Dave Hope was staring intently as he took another long pull of his Marlboro Red. He was looking down the dingy hallway at an open doorway at the end. He stood motionless, observing the person inside primping in front of a mirror.
At the time, Dave was a heavy-set, bearded, longhaired bassist for the band Kansas. A former Topeka high school football standout, he was a no-nonsense, straight-shooting guy who didn’t suffer fools.
Kansas had been on tour opening for Queen for the better part of 1974. Everyone got along famously, as both bands had worked through years of hardship trying to break out of preconceived notions about how rock music should sound and be presented. These two groups exhibited a flair for the bombastic in their music, liked to break the mold with their progressive compositions, and each had exceptional lead singers. Even though they came from vastly different backgrounds, they shared a common bond of being unique in a world of three chord boneheads.
One marked difference, however, was Kansas’ singer, Steve Walsh, didn’t exhibit the over-the-top showmanship of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. In fact, Walsh was content to sit behind his keyboard for long stretches of their set concentrating on the intricate arrangements that needed to be delivered with precision. Kansas generally let their playing be the stagecraft. Whereas, Mercury, with his flowing black mane, feathered boa scarf, and flamboyant, skin-tight body suit loved to prance about the stage like a toreador in a bullring.
So, here it was in that downtime between sets at some mid-level arena somewhere in the Midwest. Kansas had just finished rocking a few minutes before, and the stagehands were striking their gear and readying for Queen’s dramatic opening. Dave had noticed Freddie from time-to-time applying his make-up and trying to get his hair “just so” before their set on other nights. But, for some reason, he was laser focused on him this evening.
Hope took another drag on his cigarette, burning it down to the filter. He then dropped it on the floor and rubbed it out with his well-worn Stetson boot. He lit up another and continued to stare at Mercury as he preened at the reflection of himself, meticulously applying some eyeliner, coyly batting his eyes, and flipping his hair like a Hollywood starlet.
As I said, everyone got along wonderfully. That isn’t always the case, as often bands that tour together end up with a healthy disdain for each other. But these Englishmen and their cohorts from the Great Plains had grown close.
The stage manager opened the door at the other end of the hall and bellowed, “Two minutes! Let’s go Queenies!” Freddy continued fluffing his hair, puckered his lips to make sure there was no smudging, and leaned into the mirror yet again for a microcosmic analysis of things that absolutely no one would notice in an over-the-top rock extravaganza.
Dave had had enough. He flicked his unfinished cig against the wall and walked five paces to the entrance of Mercury’s room. "You know, Freddie, you can primp and doll yourself all you want," he chided with a crooked smile. “But no matter how hard you try, you’re always gonna be one astoundingly ugly, buck-toothed, son-of-a-bitch.”
Taking one last glance at his own backside in the looking glass as he walked past Dave, Freddie gave him a peck on the cheek and with his famously broad smile said, “Yes, luv, I know. Thanks for reminding me,” and then waltzed down the hall, took the stage, and rocked that crowd into oblivion. And Dave couldn't help but shake his head and chuckle at the absurd camaraderie they all shared.