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Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography Paperback – June 7, 2012
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A real emotional rollercoaster without a dull moment. I have read many biographies and autobiographies in the past. They all have a bit you skim through at some point when the details get too long and arduous to read. Not this! It was very easy to read and full of quotations from friends, family, music industry bigwigs and even psychiatrists.
"It was the perfect stage for Freddie Mercury: the whole world." Bob Geldof
"It wasn't even dark, he was whipping up all this magic in daylight." Dave Hogan (photographer at Live Aid)
The explosive start with Live Aid in chapter one mirrors the movie Bohemian Rhapsody to a tee (although the book predates, obviously). Although the main focus is how Queen outperformed everyone that day, there is also a lot of other information like when and how Bob Geldof came up with the whole idea (I did not know that Queens had not been invited to sing in Do They Know It's Christmas!)
The book then delves deeply into Freddie's childhood and time in Zanzibar and India. The writer even goes on an expedition to find his birth certificate (which is apparently missing - suspected to have been bought illegally and in someone's private collection now). Her interviews with friends and family shed so much light on Freddie's background and upbringing. (He was called Bucky!)
The next thing that struck me were the many differences with the movie - too many to name! How he met and joined the band, how they got their first album recorded, the truth is so different I was wondering if I had watched an adaptation or fictionalisation of the truth at the cinema the day before reading the book (For example, they had a VERY hard time being picked up by radio DJs in the UK and could not get onto playlists at the beginning). However, I felt that his relationship with Mary Austin came across better on screen (although, again, there were many conflicts like, she did not abandon him as portrayed in BR)
The wild parties... Oh my God! Jaw dropping! I can understand why those were left out of the movie!
I also learned about Peter Freeman, Barbara Valentin and others who were so close to him but did not get a mention in the movie. And Jim Hutton - the true story of how they met is so different!
The book has a total of 25 chapters that take the reader from place to place and event to event. Freddie's multi-faceted, almost chameleon-like character came out very well in the story. You follow his as he goes from sleeping on the floor to super rockstardom. You feel each betrayal, each hurdle he had to overcome. There are moments you are cheering him on and moments you find the hedonistic OTT life too much to comprehend. There is also a lot of commentary into what the songs and lyrics mean - the writer's own take on Bo Rap is that Scaramouche (a clown from the commedia dell'arte) was Freddie himself, Galileo the 16th century astronomer is obviously Brian May, and Beelzebub (prince of demons) is Roger Taylor who was the wildest party animal at the beginning. I don't know how much water that holds, to be honest, but back stories to why and how the songs came about is definitely interesting.
And the final chapters - I was in tears. There was so much empathy and emotion in the description of his final year, death, funeral and the aftermath, all fans MUST read this. The wealth of information also lead me to some fantastic old videos (like Freddie's performance with the Royal Ballet) that are hidden away on Youtube.
Here are some of the titbits that have stayed with me...Did you know - Brian May developed gangrene in his arm after a routine inoculation and there was a real fear of amputation?
that Freddie was aerophobic?
that after their first appearance of Top of the Pops in 1974 Freddie ran along Oxford St to watch their appearance on a TV in a shop window because he didn't own one himself?
that Freddie and Roger ran a market stall in Kensington and were as thick as thieves? (I thought their relationship on BR was actually quite strained)
that when they landed in Argentina for the tour in 1981 the flight announcements all stopped and they started playing Queen music instead!
There was one comment in earlier reviews that this is a mash-up of all the interviews and books that have come before, with no new material. I disagree. Yes, there were a lot of quotes from various sources, but there were also many insights from the author herself and personal interviews / conversations too. Of course, I have not read all the other biographies of Freddie and Queen out there, but I am sure there is a lot of overlapping bound to happen when you write about the same subject!
My only criticism is, because the chapters were broken by personalities and events there was a lot of jumping back and forth in the timeline when you read from one chapter to another - where you stop and go 'wasn't that mentioned earlier?' However, if you are a fan of Queen, or if you have just watched Bohemian Rhapsody, this is a book which would fascinate you.
Leslie-Ann Jones' biography gives a full account of Freddie's life from his birth when his mother had his beautiful photo displayed in a shop in Zanzibar to his death in London at the age of 45. When he was eight years old, Freddie traveled alone from Zanzibar to India to St. Peter's school. He resented being sent to India away from his beloved family, but he was an obedient, and sensitive child and did what was expected of him. Freddie learns to play the piano at St. Peter's, helps form a rock group, The Hectics, is a good student, and is a popular young man among his peers. However, at age 16, he is in conflict over his sexuality and fails in his studies. He returns to Zanzibar and completes his high school education there. A revolution erupts in Zanzibar and Freddie's family flees to England. Here, he attends college, is quite a talented artist, graduates, and goes on to become interested in the band "Smile," where he meets Brian May and Roger Taylor. He literally tags along with them giving them advice on how they should dress and perform. Eventually their lead singer leaves, and Freddie wants to join them. Brian and Roger weren't sure whether he had the technical ability to be a lead singer. However, they gave him a try. (I found this amusing and ironic.)
Freddie goes on to become the best vocalist in the history of rock frontmen, and Ms. Jones informs on all of his successes, and the songs he wrote. She gives a full account of his relationship with Mary Austin, the love of his life, and then his later relationship with Jim Hutton. We see Freddie at his wild parties after many Queen Concerts, and we learn of Freddie's reckless behavior in Manhattan, especially when AIDS was rampant. He also engaged in a menage-a-trois in Munich for a number of months with a man and a woman before he met Jim Hutton. He enjoyed a loving relationship with the renowned Spanish opera singer, Montserrat Caballe for whom he wrote a number of duets in 1987 which they sang in Barcelona, and whom he treated in a courtly manner. After his death, a statue was erected in Montreux, Switzerland, which was formally unveiled by Ms. Caballe in the presence of Freddie's parents and thousands of Freddie's fans. According to the author, thousands of Freddie's fans, gather at this statue each year on his birthday to pay homage to their beloved Freddie. Ms. Jones focuses on Freddie's life throughout, but she does give some information about Queen and its members. She tells how profoundly affected John Deacon was by Freddie's death, and five years after his death he fully retired from Queen, and became a bit of a recluse. She tells of the day that Freddie died when Roger was on his way to Garden Lodge, Freddie's residence, and he called to say that he would soon be there, and Jim Hutton said to Roger, "It's too late, he's gone." Roger was devastated. She tells of Elton John visiting Freddie every day in the last days of his life. And she tells of Freddie holding hands with his dear friends telling them on his death bed that he is glad to see them, and that they don't have to say anything if they don't want to. He was just glad to see them.
Freddie was a flamboyant, charismatic, extroverted performer on stage who held his audience in the palm of his hands. But, off stage he was a sensitive, quiet, even shy individual.
All these details, add up to a definitive biography.
Top international reviews
Am quite a fan of Freddy so avidly read and watch documentaries.
Found out a few facts that I didn't know and some were missed.
Having said that the volume would have been like war and peace if everything included.
Very well written
I think the reason is because Freddie was so fascinating. I wasn't interested in Queen growing up but now I am. The book has lots about where Freddie was born and went to school. There were lots of quotes from him and other people. I did enjoy the book.
I got sad the author described his illness and how he died. It feels like it was only yesterday I can't believe it was 25 years ago!!! Freddie has always been my favourite musician and always will be. I would recommend this book.
Eventually this happened and the rest is Rock history, RIP Freddie
Queen were always a great group .Who could forget Bohemium Rhapsody,We are the champions,Killer Queen.etc. And all written by members of the group.
I thought I knew most things about Freddie Mercury but I learned a lot from this book.Excellent.
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