Claimed to be the definitive biography of the band Queen’s front man Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones, the front cover simply features the man in his typical stage pose. The back cover has a tribute from Pattaya’s own rock authority Simon Napier-Bell, and it was that which prompted me to pick up the book from the Bookazine shelves at Big C Extra.
Queen, as performing artists, have fans all over the world and the life of Freddie Mercury was one which must have been difficult to describe, being one of surreal excesses, culminating in his early death at only 45 years of age from AIDS-related illness.
The popularity of Queen goes without question, their Greatest Hits album being the number one seller in the UK at 5.4 million. Yes, outselling the Beatles.
Freddie Mercury (ISBN 978-1-444-73369-3, Hodder and Stoughton, 2011, B. 495) is a complete biography, describing the life of the man of African-Indian heritage, right from his fairly secret childhood in Zanzibar.
His problems with his family’s religion which banned homosexuality, are explained with an understanding of what this had meant to Freddie Mercury. With Zanzibar having outlawed gay relationships, even his birthplace was being denied him. Author Jones even postulates that much of his lyrics were Freddie escaping reality, since his childhood memories were being made impossible.
The early years of a band called Smile were mirrored by many fledgling groups, with the band members living in squalor in pokey flats. That anyone actually made it to stardom was amazing. Only those with immense talent, and a modicum of luck would make it. Freddie and Queen, of course, did.
Much of the book is a chronicle of the band, with their struggle to attract a record company, with Freddie as a lead singer posturing on stage in front of a world that was not quite ready for such campish behavior.
Every band of that era which had obtained any fame can be found between the pages. Mott The Hoople, Black Sabbath and Motorhead for example.
The long play Bohemian Rhapsody is dissected and the initial reluctance of radio stations to air this recording apparently had the other members of Queen very worried, but not Freddie (or not shown by Freddie). Freddie comes through as always having a very personal side, which was not shown to many of his confreres.
Comparison is drawn between Freddie Mercury and Elton John, both of whom were sensitive children who adored their mothers and played piano, both changed their names, and both gay. (However, this should not be taken as a way to spot latent homosexuality.)
It is an insight into the man whose talents exceeded his hold on reality. It is doubtful whether anyone, even someone with a very secure psyche, could withstand the pressures of stardom such as his. The price to pay for the adulation of millions is just too high.
I found the book fascinating in its pen portraits of those involved in the music scene, with the ‘marriage’ of music and managers being highly tenuous at times.
If you enjoyed their music, you will enjoy Freddie Mercury.