Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to admit up front that I’ve been a huge Queen fan since the 70s when I was a kid listening to their music. They remain one of my favorite groups of all time, and I believe Freddie was the greatest front man of any band ever.
Now that that’s out the way, how was the book? In a word — splendid! I just put away a biography on another favorite of mine — David Bowie — cause the authors just seemed to want to skewer him and it really put a damper on my enthusiasm for the man. I had to stop reading it to save what I still liked about him. So I was nervous in picking up a book on Freddie Mercury, fearing something similar might happen. Not to worry. The author, Lesley-Ann Jones, does a truly magnificent job of thorough research and exhaustive writing to put out a rather unbiased book on a great singer, one which elucidates while still making clear that no one ever truly knew the man well. He was one thing to his family, another to his first girlfriend (yes, girlfriend) Mary, another to his lover Jim, another to his German lover Barbara, another to his band mates, another to his fans, and so on and so on. One thing that was clear was that his bombastic personality while on stage didn’t transfer to his personal life, where he was generally quite shy.
Jones starts the book with his upbringing on Zanzibar and his boarding schooling in India and interviews relatives, in some cases, fairly distant relatives. I mean, the author really went all out. It was fascinating to read about the band’s early struggles and the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s masterpiece. My primary complaint is not much time is spent on other songs. I would have loved more than one line about “We Will Rock You” or “Another One Bites The Dust,” and more than a paragraph or two on “We Are The Champions.” Some of the albums barely merit more than a paragraph, and while I know Jones wanted to chronicle their infamous hard core rock and roll partying, it gets a bit repetitive after awhile. I think more meat could have been added to the songs and albums, at least some of them.
It was sad to read about Freddie’s personal life, his love life. He was always being used and he seemed to never be content with one person, other than Mary, with whom he stopped having a sexual relationship after six years. Incidentally, I knew this, but Freddie left the vast majority of his estate to Mary when he died in 1991. One would have thought his gay lover(s), but nope, Mary. He also never clearly came out to his family. That I didn’t know. It was for religious reasons. It was great fun reading about Freddie’s enthusiasm about ballet and opera, about his run in with Sid Vicious in a studio when both were recording at the same time, about his spending sprees, his wild orgies, etc, etc. And face it, the man was a genius with a four octave range. What talent. Pity he had to die of AIDS so young. It was shocking to read how many of his friends and lovers were dropping like flies during the 80s. Really shocking.
I would have liked more about the band as a whole, but alas, the book was about Freddie, and if I want to read about Queen, I guess I’ll have to get a good Queen bio, eh? Great book, fun read, hard to put down, worth five stars….