Interview with Rudi Dolezal – Part. 3
"With writing my book, I come to a closure of a very important chapter in my life"
Freddie Mercury's passing, after so many years of collaboration, sharing and closeness, was a terrible loss for those close to him - to whom he left an unforgettable remembrance, which resonates like a flash of lightning both musically and personally.
Rudi Dolezal explains his long journey before writing a book about his departed friend.
You are currently writing a book about Freddie Mercury, entitled "My Friend Freddie", which will be released in French. How did you come up with the idea for this book ? Why did you choose to talk not only about your artistic collaboration but also about your friend Freddie Mercury?
Rudi Dolezal : Well [Silence] I was first of all sure -or rather sure- that I’m not writing a book when Freddie died. Because I was shocked.
One of the people that I had the most fun (and also success) working with was suddenly gone, and I had the feeling that this was something that will not come again. Although I enjoy working with a lot of other people in another way, but not in the way I enjoyed Freddie Mercury and Queen.
So I was so frustrated that I did as my first work after he died -a worldwide AIDS awareness campaign- cause I was so angry that somebody like Freddie who would have done so many more great artistic projects, that he had to die so early. So I did this; there were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Football stars, Film stars, etc interviewed about educating people on how to prevent Aids, use a condom, etc etc... But that was part of my frustration and part of me trying to overcome this pain, that I had.
And then, I saw: okay, this guy writes a book? okay...this guy writes a book? okay...this guy writes a book? okay...this one, okay! He was the driver, okay...he writes a book...oh she was the cleaning lady? okay...I’m not exaggerating, but everybody was writing books on Freddie and most of them – or some of them – haven’t even met him!
And I had the privilege of working very very closely -sometimes on my own: there was no Jim Beach, there was no Brian May or no Roger Taylor; there was Peter Freestone, there was Joe Fanelli (who is dead), and there was Jim Hutton (who is dead). I mean Peter is the only one who is still around! And there was Barbara Valentin in Munich but she is dead, yeah? So I said to myself: well...and people said: Rudi etc...yeah, but I don’t want to be exploiting the friendship of a friend with a book, you know! It was something I couldn’t. I was doing the films at the time, yeah? So when I saw one after the other writing books, and I mean nothing against those people, yeah? Don’t get me wrong! But Ratty [Peter Hince] was a roadie and he wrote a book on Queen*! Interesting, you know? Okay, fine. I was the favorite filmmaker for decades, you know? And I didn’t write a book!
But then I started to think, and there was the 20 year-anniversary etc, maybe now it’s time...and I started in 2017 the first idea that I wrote down and then first of all...I was doing films in between! So I wrote a little bit and then I had to stop. And actually...I am not even sure if he remembers- but it’s a little bit Jim Beach’s fault or thank you to Jim Beach, the manager of Queen. Cause they invited me to the World Premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody which – as you know – includes some...I mean I’ve been there when the idea for this film was born many many years ago, more than ten years before! And the famous “I’m just a rock’n’roll prostitute”, it’s not in a press conference as it’s in Bohemian Rhapsody the movie, it was Rudi Dolezal who got it out of him [Freddie Mercury] in an interview that I did. And a few other of my things, which is fine! I don’t have a credit, or whatever!
But around that, he and other people said: “well, you’re not a businessman, Rudi. Because you tell or I hear you’re writing a book on Freddie Mercury for 2 years and now we’re doing a movie all round the world, where is your book, you know? [laughter] And I said : “well, actually, I’m so stupid...Yes, where is the book?”
I still was not really starting because I had contracts, I had to do this or that film. But then I had an intensive session here in Miami – not this one; this one now started in March. Actually the first one was in January. But I had last year, an intensive session where I was writing 4 or 5 chapters in a row, and I usually have somebody who helps me – she’s not co-author, but she’s -in German, we say the “Lectorat”- the person who reads it and she’s also a friend, she doesn’t only fact-check it but she also gives me some advice for style. Because she is a writer herself, a very good one [Andrea Fehringer] who wrote a few famous German books. And suddenly she said: “Well Rudi, you don’t need me anymore! This is really good what you’re writing”. I said:“Really?”
And this is when I started...Hey, maybe I’m really becoming an author because I come from the journalistic side of writing and she always said to me: “you’re writing like a journalist, you have to describe more...” “Ah yes, this is so difficult! But then I had the click for me and it worked with the Freddie book and now I think this is my trick; I think of it as I would write a feature film. I’m describing the scene as I would describe it for a feature film script, but in not in technical terms but in poetic terms. So my chapters always start usually now with a scene where I’m describing a scene of something, and then going to the topic. And some of them now –two of them– are starting with a photograph. One was the famous photo where Freddie is having his hands like this -you know- and explaining…
I’m watching it – and I remember what he said to me when this photo was taken. So this chapter -which is by the way the “Ping pong chapter”- starts, there must be this photo at the beginning of the chapter. And then starts the text, and then I’m describing the scene, what he’s telling me. And then we go what I’m doing, and then I go what we did in general, and then it goes to other videos, and etc….
So in other words, I’m enjoying the writing, and as I think I said before, I don’t need anything : I don’t need any techniques, I don’t need any cameras, I just can sit down. I used to write handwriting but because I had an accident 15 years ago when skiing – I was falling and I was breaking my shoulder – now when I’m older when I’m writing a lot, my shoulder hurts. So I changed, and I’m doing it on the computer or on the iPad or the iPhone. So long story short... I started social media. Then I said : “okay, I go to Miami and I finish the book ; and I'll stop signing contracts for series in late fall last year, I had still that series until the end of last year. Then I was planning and I did it. Corona came on top of it. But I would have been here anyway!
But the thing is, then through my boys I started social media and I saw that a lot of Queen interested people, of Queen fans, have a very very big urge that they want to speak with people who knew Freddie personally.
And also my friendship to Peter Freestone, I mean that Peter and I, when I was visiting him in the Czech Republic and we made a few posts together, Peter and Rudi, it was like crazy, because it's like two of the guys who were with Freddie are now together, it's like when an old band makes a reunion [laughter] ''Oh Led Zeppelin plays again, oh the original members are together now it must be great!'', you know.
So I learned that I think I can give something to the fans which no other book did because I'm only telling stories that I experienced, I was present and very often nobody else -or the people involved are either dead or have nothing to do with Queen anymore. Who else if not me should tell those stories and they are funny stories, sad stories, very interesting stories and I give a picture of this great person Freddie Mercury, where naturally the private stories came because Freddie often invited me in his house or he came in Vienna and we didn’t have a project. I was in London for something else and I told him “I am in London”, he said to me ''Come here for dinner'' and I was sitting at a table with Rod Stewart and Elton John.
And we didn't have a project, we became friends, it was because it was more than just a working relationship. So obviously those things are in there as long as I think that he would like it to be in there. I'm telling only untold stories in this book but at least as many stories I'm telling, I'm telling not 'cause they are too private, too intimate, they are nobody's business and I know Freddie wouldn't like the world to know. Because I am not a journalist anymore, I'm a friend. I'm a friend writing a book on a friend and therefore I am not here to tell any secrets, if Freddy would've liked people to know he would've told the world.
And especially about the last years when he was cutting down from month to month the people that he was letting close to him, for a very very very simple reason, he didn't want anybody to see him like that.
When he filmed those last videos with me, it was his artistic fire especially with I'm Going Slightly Mad. We came to a climax of ping pong and I think it's my masterpiece with Queen because it has so many artistic facets, and humor, and poetry and whatever and then Days Of Our Lives had just happened, I didn't think that we’d do that but Freddie said : ''I don't want to be remembered as a clown'' -because he always said he was playing a clown in I'm Going Slightly Mad. I always said it's a mixture of a comic figure -like Klaus Nomi** who is, by the way, also somebody I worked with him in Paris, he was German but his career was in Paris.
Like a living comic figure that’s what he is for me in I'm Going Slightly Mad Freddie, a mixture of a comic figure and a crazy professor who becomes crazy. But he said that because he was so white with that make-up he said : ''I made the clown and I don't want the people to have the last video showing me as a clown, it should be me as Freddie Mercury'', and that’s why he decided to do Days of our lives.
But that’s my motivation and then I also think now he would like me to do it, I think that I'm doing his legacy and his legend and his person a good service, I'm telling fans things that they don't know so I’m also doing a service for the fans and now I found out and I didn't know that at the beginning of this intensive finishing of the book now which is since January. It's also a way to finally say to come to a close with Freddie’s death. I'm crying the tears that I pushed back for many many years because I had to live with the fact that he's not here anymore, and yes I was doing films, yes I was doing that, and posthumous videos and this and that but I think with writing the book I come to a closure of a very important chapter in my life, but I come to peace with the fact that he's not here anymore.
*He refers to Peter Hince's book, published in 2015 : « Queen unseen : My life with the greatest rock band of the 20th century »
**Klaus Nomi is a German singer and an iconic figure of the new wave. Discovered by David Bowie in the late 1970s, he died of AIDS in 1983 at the age of 39.
Freddie Mercury is a fascinating character because of the complexity and contradictions in his personality. In what way can you say he is still very modern ?
Rudi Dolezal : He is very modern because he was never modern, he was always timeless. Freddie Mercury made songs like a few other people. I mean I'm Going Slightly Mad or The Show Must Go On or Bohemian Rhapsody are songs were..., or song like Imagine of John Lennon (who was one of his big idols), or if you want also Rock Me Amadeus of Falco where it is not important in which year it was made. You can still hear it and it's not from the 60's, the 80's... There are great musics goes to the 60's, the 80's wherever off to the 60's. But there great musics goes to 70's but that Imagine was written in 1971 it's not important, because it's a timeless song and that what Freddie Mercury did without knowing. He did a lot of timeless songs. And therefore, Queen music and also Freddie Mercury solo music will never be uninteresting, it's gonna become a classic, I always said that, as the Beatles music already decades before became classic. And if people in future, not a generation but hundred of years if we don't destroyed earth and we are ''finito'' [screwed], then they won't make a big difference of the classical superstars like Mozart or John Lennon, or Paul McCartney, or Freddie Mercury or Brian May.
Because they're all on the top range of that and then there will be one hit wonders which I have to count my friend Falco who will ''Rock Me Amadeus'' well especially with the video which there on for quite a while but still Queen and Beatles and so on. And ABBA by the way this is one many dimensions higher because it's worldwide and it's timeless. And that why there are I think 60 million registered Queen fans in the world because it's interest people from Indonesia, and Japan and Australia to France, Austria, Russia and South America and all the way back.
It's timeless and therefore he was never modern on therefore he never become out of fashion. He is interesting, he is special and a song like I'm Going Slightly Mad and I was very much involved, not involved, I was seeing or witnessing how the song was done and how much care he took in the words and everything (there is great stories in my book about it also) because there are few people who contributed to the lyrics which I don't know if Queen likes me to say that but I know that a few people contributed and they didn't have a credit, I'm not naming them because they didn't have a credit but to show how Freddie was, he came from the studio and he wasn't happy and he was calling people to helping with the final final final words and somebody contribute in only one word, but it's super important that this word was there.
So it was not enough to give him a credit as a co-writer but it's enough for me to mentioned those people because I'm a team player and if I'm doing a movie the smaller assistant gets a credit because we only as good as the weakest part of your team and when you do films with big team as I did then, with videos with 1 000 people working on the video on one day, you are depending on those five who are the weaker in the team, they decided if the video is becoming good, if we can finish in time, if we have all the time, if we have budget problem or if we do something great, you know? And because I did all those jobs, I started from the bottomed.
That why Freddie Mercury music is timeless -Queen music, sorry! That’s why Queen music is timeless (because Freddie did much more Queen music than solo of course). For example I think that In My Defence is although timeless, it's not written by Freddie but by Dave Clark and a few others, but Freddie also had the genius and the talent that when he sings In My Defence you think he wrote it, he made it his song and especially when I did the video after his death and put the pictures on it, everybody thought this is the visual testament you know of this artist, but it's actually Dave Clark who wrote the song with two or three others, but that also a quality of only the great ones, that they take the song from somebody else wrote and they make it their song and that also a quality that Freddie had.
Does this book represent a turning point in your career ? Would you like to devote more time to writing in the future and do you have other projects ?
Rudi Dolezal : I tried to be brief. Yes I will write more in the future.
I had the offer for a book on Whitney Houston, I have from many many many years the offer of writing a book about myself, a biography which I'm thinking of doing there is two ideas I have with that, and maybe even becomes two biographies: one is like the regular biography where I'm telling things that happened with all the artists and one is maybe a novel ''roman'', a novel where there is no names, that doesn't say Keith Richards, Freddie Mercury, Sting... it's just says ''with one'' and it tells the absolute truth because there is a lot of things I cannot tell with names because the people would be offended, and I don't know if they like it or whatever. And then I will also a 90% of that novel will be the things than I experienced and 10% will be fiction, and I will never say which is the 10%. And it's probably the working title is ''Cut'', cut like you say at the end of the take, and the subtitle is ''The glamorous life of a pop, of a music filmmaker''.
But maybe after Freddie let see, I have to focus on finishing this. I mean people don't know that because it was only released in German language unfortunately, I wrote a book on Falco twenty years ago which is a best seller in German speaking market and I wrote two books on the Austrian music scene which are also best sellers in Austria. The Freddie book and then let see what happens, let see where the Freddie book's will takes me. There is all together, it would be possible if I'm thinking of writing writing writing or writing one book a year that say, the next ten years, or every second year 'cause one year I write it and then one year I go on tour with it. I could write ten books, I could write a book on Whitney Houston, I could write a book on David Bowie, I could write a book on Keith Richards and all the Rolling Stones, I could write a book on Bruce Springsteen and so on and so on...
Michael Jackson that the one I didn't... Michael Jackson I mean there's so many things about Michael Jackson. And there will different books and I wouldn't call them ''My friend Michael'' or ''My friend David'' that's only ''My friend Freddie''. But I could write interested books about them, based on my working relationship and don't forget of most of those people I did very extensive usually more than one filmed documentaries where I interviewed the lot of people around them, and some of them are not in life anymore. Well I was going into the youth, into the childhood, with Mick Jagger I interviewed his father, there's not so many people who had interviewed his father, his father is dead and Mick was completely surprised that I have it, he had no idea I interviewed him, only when I showed him the documentary.
There are a lot of possibles things even if my relationship was different one then whose Freddie 'cause with Freddie I mean other people who say that I'm not talking about myself but I was Freddie's favorite filmmaker for many years, and I was Queen favorite filmmaker, together with David Mallet -David Mallet was always very important- and Gavin Taylor, Gavin Taylor in a different way for live concert. But those were the three directors and that is not a coincidence that I did all the last Queen and Freddie videos. He insisted that I do them because he wanted to be sure and there was not any experience anymore at that time.
So in another word that could be a series of ten books or not, maybe I'm writing an opera or maybe the stage thing is so interesting that the Freddie book it's the last one for five years, I don't know. I'm not making really plans for ten years, I'm just saying the possibilities are now endless and I feel much more freedom because I can exploit all my talents again.
Freddie Mercury would often tell you: «Rudi, never try to be second best. Always go for the impossible». Did that advice help you? Would you pass it on to anybody else today?
Rudi Dolezal : Yes that advice helped me and I have a whole chapter in the book of the situation when he said that and how it came to this quote, it was actually two different situations... Oh no it was one, sorry! It was actually after a video shoot in London where he asked me and my whole team over.
Anyway, yes it helped me and you have to understand it correctly. ''Never try to be second best'' does not mean be arrogant and think of you as the number one all the time. That would be a misinterpretation, that's not what Freddie meant and that's not how I understood it. ''Never try to be second best'' says ''I want to make a film and I'm always convinced”, and that’s what I adapted, that “this is the best film I ever made, and I want to win an Oscar or a Grammy or an Emmy”, that’s the quality level.
''Always go for the impossible'' means he was told Bohemian Rhapsody has to be shortened 'cause it's 7 minutes long. And he said ''Fuck you!''. And it was the first worldwide hit that was 7 minutes long. So he was the example that something that has never been done, which is impossible, can work, if it's the right way, that it’s correct. He also gave me other advice which are in the book, for how to treat success etc etc…
Also I was in a situation for years after Freddie died, where I was still doing official Queen projects, videos -In My Defence for example. For me Freddie Mercury is not dead, of course he's dead but he's around for me. And I have his voice because I have a very good memory of audio, I know the way he talked. When I'm writing this book I remember, I'm writing in English the quotes I know exactly how he would say it and with what attitude because I heard it so many times, and I have stored it in my brain, in my brain archives, you know? ''Oh Darling get on with it I'm getting bored now'' as he would say it, you know? and I know exactly how he would say it 'cause I heard it so many times and he was fun and on. So I hear him sometimes, not that I'm hearing voices and I'm crazy.
Another one is for example ''Don't be too clever'' you know, when you did something and it was, as we say in German, “thought about three corners to understand it”. Yeah it was very clever but it was very complicated to get it, he said ''Well, let’s not be too clever'' let's be... you know what I mean? Sometimes he had an idea ''then you make it like this and like that'' but it was too complicated. It's difficult to follow what you have in mind to then find it interesting. It was the very first big star where I worked intensively on music videos which includes a lot of conceptional work.
Frank Zappa was one, or the Rolling Stones were one, where I did a lot of work, documentary wise, following them on tour, filming the live concerts, doing interviews, and making films out of that. But I think I did one video for Frank Zappa, 'cause he died before the videos are big [Frank Zappa died in 1993]... and I did three videos for the Stones, one of which was very early in 1982 [The Rolling Stones: Time Is on My Side - Live]. But still the Stones have a different way of working, they work with you and then they don't work with you for five years and then they call you again.
And once Queen, this relationship was so intense, fulfilling for all sides and the results were good enough, otherwise they wouldn’t have had me again, and it was very intense for a long period of time and so it became a quality level that was very interesting. So when I was doing things after Freddie died, for Queen and with Queen, I very often had him in my ear, saying ''Rudi don't do that'' or ''that's great'' or ''that's fab!'', as he always said F.A.B., he never said ''great'' he said ''oh that's fab''.
And of course and so maybe this is my way because I miss him so much and I miss him a lot. Now I am writing, I miss him every day. I'm talking to Peter Freestone at least three times a week or so, because we're really good close friends. We don't always talk about Freddie, we talk about all different things, what he is doing, what I'm doing, about cats, about America, about visa problems, about him becoming, getting, having technical things to solve in the Czech Republic and what have you, or he's teaching English in a school or whatever. But of course I miss Freddie every day, because he was an outstanding person.
If I can contribute a little bit that people understand... There's a lot of Queen fans who have never met him and had never seen him, Freddie Mercury, I am talking about the Queen original version on stage -because Queen is now existing longer without Freddie Mercury than with Freddie Mercury. So naturally, there's more Queen fans that haven't seen the original version, you know, because they are still going on and I congratulate them! Brian and Roger are still very very successful and Jim Beach is in the background.
The thing is that he was such an outstanding person and if I can contribute to add a little bit of aspect. That also came were not part of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, which I thought was a fabulous movie, but you all know that a lot of things that are in there didn't happen the way they’re in there, I knew it from the very beginning and that's not something, by the way, that I'm criticizing, I'm not criticizing it...’cos if you are condensing a musical life for so many years in one feature film, you have to have the artistic freedom to connect things, so that the story still makes sense, that’s not my criticism.
If I have a criticism on Bohemian Rhapsody, it's that one side of Freddie Mercury for me is completely left out: the funny guy he was, the funny, witty guy that he was, besides drinking a lot of vodka and taking a lot of cocaine. He could entertain a whole table a whole evening without any cameras rolling, without any tapes rolling or it’s part of an interview or a film scene, and that I miss. If there would had been one funny scene, then I would already be happy, but that’s completely left out. I'm not criticizing the directors or... I'm just saying. So there's a lot to tell which hasn't been told.
Also I don't know if... have you seen a certain Barbara Valentin in Bohemian Rhapsody movie? No, not at all. You know she is... I would have said next to Mary Austin the most important woman that Freddie ever had in his life, you know? So I was very good friends with her, and I was very good friends at the time when Freddie lived in Munich. So there is lot of stuff which there is not, no first-hand information. Oh yes there's a lot of people who wrote about Queen and Freddie Mercury.
You know when I did Freddie Mercury-The Untold Story [documentary] with Jim Beach producing and I was directing it, my ambition was to go everywhere, and I went to Zanzibar where Freddie was born. There was not even a plaque or a sign anywhere in Zanzibar saying that this is the island where Freddie Mercury was born, nothing, nothing. And I was researching, 'cause that's Rudi style, the DoRo spirit (as I call it, or as other people called it), I said ''I want to go to the house where Freddie was born'', I want to film that house. And there were many books out already at that time and they all had one photograph (the same one) of Freddie's house, of the house where Freddie was born. And I was researching the only relatives of Freddie then left -I don't know if they're still alive- an aunt and an uncle, they're in The Untold Story, they appear as far as I remember; their English was not very good but they are there, and they said ''this is not the house where Freddie was born, this is wrong''. And in Untold Story I filmed for the first time the real birth house of Freddie Mercury because what happened was that one guy, the first one or the only one of all those people who wrote books on Freddie Mercury went to Zanzibar and somebody said ''Well this is the house where Freddie Mercury was born – okay, click '', that’s how all the others were copying it, you know! And that’s only one example. Why it makes sense that Rudi Dolezal opens his mouth and there's a few stories.
If people want to encourage me and preorder this book then I can guarantee you I will not disappoint the people, I will not disappoint Queen fans, I will also not disappoint Freddie Mercury because this is not gonna be the second best book of Freddie Mercury. And that’s a very good quote for an interview [laughter].
Thanks to Rudi Dolezal for trusting me with this interview and for giving me time while writing his book. Thank you for his generosity and the sincerity of his answers, which make this interview something special.
Thanks also to Estelle Malvy for her presence during the interview and her huge help for the written transcription of this interview.
And a big thank you to Roseline Smith for her precious help in English.
As a reminder:
Rudi announced a few days ago that he has now finished writing his book, My friend Freddie. The book will be released in 11 languages and you can still pre-order a signed copy on this secure site: https://www.myfriendfreddie.com/
It's an original idea from Rudi, as he explained to me during our conversation: "It is the first time I have ever heard that when somebody is still writing a book, you can already secure a copy - that’s something which I think has never been done before, especially with a signed copy”.
You can also find Rudi on social networks:
- on his Instagram:@rudi_dolezal
- on his official Facebook page (Rudi Dolezal official) : https://www.facebook.com/Rudi-Dolezal-official-101706558272297
- on his Twitter account: @DolezalRudi
- on its YouTube channel (Rudi Dolezal's DoRo TV) : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsaZF4OKvhtGmOxPJUsKLMg/feed
As Rudi mentions in this interview, he reserves a signed certificate and some benefits for his first 2,500 subscribers. If you haven't subscribed yet, don't hesitate to do so, it's free!
Rudi also hosts a live show every Sunday at 8pm, called 'Rudi Backstage'. It's a chance to hear him tell anecdotes, answer questions from his followers, and follow his news, while chatting with fans from all over the world! You can see her live on Instagram, Facebook (official page) and her YouTube channel.
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