1996 — A statue of Freddie Mercury is unveiled in Montreux

Standing nearly ten feet tall – as is only appropriate for such a larger than life figure – Irena Sedlecka’s sculpture of Freddie Mercury was unveiled five years and one day after his death on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Montreux, Switzerland. It shows Mercury in one of his more iconic images, his cut off mike stand in one hand, and the other thrust into the air, while his face wears an expression of sheer exultation familiar to anyone who ever saw Queen play.

The ceremony was attended by the sculptor, Mercury’s father, his bandmates from Queen Roger Taylor and Brian May, and Montserrat Caballé, with whom he had worked in the last years of his life. The statue stands there still, a tribute to a champion, a man whom even death could not stop.

Referenced in:
No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young) — Queen

1728 — James Cook born

James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.

He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

1973 – Jim Croce releases “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was to be Jim Croce’s last number one single – it was released only six months prior to Croce’s death in 1973. In the song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is a big tough guy from the South Side of Chicago, who doesn’t take crap from anyone – until one night he meets a man who is bigger and tougher than him.

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was the second single from Croce’s fourth album, “Life and Times”. It earned Croce two Grammy nominations (for Pop Male Vocalist and Record of the Year) and was still on the charts at the time of Croce’s death, having spent three months climbing to number one and three months descending.

Referenced in:
Bring Back That Leroy Brown — Queen
Rock and Roll Heaven — The Righteous Brothers

1516 — Da Vinci completes the “Mona Lisa”

One of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or “La Gioconda” is an oil portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo – at least, that’s the most popular suspect. The identity of La Gioconda is a mystery to this day – and her enigmatic yet knowing smile only feeds the intrigue.

The portrait itself hangs in the Louvre in Paris, where it has hung since the French Revolution (with a few minor interruptions either for its own protection or on tours of other galleries), where it has been a popular target for vandals and writers of shitty novels.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

circa 605 BCE — The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are constructed

One of the Seven Wonders of the World (the original seven, now usually called the wonders of the Ancient World), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. Of all the Seven Wonders, they are one of the only two to be secular (along with the Lighthouse of Alexandria) and the only one to be famous as much for the living entities in it as its architecture.

One of the taller buildings in the world – at that time – the Hanging Gardens were like overgrown version of the classic Sumerian ziggurat. They were famous for their beauty, but as a royal preserve, they were more the kind of tourist attraction one gazes at longlingly than actually walks through.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

1942 — Jimi Hendrix born

While Jimi Hendrix may not have been the greatest guitar player of all time – although that’s not a bet I would take – he is certainly the most legendary. Partly for his stage presence and antics (you seen anyone else set a guitar on fire on stage lately?), partly because he died so tragically young, and but mostly because, DAMN, that man could play.

He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (which was shortly thereafter changed to James Marshall Hendrix) but the world knows him best as Jimi. Of mixed descent – the man had African-American, Cherokee and Irish genes – he was not merely a great musician but also a great experimentalist, pioneering many of the sounds, effects and techniques that created the modern rock vocabulary of the electric guitar. The debt owed to him by practically ever guitar player who lived after him is immeasurable.

Not bad for a guy who played guitar for only a little over 12 years.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

1991 – Freddie Mercury dies

A true giant of popular music, and the possessor of one of the finest voices ever to grace a song, Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, died at the age of 45 after a protracted struggle with AIDS. An openly gay man, Mercury had contracted the disease some years earlier, being diagnosed in 1987, but chose to conceal his illness from all but his nearest and dearest, including the other three members of Queen, until relatively shortly before his death. This desire for privacy has unfortunately tainted his legacy somewhat, as he arguably could have done much to promote awareness of AIDS had he announced his infection sooner – although this would likely have taken a greater toll on his health and seen him die even sooner.

Mercury left behind him an incredible range of musical accomplishments, both as singer and songwriter. In particular, he wrote 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits volume one: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, “We Are the Champions”, “Bicycle Race”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Play the Game” – all of them still played frequently on radio to this day. He was also a consumate showman in concert, rivalled only by Bowie and Jagger in his ability to charm a crowd.

Referenced in:

No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young) — Queen
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1653 — The Taj Mahal is completed

Generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in honour of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Shah Jahan, by her husband. He was an Emperor of the Mughals, and the Taj is built in the distinctive Mughal architectural style, harmoniously combining influences from Persia, India and Ottoman Turkey.

It was built in several stages over more than two decades, and the total cost of the construction was about 32 million rupees – at that time, not adjusted for three and half centuries of inflation. Over twenty thousand workers toiled to build the complex, guided by a small committee of architects.

When he died, the Shah Jahan was buried in the Taj Mahal also, next to his beloved wife.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

circa 3400 BCE — The Sahara Desert assumes its modern form

It wasn’t always a desert. The Saharan plain was once open grassland with occasional forests. As late as the time of Julius Caesar, and even afterwards, Romans reported elephants, leopards and lions on the North African shores – along with abundant timber. But like that timber, which was cut down by the Carthaginians and Romans to build their navies, little remains of the Saharan plant life today.

The changes began around three and a half thousand years earlier, with a combination of changes in prevailing winds, a shift in the planet’s orbit and increased cultivation of the land – at this time, for example, south western Egypt and the Sudan were great agricultural realms, for example. But within a few hundred years, the region had become almost impassible, with few other than the Berbers prepared to cross the region until the invention of modern cooling systems in the Twentieth Century.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

2234 BCE — The Tower of Babel’s construction is disrupted by God

The Tower of Babel was an attempt by the post-Deluge peoples – all of whom spoke a common language – to build a structure upon the plain of Shinar which would reach to Heaven. God took offense to this, and went down from Heaven to prevent the project from succeeding. Having a keen understanding of the importance of good communication, God’s method for disrupting the project was the change everyone’s language. He created an un-recorded number of languages that day, sundering families and friendships, and all to prevent people from reaching Heaven physically.

The traditional religious interpretation of this is that it is a warning against pride. However, God’s words, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, make it fairly clear that, not unlike with that unfortunate business with the snake and the fruit, God was once again acting from fear that mere humans could dethrone Him by equalling him in power.

1973 — The Great King Rat dies

Only three facts are known about the circumstances of the Great King Rat’s death: the proximate cause was syphillis, it was forty-four years to the day since his birth, and the date was May 21st. Even the year is an estimate.

It is known that the Great King Rat was, at the time of his death, a notorious dirty old man, and my feeling is that he was probably involved with organized crime syndicates in London. Given the cause of his death, it seems likely that he did not use condoms.

Referenced in:

Great King Rat — Queen

32 CE — Jesus heals the lepers

Jesus actually healed lepers on at least two separate occasions according to the gospels – and that’s assuming that the tale of him healing a single leper, related variously in Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45 and Luke 5:12-16, refers to the same leper on each occasion.

He also once healed a group of ten lepers in a single go: this one related only in Luke 17:11-19. Interestingly, the only one of the ten lepers to return and thank Jesus later was a Samaritan. (Luke’s gospel is also the only one to mention the Parable of the Good Samaritan; one cannot help suspecting that Luke may have had something of an agenda.)

Referenced in:

One — U2
Jesus — Queen
One — Johnny Cash