We Still Rock You
A quarter century after his death, Freddie Mercury still draws the crowds
Switzerland: Sharpie in hand, Helen Gillian approaches a weathered wall in the center of the Swiss resort town of Montreux. After finding a small patch that hasn’t already been written on, she scribbles what she’s come here to say: “I miss you, Freddie.”
Gillian, a 29-year-old singer from London, is in town working on a crew that’s setting up stalls for Montreux’s famous jazz festival. She is also here to pay her respects to one of her musical heroes: Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen, who died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991, at the age of 45.
Queen first came to Montreux to record back in 1978 and quickly took to the place. Mercury bought an apartment on Lake Geneva, and the band bought a studio and cut seven albums here. The studio’s exterior wall (pictured) is now a place where fans like Gillian can leave their tributes to the late lead singer.
Indeed, 25 years after his death, Mercury remains an important local figure, and as much of a tourist attraction as the town’s popular Swiss Chocolate Train. “Freddie,” says Julia Tames, who works for Montreux-Vevey Tourism, “is one of the big reasons many people visit.”
On the waterfront, not far from the studio, there’s a more formal memorial: a 10-foot bronze statue of Mercury, his arm raised and hip jutting in a display of camp triumphalism. Gillian stands at the foot of the statue, before a small heap of wilting flowers. Coming here, she says, “was my way of telling Freddie how much the world misses his voice.”
Nearby, a pair of scruffy local fishermen seem slightly less impressed. “It’s nice that Queen brings tourism to the area,” says one. “But it’s really just background noise to us.”