In 1975, I was a skinny private-schooled alien from Connecticut who suddenly fell from the sky and landed in in a dust cloud called Sparks, Nevada. My step-father had moved there with my mom and younger sister because he was convinced he could make a living counting cards in the casinos. Every night, he'd go through a six pack of Budweiser at the kitchen table while my mom dealt him black jack cards.
He was smarter than the average hustler, but the casinos had seen him coming from a mile away and he got banned from John Ascuaga's Nugget, The Eldorado, Circus Circus, Harrah's and every gambling establishment in the state. One night he headed off to a casino and didn't come back. Mom had a practiced hand at shuffling and dealing cards by then so she got a job at a Circus Circus. She was barely earning a living, but she agreed to take me and my other sister in.
That's how I wound up going to Sparks Middle School, the only kid walking into class wearing business casual instead of K-Mart t-shirts with illustrations of sports cars and surfboards. It sucked. My mom sent us off to school with 35 cents, the cost of a subsidized school lunch. From a an upper-middle class lifestyle, I was now living like a poor boy from a poor family.
But for some reason a kid with the presidential name of John Adams, befriended me and brought me to his house one day. He wanted to play me a 45 he had just bought with lawn mowing money: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".
It was the greatest song he'd ever heard. And I had to say I agreed.
The first instrument you hear on Freddie Mercury's "Opera Song", written on various scraps of paper, and recorded with 180 overdubs and a vocal section that took 70 hours to record, is the same piano Paul McCartney used to record "Hey Jude". I've heard the many interpretations people have come up with over the years. Most thinking it's Mercury's "coming out" song.
But that afternoon, I heard a melodramatic plea from a doomed murderer to his mother. And, 40 years later, I'm sticking with that.
With "Bohemian Rhapsody" playing in my head I walked home and discovered an old Ford pick up parked in front of the house. My step-father had returned. He was now driving a cab and needed a place to crash.