on 21 April 1999
This is the only biography of Freddie Mercury I have read so I'm not an authority. However - I do have a deep-rooted interest so here goes. I felt that the author was really interested in her subject and had definitely done a good deal of research. I am pleased that she doesn't try and present him as an angel (which he clearly wasn't, bless him) and some less flattering anecdotes are included as pointers to show the reader what a pain in the neck he could be when he chose. At the same time, some quite endearing memories balance this up - and if you liked the man to start with then you'll definitely still like him when you've finished the book. I think really it could have benefitted from some better photographs as these are an odd collection, some from childhood, including some old-looking photos of the area where he was born in Zanzibar, and these to my mind are not particularly interesting. The slant of the book is, I believe, that of finding out who Freddie really was by means of charting his course through life - so I suppose these are relevant - but perhaps not very exciting if it was the outrageous banana-on-head wearing, leather-clad party animal image that had prompted you to buy the book. However, with regard to the narrative, she has a nice style, and is at no time is waspish or accusatory. She deals particularly well with an interview with Barbara Valentin, one of Freddie's closest friends. All in all, one of my favourites and a pretty good read.
on 30 October 2011
It's hard to believe that Queen celebrates their 40th Anniversary this year, and even more significant is that it also marks the 20th Anniversary of the death of their lead singer. In `Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography', author Lesley-Ann Jones takes us on a fascinating journey through his life from Zanzibar in 1946 to his death in Montreux in 1991.
The early chapters in the book cover his childhood in Zanzibar, his resentment at being sent to school in India at the age of eight, and his early tastes for music, and how his life would change once he arrived in the UK in 1964.
What makes this book stand-out for other biographies is that Jones has certainly done her research (she was side-stage at Live Aid), and her determination to find a copy of Freddie's original birth certificate. She also travelled back to Africa and India and spoke to family and friends, people that knew Freddie first hand. There is still local resentment toward him, with one claiming "he gave up his family name.....and wasn't proud of Zanzibar", hence the lack of tributes, memorials or statues to him in his homeland.
Moving to England would change his life forever, as he dabbled with several bands before convincing Brian and Roger to do more original material. As he cleverly put it "If I was your singer, that's what I'd be doing". This would lead to the formation of Queen, and their first gig in 1971.
The fact that he didn't own a TV when they made their first Top of The Pops appearance, forcing him to watch it in a TV shop window in Oxford Street is just one of the many fascinating pieces here.
The great thing though out this book is that it's not a Queen book. While it's impossible to ignore their achievements, Jones cleverly throws in the odd statistic and chart achievement but keeps her focus on Mercury throughout. She doesn't shy away from Freddie's life off-stage either. We all know the showman who grabbed Live Aid by the balls, but do we know much about his lovers, his lifestyle, his 3-in-a-bed romps or his many excessive gay parties that included anything from Lesbian strippers to dwarfs, fire eaters, drag queens, mud wrestlers, snakes and hookers?
Then of course there's the music, which is what he lived for. His hero Montserrat Caballe, the duets with Michael Jackson and Bowie, what the intro to `One Vision' really is when played in reverse, his drinken on stage antics with Tony Hadley, his favourite composition, and the many meanings to Bohemian Rhapsody, the song he is most proud of.
There really is so much to learn here; their disappointment at not being asked to sing on the Band Aid record, Bowie's refusal to originally release `Under Pressure', John Deacon's depression after his death, and a fan's death at Knebworth that finally ended their live performances.
With the Sasha Baron Cohen movie of Freddie's life due to hit cinemas in 2012, Freddie Mercury's name is still on everyone's lips, 20 years after his death and I'm sure he's still looking down on everyone, and having one hell of a party in Heaven. I'm sure if he had read this book he'd be very proud of the masterful job Lesley-Ann Jones has delivered in his absence. Ultimate Magic!
on 28 June 2012
Who was Freddie Mercury?
Showman or Frontman? Shy Guy or Great Pretender? In her book, Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, Lesley-Ann Jones helps to peel away the layers of media nonsense and rumour to paint the picture of a man she met several times and watched perform live (most notably side of stage during THAT Live Aid Performance).
I took to the book as a casual Queen fan, growing up with the music as a boy and then a teenager, Freddie was long gone before I really got into collecting music seriously. But I remembered watching Live Aid and of course that barnstorming performance from Queen. My knowledge of Freddie himself and Queen's recording history was a little hazy based on red top newspaper headlines surrounding Mercury in later life and the odd documentary I had seen of the band play on TV. A mate at college had all the albums and subjected me to them in his car when he used to run a gang of us around. When music is forced on you, sadly, you don't always appreciate it and I honestly did switch off.
But, as you grow older, your musical tastes change and mature. You have the opportunity to delve into the musical archives of friends and relatives and the digital download has made it even easier to collect a back catalogue quicker.
Stood in the bookshop I thumbed through the hardback and found myself engrossed enough to want to buy it. Surely the best advert for any book?!
Jones plays a blinder for any casual Queen fan by starting the book off with Live Aid. Like Queen before her, she knows exactly the Greatest Hits to tick off and the first few pages draw you in to the world of Freddie, Queen, Wembley and Montreux so that when the "real" start of the journey to understand Mercury begins in Zanzibar you are fully prepared.
Lesley-Ann went to Zanzibar to research her subject's birthplace and understand where he came from and why possibly he may never have gone back. It is this attention to detail that is throughout the book. It is obvious that the author personally cares about Freddie and yet still paints an honest picture of the man with all his flaws and genius balanced. This is no rose tinted reflection of a bygone era of a Rock Showman. Nor is it a gossipy no holds barred delve into the more salacious areas of Freddie's life on and off stage.
The hardback edition has some reviews on amazon stating that this was written by a journalist who worked on the Daily Mail and that this is a regurgitated journalistic exercise pumped out to cash in on Freddie. This is both an insult to Jones and massively misses the point of what this book tells you. Lesley-Ann has indeed written for the Daily Mail amongst a number of other titles (what a crime!) but toured extensively with Queen and saw first hand a lot of what is reported in the book. Take a look at some of the photographs within the volume and you see not publicity shots of Freddie or Queen but more candid shots of the author with close friends and family of Freddie written about within the pages. She might be a journalist but that is just her "job". This book is written by someone who honestly was best placed to tell you what you want to know about Mercury the man.
If you are a huge Queen fan then this will be the perfect companion to the music and other books you have. A nice volume that easily covers everything you need to know. It is bang up to date taking in life post Freddie's passing with nods to We Will Rock You, Paul Rodgers and where Brian and Roger see Queen now.
I got hold of a paperback copy before reviewing this to double check there was nothing substantially new from the hardback I had read. But really, it was perfect in hardback...!
So, the casual Queen fan, after reading this book, has now gone out and bought the remastered cd's and wishes he had paid more attention in the car all those years ago! I gave my hardback to a friend with the "you have to read this" statement. Her response? "I like the way it is written, it fills my head like watching a documentary!"
Treat yourself....Add to Basket!
on 18 October 2011
The whole story and legacy of Queen and Freddie Mercury have moved on so far since Lesley-Ann Jones's original book in the mid-90s that there is plenty of scope for an update, but this book goes way beyond a mere update and is very timely what with the movie coming out next year.
The research is very impressive - how many rock writers would actually travel to somewhere like Zanzibar to ensure they nail the detail and give the full flavour of their subject's birthplace? And she makes a point of correcting many of the of the inaccuracies that have occurred and probably been repeated in other accounts There is no doubt that certain people in the story - the band members for instance - remain tight lipped to this day but Jones seeks out many of the key players in Mercury's private and professional life, so comes as close as anyone is going to in terms of telling the proclaimed 'definitive' story.
What is best about the book, however, is not so much the truly scary stuff about about AIDS setting in, nor even intriguing snippets such as Freddie's friendship with Michael Jackson - it's the atmosphere it evokes of the music industry in the 70s and 80s. For music fans, whether they are into Queen in a big way or not, the chapters about the band's seemingly eternal struggles to gain a record deal, the characters around the band and the lives they all led, are priceless.
Lesley-Ann Jones combines her journalistic skills and experience with her love of the music and comes up with a terrific read.
on 7 May 2012
I must say I enjoyed reading this book but I believe it could have been a lot better. I was expecting more about Freddie as it was meant to be a biography about him. Yes, there was some detail about his life but it lacked information and so I would not class it as the definative biography, because as a Queen fan it left me quite disappointed.
There was good information about rock music during the 70s and 80s and how the band formed and their trouble making it big in the begininng. This of course was a big part of Freddie's life but it seemed to dominate too much of the reading and in parts I felt I wasn't reading about Freddie.
Another thing that bored me after a while was the writer often referancing dates and how Freddie would be dead not long after. Why? We all know he died of AIDS in 1991, we don't need constant referance to it. This book needed to celebrate his life, not constantly point out when he was going to die.
on 17 January 2007
If you want to know the dirt about Freddie and his various liaisons then this is the book for you. if you're actually interested in what inspired him to write such marvellous music then you'll be disappointed. The author gives the impression that Freddie was Queen and Queen was Freddie, not so. Freddie was an important and integral part of the band but so were the others, the way that she dismisses John with such disdain is disgraceful, probably because he wouldn't talk to her, well done John. We all know that Freddie had his little peccadillos but I wanted something that would give an insight into his music and personallity not a run down of his sex life. This was a very disappointing read, I didn't even feel any emotion when I read of his death, she just left me cold. Queen's music has been a big part of my life it was always there as I was growing up, I've been a fan for over thirty years, this didn't do anything for me at all.
on 1 October 2007
This book is an entertaining and mostly balanced biography of a great singer and entertainer.
I would describe myself as liking some of Queens material but not all of it. However I have always thought that their performance at Live Aid blew all the other bands off the stage and is one of the best live performances ever.
The book was interesting for me and I would imagine that almost anyone who likes some or all of Queens stuff would enjoy this.
The book seems at times to dwell unduly on the more colourful side of Freddie's life and sexual conquests in particular. The writer comes across as pretty disapproving of this, and at times the tone is a bit like the Daily Mail or some other moralising "voice of reason".
It seems that the wild antics were part of his character and that someone who shunned wild excess would have been unable to go out on stage and produce such over the top yet undeniably breathtaking performances.
This is my only criticism really and in most other ways the book is very balanced.
She interviews almost everyone of importance in Freddie's life and gives them a fair hearing in terms of getting their point across. It seems that Freddie was taken advantage of by a lot of freeloaders, but the author ignores them and gives much more weight to his close friends and (multiple) lovers and the result is an interesting read.
on 9 May 2007
...But, like other reviewers of this book have stated, it does neglect the music.
Having been a hardcore fan of Queen for many many years, I thought I'd read it all. So I was very reluctant to buy this book, fearing it was going to be another arms-length interpritation, rushed released, cash-in book written after Freddie died. Not so, not by a long shot.
I was warmly suprised to find that Lesly-Ann Jones has certainly done her homework. She cuts down rumors and inconsistancies in other well-known Freddie books, even the one's we thought we could trust. She also manages to get exclusive interviews which really do make you feel like you know the great man personally, and she doesn't pull her punches when it comes to his sexual quirks and adventures. And, while painting all these pictures, she also covers the many complicated aspects of his life, without ever loosing thread.
But the one thing that is still lacking from the Queen industry is a book dedicated to Queen and Freddie's music making, which for me would be fasinating, (I loved watching the Making Of One Vision documentary on Queen's Greatest Video Hits II).
There are very rare photographs also in this book which, for a hardcore fan, come as quite refreshing and interesting. We all like a good picture of Freddie striking up a famous pose, but it's old hat as far as books are concerned.
If you want a detailed book on Queen as a band, this isn't it. And to be honest for such a book to cover everything would be so thick it could be used to beat whales to death. Queen: The Early Years is by far the most detailed I've read to date, it goes as far as the Bohemion Rhapsody era. I recommend you check it out.
This book has obvious passion and from the first few chapters I knew I was in for a treat. I'm also thankful that it reads like a report, not an arse-kissing fan letter. The anecdotes finally come from those closest to Freddie and are unforgettable. This was a great read indeed.
on 20 May 2010
I'm naturally a bit cautious about any book that declares itself to be a definitive biography. This book offers an insight into Freddie Mercury's lifestyle, his parties and his complex relations with partners of both genders. It traces his upbringing in Zanzibar and his education in India and the writer has travelled widely to gain a firsthand knowledge of his life. It is an entertaining read about one of rock's most elusive characters, whose extravagant stage performances masked his natural modesty and shyness. Although the writer has had only limited access to some crucial figures in Mercury's life, she paints a sympathetic portrayal of the man himself. Yet some sections of his life receive comparatively little attention. His first years in London are hardly discussed but in my opinion the major shortcoming of this book is the lack of attention given to Mercury's music and his development as a songwriter.
on 10 November 2011
Freddie Mercury was a genius and this book comes as close as any account ever will to describing the man and the way he lived his life, if not to explaining how he achieved his effects. It is a classic of the sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll genre, an exhaustive album-by-album, party-by-party tale of excess and excellence in a golden age of music and mayhem.
Behind the glamour, the key events and relationships that shaped Freddie Mercury are meticulously identified and illustrated. Lesley-Ann Jones' own first hand experiences of covering the band as a young music writer are deftly interspersed with expert third party research, including lots of original interviews. The result is a compelling, informative and - inevitably, given the tragic ending - moving Life. Highly recommended.