Interviews: Brian May: MTV '93
This is a transcription I made of the interview that MTV's John Norris conducted with Brian May as aired on April 20, 1993 at 9:30pm -0500 (EDT) on MTV in the United States. The George Micheal portions of the interview are not included.
JOHN NORRIS: [...] It was on April 20th 1992 that seventy-two thousand fans and a line-up of musicians the likes of which we hadn't seen since Live Aid gathered at London's Wembley Stadium for a concert with a dual purpose: as a tribute to Freddie Mercury, Queen's legendary front man who died of AIDS several months earlier, and secondly as a call for world-wide AIDS awareness, and an end to the bigotry and misinformation so often associated with the disease. Now, a year later, that concert is out on home video accompanied by an EP entitled "Five Live". In the next thirty minutes, I'll be joined by two major players from the concert and the cause, Queen guitarist Brian May and George Michael in his first MTV interview in three years. We'll remember that great day at Wembley and consider whether we've made any progress on the AIDS awareness front since then. Please stay with us.
JN: The EP. Was this something that you had envisioned at the time of the concert or somethat that's just sort of come about in the last few months?
BM: No, I've had very little to do with this. I think it's nice that George wanted to put it it out. No, it came from George, and he's doing it for the cause, which is great. I think it's nice because it'll reawaken the interest in what went on on that day, on every level. And people will see the quality that he turned in, which is phenomenal, it has to be said.
JN: One side of that banner that we were all holding at Wembley said "AIDS Awareness". Are you satisfied with the extent to which those people there got that, and were not just there to hear the Queen music played by--
BM: Yeah, I would say that I'm more than satisfied with the people that were there getting it. Yeah, absolutely. I think everybody's gone out and made a lot of noise, it's been great. There's still a lot to do in the world, though. It's incredible, even in England I find total, astonishing ignorance still, and some of it's in the media. There're still people saying "Don't worry if you're not gay. Don't worry if you're not a drug abuser." And it's criminal. There's kids going to be dying because of loose talk like that.
JN: Was there one day, moment, when Freddie came to you guys and said this is what's going on?
BM: Yes, there was a day, yeah, but we already...knew what was going on by that time.
JN: [It was] pretty well understood.
BM: Yeah, he just came in and said "Well, you know what I'm dealing with and this is how I would like to carry on." And he said he would like to work as normal right up to the end, and not have the invasive powers of the media fall in upon him, because it would have become a circus, there's no doubt, in England. It's bad enough here, I think. You have "The National Enquirer" here. But in England, it's worse. And the last few months of his life were tainted with that anyway, people camped around his door with telescopic lenses looking into his house. I mean, it's disgusting what they do. So he said, "Look, I want to live a normal life. I want to make music, so help me, if you can, to do that."
JN: I'm sure that your memories of that day [the Tribute Concert] are pretty special. Is there a highlight?
BM: No, I guess the whole thing was a highlight really. Strange enough, the rehearsals were very memorable as well because that was the first time that we actually really played things like "We Are the Champions" with someone else. It was a very weird feeling. And I know John in particular, our illustrious bass player, wasn't convinced that we should be doing it for a long time because of that. He felt uncomfortable with the idea of doing this stuff without Freddie. But the calibre of people that we had there was so incredible, and the committment, the feeling, was so wonderful that it was great, it did feel good, I mean people like Mr. Michael, you know. It was staggering to work with people of that calibre and find that they had so much, well, a) love for Freddie and respect for Freddie and what we'd done, and also that they were there for the right reasons as regards AIDS awareness. And we were able to, because of the way that Freddie dealt with his death and the way that he went public, we were able to make a big deal out of a lot of things which we'd wanted to for a while. Not just this business of AIDS, but the whole business of discussion about why people should be afraid to say they're gay or whatever. So hopefully a lot of that gets swept away. I don't know if it ever will, but we can move towards that.
JN: I don't know how you felt about this, but when people questioned the motives of some of the artists who took part in the concert, whether they were really committed to the cause and whether they had divested themselves of the bigotry that so often is associated with AIDS, I mean--
BM: Well, we got all sorts of flak for having Guns'n'Roses in there--
JN: Right, exactly.
BM: --because of various peoples' opinions about what their opinions were. But my story is, and my belief is, that they were the most important band there, really, if you're going to look at it from the ethics point of view, because for them to be associated with this cause, people who are kind of normally looked upon as the macho end of the spectrum, was of more value than anyone. If we put on a concert with mainly gay activist-type artists it would have meant nothing--
JN: [You would have been] preaching to the converted.
BM: That's right. The whole significance of this was that it was across the board, it was a spectrum of people who were all saying, "Look, it's our problem now."
JN: Do you think there was one performer that you would have been most--
BM: Don't do this to me. Don't say this.
JN: --that you would have been most proud of to have had there?
BM: It's very difficult because it would be invidious to all the other great people. I would have to say it was a thrill to work with George Michael seeing as we're in a situation now where he's putting out the record. But without any kind of falseness, he was one of the great surprises, to most people, of the evening, I know. It wasn't a surprise to me cause I knew he could do it, I knew he had that in him. Because in addition to the great delicacy which he has, and great control, great dynamics, he has enormous power. And from the moment he stepped into the rehearsal room and was doing "Somebody to Love," we went, "Whoa!". I think in most peoples' feeling he got closest to the range of Freddie himself. Every artist that came on the bill said now I realize how much Freddie actually really did do because nobody could do that.
JN: As a final note to the video and the concert, I think one of the great things about it, and hopefully you agree, is that it wasn't about-- Maybe this conversation we've been having has been more somber than the event itself, because it was celebratory, it really was.
BM: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.
JN: While George and David Bowie had things to say, it never got preachy, you didn't want it to get that way, and it certainly ended on an upbeat note, which is what I think you guys all wanted.
BM: Yeah, we wanted to celebrate his life in the manner to which he was accustomed, and I think we pulled it off. We're immensely proud of the guy and what he stood for. I should add also that he wasn't the kind of guy who spent his life campaigning about AIDS or homosexuality or whatever. He was a guy who lived life to the full, and we should do the same.