“We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (Queen)

In his review of Queen’s Jazz (1979), Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh famously wrote that the two-year-old anthem “We Will Rock You” “is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you.” “Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band,” separating out “who is superior and who is inferior.” (Marsh’s straight-faced critique predates Pete Wylie’s more tongue-in-cheek approach toward “rockism” by two years). As others have pointed out, however, this trax and its linked partner, “We are the Champions,” are just as easily read as barely-coded gay insurgency. The timing is certainly right: in England in 1977, workplace rights for gays and lesbians were on the agenda for the first time at the annual Trade Union Congress, and the International Gay Association was founded in 1978. Both trax evoke the comic book ad figure of the ninety-eight pound weakling having sand kicked in his face. (The Rocky Horror Show’s “I Can Make You a Man,” from 1973, covers similar territory.) “We Will Rock You” comes with a promise of being “rocked” by the sound of an arena’s stomping and clapping, and perhaps being turned into a piece of granite. From now on, according to the song, you will be hard—hinting at the rise of the muscled, mustachioed Castro clone, and prefiguring Freddie Mercury’s adoption of the look in 1980. Today, the emergence of the figure of the clone is frequently criticized as foreclosing a more diverse, queer seventies community. On the other hand, there’s no doubt a practical side to the practice, since the clone was less vulnerable than the queen on the street. “We Are the Champions” continues the basic theme, but with the added barb that got under Marsh’s skin: “no time for losers.” So are Queen on the verge of genocide? Perhaps it all depends on the status of “we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end.” If you’re in a fight as part of a community, then of course there’s “no time for losers.” You have to stand up and pick a side, and if you can’t do that you should just go home. If fighting and its necessities are fascistic, then we’re all fascists. Every community and every state is grounded in an unprecedented act of original violence, in “us” and “them,” in risk and sacrifice. And every older community would like to bury this knowledge, and imagine that only the latest dust-ups are existential threats.


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