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A Night at the Opera, Queen

Elektra Records, November 21, 1975

Track Listing: 1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…), 2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon, 3. I’m in Love with My Car, 4. You’re My Best Friend, 5. 39, 6. Sweet Lady, 7. Seaside Rendezvous, 8. The Prophet’s Song, 9. Love of My Life, 10. Good Company, 11. Bohemian Rhapsody, 12. God Save the Queen

There was an ice cream man, driving through the neighborhood in a boxy white vending truck one summer while I was in grade school, who I regarded as a Pied Piper of his day. He played music, like the early legend, and kids followed mesmerized in his wake. I was the only youngster that I knew, though, who jumped inside the vehicle and tagged along for a ride. The ultimate destiny of many children in the fairy tale is shrouded in mystery. Where I went is unambiguous.

In retrospect, I had no business stepping aboard. If my parents knew about the clandestine excursions, they would have been furious. Moreover, legal implications and creepy undertones defile what, in my eyes, were trial runs for a shot at the profession I hoped might someday be mine. A kid. Song. Ice cream. Really, there should have been nothing inappropriate about the mix; however, the honest truth is we did venture into improper territory.

The driver, whose name I cannot recall and whose face is a blur, was not The Good Humor Man—the seller who operated a distinctly different truck that canvassed the community with pricier frozen treats. I never considered getting near the driver’s seat of that wagon. The cab lacked enough room, firstly. The ringing bells grated on my nerves, more importantly. I liked the melodic tunes that accompanied the other mobile dispensary of my favorite indulgence on a wooden Popsicle stick: Chocolate Eclairs.

Standing up front in the truck (the passenger seat was removed), I soon learned separate knobs on the dash controlled the volume and speed of the music transmitted though the bullhorn speaker attached near the roof above the windshield. Controlling the musical bait was empowering. Fulfilling orders from patrons walking up to the window lent a sense of purpose. Sometimes I ended the route at the motor storage lot all the way across town, after a long afternoon riding shotgun. No one questioned my presence.

The driver and I shared many conversations—countless innocuous exchanges with “Camptown Races” sounding in the background at speeds set to my liking. The topics covered now slop together into gooey mush like a box of Drumsticks left to melt in the July sun. A single instance, though, is iced in memory and fused with a loss of innocence: The day the driver dared to explain the term “in the pink.” I was not asking, so why the phrase had been muttered left me bewildered.

The gears in my mind ground to a sluggish pace, while I tried to process an unsolicited tutorial and figure out how three common words could mean something vile. The episode passed almost as if the speed control for the music box were attached to my brain, cranked all the way down to cast every note in isolation.

A chip in my virtue crumbled away, plummeting down a molten crater until vanishing forever in silent incineration. My revelation is not meant to illicit pity or tears. My character was not destroyed but strengthened. In fact, the world held greater significance from that moment forward, preparing me for a life filled with innuendo and modulating rhythms of evolution. I gained knowledge. I was groomed for exposure to a band with a name open to interpretation like Queen, and the glam of Freddie Mercury, a Pied Piper in his own right, commanding hypnotizing harmonics.

Be my guide. Seize me under your operatic spell. I will trail safely behind. No one needs to know what happens or where we go.