Let it be said that I don’t know how to play guitar. There: I said it. For the life of me, I cannot memorize the intricate details of plucking, strumming and the like. The most I’ve gotten out of a guitar was a (bad) accompaniment to the ‘Sound of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel.
I’m nothing if not useless on the guitar. That doesn’t make me less deserving of liking the shattering noises it makes. The way a guitarist plays his instrument, for me, determines if he’s all right in my book. Whether he smacks it around like a ragdoll, or caresses it as he would his significant other, if he can make that seismic shriek called a riff….well, that’s all right by me!
Sam and WomanoftheWorld have already talked about Slash and Jimmy Page. Let me sell to you the idea of another curly-haired maestro. Commander Brian May, if you would please step up to the plate.
Grant it, the man may have the streetcred of a goldfish to you lot, and he may not be as highly revered as Sir James of Page or Lord Eric of Clapton, but come on. He’s the QUEEN guitarist. QUEEN. AND he wrote some of their best songs. ‘We Will Rock You,’ anyone? How about a little bit of ‘Flash! Ah-aaah!’ ?
The ‘nice guy of rock’n’roll’ has a slight different story from his contemporaries. While they all bought their first guitars, he MADE his. Out of a motorcycle, that other symbol of teen rebellion. And he still plays that same guitar, the ‘Red Special.’ A child when Elvis exploded and a shy youth when the Beatles came out of nowhere, the man was destined to take up the calling of the rock. During his university years (where he got a scholarship to Imperial College for a degree in Astronomy and Physics. The man’s a walking encyclopedia of all things cosmic!), he played in the band Smile with Tim Stafell and soon-to-be Queen drummer Roger Taylor. When Smile disbanded, Freddie Mercury took Stafell’s vision, dolled it up David Bowie style, and all four members ran away with it for about twenty years (pausing in the eighties to shave its hair, ditch the make-up and give it a more arena rock look).
Brian toured with his band after Freddie died in 1991, but Queen itself was well frozen until last year when he, Roger Taylor and Free singer Paul Rodgers went on tour. I haven’t seen them live, but I have the DVD. It RAWKS!!!!
That said, I didn’t get into Queen until I was in boarding school. As I delved more into the music, I realised that one of the centre pieces of all the songs was the Brian May solo. Staying in tune to the song, yet drifting off enough to have its own distinct sound. Listen to the ‘Night At The Opera’ album, and you’ll find that his guitar playing pretty much holds the thing together. And Brian’s sound varies from the soft heartache of ‘Love of My Life’ and ‘Save Me,’ to the downright raunchiness of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and ‘Tear It Up.’ Like Slash and Jimmy Page, he has a sound you can easily detect.
The fact that he’s one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever laid eyes on (yes, Younger! Brian and right now. Pick your jaws off the floor.) only strengthens my opinion that this guy is a guitar god we all should pay homage to. Why? He rocks, for one thing. For another, he’s got that THING that all guitar gods have, that unique thing that makes them awesome in music and real life. Slash has his immeasurable cool. Jimmy Page has that quirky charisma that is oft copied but never bettered. Jimi Hendrix was hypnotic. Brian May’s own ‘thing’ is that on stage he’s the focus of all the power of Queen.
While Freddie preened like a prince, John did his own boogie and even Roger indulged in some showing off, Brian always stood still. He still does: almost ignoring all around him and staring down at his guitar as though willing it to become louder and harder. He is also unique in the fact that he’s never indulged in the less savoury aspects of being a rock god. And he’s truly the ‘nice guy’ of rock’n’roll, the one who’ll actually walk over to a fan and talk for a few minutes. For all intents and purposes, Brian May is a cute, shy, and nice science nerd. That’s awesome in its own way.
However, above all else, there is one more reason that Brian May is such a guitar god. One thing that sets him ahead of the pack. And that is the fifth member of Queen.
His ever-growing, ever-curly, dark mountain of hair. No hairspray needed. Nor perm, as some have claimed. The hair.
And that’s all right by me.