On existentialism, Freddie Mercury and Jeff Buckley
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Have you ever looked up to the skies and seen your thoughts laid bare before you? Up, up, up, spun in cursive against the grain of the Summer sky: “I want to die”. Cry, wallow, weep, drown my sorrow in sleep! The ever-familiar weight of living has now returned to me, my love, dredging up dread deep down in my gut. I cannot tell you where I’ve been, for I do not know. Here I lay, passing the six-month anniversary, the ominous gonging of the church bell, Father’s Day, then seven months, almost eight.
I slip the soft sweatshirt over my head and hold it, arms outstretched from my body, fingertips pinching the shoulders. For a few seconds, there he is, stood right there in front of me, just in that corner. Eyes closed, tears streaming, I draw the garment in and we dance together.
Can you see that? Can you see that shadow?
Waiting in the wings, in my taffeta ballgown I enter: my twenty-sixth year. A single white spotlight washes over me, and I am alone.
I often idle away the hours and dream of tomorrow, then, the following week, month, year, lifetime. I’ve come to realise, dear reader, that I am not living. No, no, no… no longer experiencing life – relishing in it, joyously so – but rather, life is happening to me. Laying it on thick, I know, butter, curdled cream. Have you ever felt desperately out of control? A plastic spinning top from a carnival claw crane?
Alex Demie as Maddy Perez in Season 1, Episode 4 of Euphoria (2019-), dir. Sam Levinson.
Succumbing to the sadness of it all, I’m gnawing into philosophy, namely, On the Suffering of the World (1850) by 19th century German scholar Arthur Schopenhauer. As burning Earth continues to orbit the dying Sun, more and more I find myself seeking to understand Stephen’s pain - its cause and reason. The titular text within Schopenhauer’s opening pages proclaim that Man is Sin, with the burden of living being God’s ultimate curse. Suffering however, is a means to atone for the sin of human existence.
Schopenhauer posits ‘…that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not monsieur, sir, but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misères.”
I remember feeling palpably post-Death that I would cease to take my life for granted - that I would gorge at the meat of the fruit and soak up its saccharine juices, yet here I sit, solemnly, wishing my life away. “Only an hour to go, now…” a colleague will whisper. “God, don’t remind me”, I lament. Is this the real life? It’s Groundhog Day. As clichéd at it may seem, dear reader, life is unbearably short, and I cannot waste-
Wait, hold on.
“Sorry, could you not touch that please?”
Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973) dir. Robin Hardy.
A new dawn emerges. Thick, red hot oil glistens and glimmers against satin and suede. My debut solo show, How to Get Attention When You’re Drowning, will be ready for you to squeal and squawk and curse and gawk at from 5th August - 25th September, at Cheap Cheap Gallery. Yes, big, juicy words as promised, and lots of them. Sex and death and love and women and scripture.
Soon, dear reader, I will also have my grubby little paws all over the various accounts of CCA, the Centre for Contemporary Art Derry-Londonderry. Sneaking you into my studio and the show, too, I’ll be detailing my techniques, influences and oddities in excruciating detail inside the device undoubtedly clutched, clammy, in your palm. I’ve written a poem which will rest in memoriam at the entrance of the CCA. Offerings, to be gold-engraved onto cold, black marble is a bible of hand-cut limestone. Inscribed in Olde English Blackletter, the text can be read here.
I’m in the midst of something new. The Moon moves through phases, as I do. For all its faults and criticisms, on a Midsummer night sprawled across the settee, I succumbed to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).
The penultimate scene of Queen, commanding the stage at Live Aid 1985 ignited a burning arrow straight to my heart! I’ve listened to nothing but Queen since. For a life lived far too short, Mercury was championed as an operatic chanteuse, now immortalised, beautifully, in queer-coded blue denim jeans and a tight, white vest. I love him, I do, so much so that I was gifted Mercury and Me, written by life partner Jim Hutton, for my birthday. The text charts their early conversations in Heaven nightclub, from falling deeply in love to Mercury’s final moments before passing from AIDS complications in late 1991.
Freddie Mercury of Queen performing Bohemian Rhapsody at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, London, 1985.
In obsessing over death lies a longing to understand it. Prior to my fascination for Mercury, I was heavily engrossed in Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah to the Last Goodbye, a memoir which chronicles the musician’s rise through New York coffee houses to his sonic peak Live at Cabaret Metro in Chicago, Illinois, two years before his death in the Mississippi River in 1997. Penned by Dave Lory, record executive and Buckley’s former manager, the book eerily, accurately encapsulates the pain of losing someone.
I’ve read it three times.
Lory speaks of receiving a shipment of Buckley’s clothes in the days following his drowning. A dozen checkered shirts, steel toe cap Dr. Martens, ripped jeans, a faux fur coat: all articles of fading ‘90s grunge regalia. Resting on hangers, laid out across the bed, Lory falls into them and weeps. I’m reminded of the scene in American Beauty where Carolyn, Lester Burnham’s regretful widow, performs a similarly sad ritual. I see myself in both of them.
Trawling through hours of live performances, press interviews and tour footage painstakingly preserved by fans, in the months leading up to Stephen’s passing I realise I was, in fact, preparing myself for the inevitable. If I can see how others deal with loss, normalise it, write about it, I could do the same. If only I’d had the foresight to preserve it all.
Voicemails saved, videos taken, what could have been.
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me