our goal is to get to the top, obviously. We're not there yet; nowhere near it. And I don't want anybody to tell me I'm there either." And the band still feels that way. When I asked them what they thought they'd be doing in five years, each member was convinced Queen would still be together, still reaching for something more. After all, you can't conquer the world overnight.

This story is from the June 11th, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

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