39

Tidbits

Every now and then, my mother’s old admonition, “You’re too young!” actually rings true. Even if in this case, it wasn’t so much youth as a lack of education.

When I was in high school, Queen came out with their classic album Night at the Opera. (Yes, I’m that old.) I had it and listened to it incessently, as did most of my friends. We loved the music, but we argued about one song. It was called “’39” and it seemed pretty murky to us.

It was well done, but it was filled with mysterious lyrics about a land beyond the stars and weird aging and loss. Some of us thought the song was about time travel. Others thought it was about magic. Yet another group thought it was just one of those mysterious messy lyrics about nothing.

But the song seemed to tell a story, and I always figured that something so unified couldn’t be messy. (Later I learned that assumption was false too.)

Fast forward 30-some years to my most recent birthday. My husband gave me a stereo for my office. It had a CD player that plays MP3s and a tape player and a record player all built into one. I did what I always do when I get a new stereo–I played Queen full blast to see if the system could handle something that complex. It could.

But that wasn’t the revelation. The revelation was “39.” You see, that night, I chose Night at the Opera, and I actually listened to it for the first time since college. And lo and behold, “39” made sense.

It’s a science fiction song. It’s about relativity. It’s a perfect little examination of the theory. A heartbreaking examination as a matter of fact.

Then I read that the song’s author, Brian May, one of the surviving members of Queen, recently returned to school and got his doctorate in astrophysics. Well, duh. Then I look at my Queen album covers and realize that one, News of the World, has a Kelly Freas cover. And I realize that my favorite band might have been a favorite because of a shared interest–sf/f.

Fascinating stuff. And kinda fun. And way cool to revisit part of my past and learn something new. (Not to mention having an old mystery solved.)

You can download the album here. Or just listen to “39.” And try to imagine a group of 15-year-olds who knew nothing about physics trying to understand this one.