A Queen biography this is decidedly not. Although there is plenty of insight into the band and its music throughout the book, as the title fairly states, this is Freddie’s story from the get go. A groundbreaking band, with a showman to beat all showmen out front, Mercury: An Intimate Biography sets the stage for one Farouk Bulsara’s climb to the pinnacle of rock music success.
Jones provides ample detail on Bulsara’s (as he was known then) early days in Zanzibar, and background into the Parsee religion with which he was raised, providing some context for Mercury’s longtime public silence on his homosexuality.
The author traces his move to London, where art school and music help him overcome his self-consciousness, reinventing himself and slyly moving into the band that would eventually become one of the biggest in the world.
There’s much to be learned about Mercury, a complex character, and Jones dishes via many of Freddie’s closest confidantes; in fact, it seems that each one of the inner group has already written a book about their relationship with the Queen front man. Jones strength here is pulling together the different personalities and their takes to present an honest picture of Mercury. He is at times petulant and bitchy, generous to a fault, and altogether outrageous.
Queen’s backstage parties, tour announcements and press parties were legendary and notoriously over-the-top hedonistic affairs, and Mercury’s seemingly insatiable desire for multiple lovers, anonymous sex and taste for cocaine echoed much of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We all know how that, and this story ends. New York and Munich, Freddie’s favorite carnal haunts, bore the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, a bright light in one’s eyes after the partying is over and the hangover has set in. It’s questionable who infected Freddie with the virus and when; Jones lays out a timeline of sorts but it’s likely a question that can never be answered.
In the end, I couldn’t help but find the tale a sort of royal soap-opera, full of palace intrigue, with the mercurial Freddie at the center, as sex and drugs, backstabbers and connivers, lovers and confidantes, revolve around him, slowly spinning out of control. One can almost hear the whispers and gasps as the details of Mercury’s will is read after he’s gone. As Freddie might have said: “it’s all just so decadentl, my dears.“
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