Having read a number of Queen biographies over the years, I am pretty familiar with the basics of Freddie Mercury’s life (1946-1991). He was of “exotic” (Parsi) extraction, who moved to London with his parents in his late teens. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, he hooked up with a band called Smile, who eventually morphed into Queen. The general pattern of these types of books follow a similar pattern. After an overview of the group’s incredible career, the lives of the individual members are profiled. Then a more in-depth study of their intoxicating rise to the top of the heap is discussed. The climax is reached with their triumphal appearance at Live Aid in 1985. Then comes the very sad story of the final five years of Freddie’s life, which ended in 1991 of AIDS-related complications.
Author Lesley-Ann Jones’s Mercury tells this same basic story, but with the focus squarely on Freddie Mercury. By doing so, she has written what I consider to be the definitive biography of him. If ever there were an artist who the word “multi-faceted” applied, it would have to be Mercury. With such a complex personality, there are any number of ways in which his life story could be told. The “uber-decadent” superstar lifestyle he lived seems to be the way the majority of authors have approached it. Thankfully, Lesley-Ann Jones has chosen to tell the whole story, rather than focusing on the outrageous elements so many other writers have utilized.
What the reader comes away with is a portrait of the “real” Freddie Mercury. He was obviously an extremely talented musician, he enjoyed the high life to the hilt, and was possibly the most amazing front-man to ever grace the stage. He was also, paradoxically, a very private person. Certainly the cliché “Beware of what you wish for, because it may come true” applies. But with Freddie Mercury, there is no simple description that does justice to who he actually was.
The story is fascinating in itself, without need for embellishment. What I enjoyed the most about Lesley-Ann Jones’s take on it was her presentation of the subject. It is apparent immediately in her Introduction, where she is watching Queen from the wings during their Live Aid performance. As a journalist, she got in at the tail end of the era when musicians allowed the press unrestricted access. Those days are gone forever. But what makes her presentation of that moment unique is the manner she employs. Rather than bragging about how “important” she was to be there, she gives more of an “I can’t believe I was there” spin to things. It is a crucial methodology, because we as fans are now with her, rather than jealous of her. Well, maybe a little jealous… I’m only human after all.
The point is that one of the elements that made Mercury such an enjoyable read for me was that Jones seems to have no agenda apart from simply telling the life story of Freddie Mercury. There may come a day when someone writes an even deeper, and “better” account of Freddie’s life, but I am not holding my breath. For anyone interested in a balanced, yet nuanced biography of the life of one of the greatest rock singers ever, Mercury is unquestionably the one.