Obvious History: Freddie Mercury’s Saturday Night in Sodom
In collaboration with @velvetcoke, Obvious History is a weekly series which unearths forgotten moments in pop culture’s past, where the famous and the fascinating collided.
In the colossal Imperial Ballroom inside the Fairmont New Orleans, Freddie Mercury—expert partier who lived by the mantra “excess all areas”—overwhelmed 400 guests at the launch of Queen’s seventh album, Jazz. This party had it all: “voluptuous strippers who smoked cigarettes with their vaginas, a dozen black-faced minstrels, dwarfs, snake charmers, and several bosomy blondes who stunned party revelers by peeling off their flimsy costumes to reveal that they were, in fact, well-endowed men,” it was described in Pamela Des Barres’s Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon.
It was Halloween 1978. The ballroom was outfitted with 50 dead trees rented especially for the occasion, which made it look like “a skeletal forest. It had a kind of witchcraft theme,” said EMI’s Bob Hart. Bourbon Street’s biggest freaks and eccentrics were hired to entertain, leaving other bars and clubs forced to close for the night.
Mercury et al arrived preceded by the Olympia Brass band and flanked by snake charmers and strippers dressed as nuns. Between sips of the finest champagne, a bill that would later tally an alleged $200,000, music execs could enter a back room where they would receive sexual favors. “Most hotels offer their guests room service,” Mercury told one publication. “This one offers them lip service.”
The biggest rumor following what was later billed “Saturday Night in Sodom” was that a legion of dwarves with trays of cocaine strapped to their heads made their way around the party. It has never been officially denied, but none of the reports from that evening—and many press and guests were present—make mention of it. Still, the fact that it was plausible makes this debauched story even juicier.
“Freddie Mercury could out-party me, which is saying something,” Elton John later told Lesley-Ann Jones for her in-depth biography, Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury. “We’d be up for nights, sitting there at 11 in the morning, still flying high.”