Mick Rock Schools Us On “Killer Queen”

Queen II Album Cover Shot
All photos Mick Rock – click images for full-size views

“Freddie was fabulous… he was very, very lovable although he got a bit paranoid later.” Photographer Mick Rock “spilled the tea” to a packed house at the Morrison Hotel Gallery last night. Rock is responsible for the iconic image used on the “Queen II” album cover which was also the basis for the 1975 early music video “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He didn’t mention it, but the image was supposedly inspired by that infamous Marlene Dietrich one. Of course, Freddie refers to the “toothsome” Freddie Mercury, the Zanzibar born Parsi rooted British band’s lead singer now immortalized on a big screen near you in a biopic also entitled “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rock, known as “the Man Who Shot the Seventies,” provided major F-bomb loaded narration to a slideshow incorporating some of his favorite Queen photos while being surrounded by his work, “Killer Queen” at MHG (through November 10).

The Topless Shot

He began by speaking on how other lensmen vent that they are not able to use their own work — “going on and on about how they got ripped off. I own my own copyright.  Back in the early days, no one wanted to pay or know the rules. You had to sign away your rights as a photographer.” Rock had a lot to protect with a prolific catalog including photos of Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Blondie as well as Queen.  Although this is primarily an exhibition of Queen a few other of Rock’s subjects are also here.

White Queen, London, 1974

Addressing his work for the band, Rock says that his relationship was really with Freddie although the slideshow opens on a photo of lead guitarist Brian May in a flowy, bell-sleeved accordion pleated white tunic.  “That was Zandra Rhodes!  The whole band wore her clothing. Drama!” Later, referencing another photo of the band garbed in the pink-haired designers ultra trendy fashions, he added that his ex-wife is very close to her.

Freddie Mercury

A photo of Mercury in soccer shorts garnered this comment:  “Freddie never went to a soccer match, but he liked watching the games to see the players legs.”  In a shot showing Mercury sporting “black nail varnish,” Rock remarks that “he got it from Bowie.” Throwing a bone to Celia, the band’s makeup artist on the Queen II album cover he described the band as looking like a “right bloody bunch of queens, which I say in the nicest sense.”

Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody

On “Bohemian Rhapsody” the movie, particularly the issue of critics arguing that Mercury is portrayed as too straight — “I keep hearing the complaint that it isn’t queer enough. It’s just a story. There are plenty of others.” While showing a photo of the band “topless,” he adds that their look was really a “sensibility” and “not about homosexuality.” In fact, the three other members of the band were “straight white males with no hair on their chests.” He adds that Mercury’s longtime girlfriend Mary (“A very nice person, quite naive actually,”) was the one who Mercury left his estate to.

Mary and Freddie

Rock seemed to take a swipe at a 1974 shot of May and Mercury, saying that they weren’t quite up to the cool factor of David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson. In a later photo of Percussionist Roger Taylor, he remarks “I could have sold him on the f-ing market.”

Mick Rock
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Of course, there’s those great chompers — the ones that actor Rami Malek had to be custom fitted for to play the front man. Fun fact: Freddie’s actually tooth size wouldn’t even fit in Malek’s mouth! “Freddie had a thing about his teeth. He didn’t want to show his buck teeth — he had four extra teeth in the back of his mouth. I asked him if it bothered him why he didn’t get it f-ing fixed. He thought that it helped him to sing — his throat was stretched out at the back, so he didn’t want to get it fixed.”

Queen RainbowTheatre, London1974

On London vs. New York — “I got a taste for New York in the late ’70s.  I couldn’t stay away.  It was so f-ing debauched.  By 1975 I was sniffing New York City — slipping away.  It was pretty f-ing disgusting. CBGB’s was a f-ing pisshole — they’ve glamorized (the era) now.  I wanted to take a photo of the toilet at CBGB’s and call it “John Lennon Pissed here.”

About a Polaroid set up for a Queen shoot he never did — “Look how young they look — like schoolgirls!  There is something about Englishmen, especially southern ones. One of them said to me ‘Now that we’re getting older we’re not getting hit on by the poofs anymore.'”

 Freddie Mercury & Mick Rock, 1974

Admiring one of the many variations of the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody” shoot, Rock says that he kept everything including the Polaroids. “He didn’t look like Farrokh Bulsara (his real name) he looked like Freddie Mercury. He was on his way — eye on the prize. He came ready to play.” On the upward gaze: “Looks like he’s on his way to heaven.” On the many shots taken for the album cover: “The band wasn’t sure which should be the album cover, but Freddie and I knew. Maybe I’ll do an exhibition just on those someday. Nowadays they do anything.”

Freddie Mercury, Purple Sheets, London 1974

A shot of Mercury posing on top of his new purple sheets — “This is the only chrome I can find of the purple shoot — I have them in black and white.  Prince bought a print of it…makes sense.” On trying to fit an oversized antique mirror into an elevator to use for a photo — “Anything to keep Freddie happy.”

Rock, whose talk was actually being filmed for something or other apologized for his “bad language” adding that “everybody swears on cable.  I’m prepared to answer a few questions if anybody gives a damn.”

Q: Could you tell right away upon meeting him that Freddie Mercury would be so photogenic?
A: No, we had an immediate rapport, but I couldn’t tell. I photographed a lot of good-looking men — Syd Barrett, Bowie, Lou Reed.
Q: Was there anyone that you never photographed that you wanted to?
A: I was way too young to take Elvis, but he was unbelievable when he was young. Keith Richards at the time of “Gimme Shelter” — he had a look that Mick aspired to, but Mick was too fashiony — he didn’t have that gypsy look that Richards had.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus
Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.