on 29 October 2010
Queen are of course one of the UK's biggest bands of all time, in fact the world's. During Freddie Mercury's tragically short life, they were never out of the public eye, yet for some reason their essence remains elusive. I think some of this was down to the band's innate unwillingness to reveal much of themselves, and there can't be many bands so famous yet so little understood. This is perhaps why previous books on Queen have failed to satisfy the fans or the general reader.
I think Mark Blake's book is a triumphant attempt to decode the DNA of Queen, as well as telling their story magnificently well. I disagree totally with another reviewer who claimed the book offered nothing new. Even for the most hardened Queen geek, Blake has unearthed a wealth of new material, especially about the band's early days, partly through the first-person testimony of people who've never been interviewed before. He shows how the disparate personalities in the band meshed to create the unique and eclectic musical melange of Queen. He also follows the story of Freddie's remarkable early life in India and Zanzibar, as he gradually transformed himself from Faroukh Bulsara into Freddie Mercury.
For hardened Queen fans these early chapters may prove the most revelatory, though the rest of the story, lucidly and grippingly told, will likely satisfy most readers throughout. Any biography of Queen runs the risk of being overshadowed by the personality of Freddie, but Blake does an admirable job of keeping all four members of the band firmly in the story, and crediting each fully for his contribution. Again, he is able to draw on his own personal interviews with Brian and Roger - more material original to this book.
Freddie is, however, a dominant presence in the book, just as he was in the band. Freddie's story is a one of triumph and tragedy (a Hollywood motif which will no doubt be exploited to the full in the forthcoming biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen), and the part of the book dealing with Freddie's death is poignant and understated. However Blake also introduces an intriguing notion (and again one original to this book) concerning 'who knew when' about Freddie's illness and did they use the knowledge to maximize the band's posthumous record sales? Blake leaves us to draw our own conclusions while giving us the evidence to chew over.
Overall, would I recommend the book? Undoubtedly. Whether you're a hardcore Queen fan, or a more casual fan who likes biographies, this book rocks, and I doubt Queen will ever have a finer biographer. The book also has an excellent plate section containing never-before-seen early photos of the band members.
on 30 March 2011
A huge Queen fan, I realised recently that I don't own a decent biography of the band. Having browsed for reviews, I went for this one, as the feedback was quite positive. I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed. The reviewer who said it was just a straightforward recounting of who did what and when has summed it up best. I can't say it's particularly well-written. Often, you get a feeling the writer was thinking "now where do I put this piece of information about Roger Taylor's love of motor boat racing? Ah, let me just stick it at the end of this sentence, the beginning of which has nothing to do with this information." Somehow, it seems to me that it would have been better to have separate subchapters about the band's work and leisure/personal life, instead of piling it all up together in a sort of a mish-mash. But the worst thing about this book is that it is riddled with misprints and mistakes that are small, but annoying. Like the wrong month of Roger Taylor's birth that was already mentioned in a previous review. The title of the song In the Lap of the Gods becomes In the Lap of the Chords at one point. How on earth did that one happen? The birth year of Brian May's second daughter is also given incorrectly, which would have been not that important, but it actually screws up the timing in the book, as the name of the baby is mentioned in the 1987 Magic Years documentary (year given correctly in the book), but the birth year of the girl is given as 1988, which doesn't make sense for someone who's seen the documentary. Unlike another reviewer, the book did tell me some things I didn't know (although most of the information, despite reading only one book on the band, I have heard in interviews), but because of the mistakes I've noticed I feel reluctant to trust the information that is new to me. Overall, not very satisfying. I will give "As It Began" by Jacky Gunn and Jim Jenkins a try next.
on 30 April 2014
“Freddie Mercury was good at being seen and heard but not known.”
That telling quote from Queen’s first publicist speaks volumes about the late, great Mr Mercury. He is one of the most famous performers that ever lived but we still know very little about him. That’s the challenge that faced Mark Blake or any author trying to get to the root of this enigmatic diva and he gets as close to the man as is humanly possibly now he’s gone. It’s the Queen equivalent of the book Last Train To Memphis about Elvis Presley (a similar hugely influential and enigmatic presence in music history like Mercury) by Peter Guralnick. Bob Dylan said you could feel Elvis breathe on the page in that book and you get that same feeling with Freddie Mercury here.
It does a superb job of reconstructing Freddie’s student days when he was trying to find himself both as a performer and and as a man. He cross-references recollections from people who knew him then to corroborate or, in some cases, contradict each other and it’s fascinating to see how many variations there are as people’s memories fade. Just take Freddie’s acceptance as the new singer of Ibex, one remembers him joining in a meeting in the Kensington Tavern pub while the other two can’t decide if it was at an audition in someone’s basement flat or at Imperial College. Unable to get to the truth, Mark Blake just presents the conflicting stories and lets us make up our own minds about what is true. In the student squat where Freddie was staying, his hippie housemates used to hide their drug stash in with the tea leaves but nobody told Freddie. He makes a cup of tea and they find him half an hour later tripping out as he listens to music.
There are also several tales of Freddie spotting his college friends in the street and shouting their names as he runs after them. We don’t think of Freddie Mercury ever walking in the street like a normal person (Mercury, in mythology, was the messenger of the Gods, after all), we think of him as living a rock star’s life in mansions, limousines, private jets and five-star hotels (it really is unbelievable to see how poor Freddie and the others were before and, due to a bad first record deal, after Queen started having hits. Not only that, there’s a great story of Freddie Mercury giving a broke David Bowie a free pair of boots from the market stall he was working at). It humanises Freddie and is also sad to think that that moment in time is gone forever and so is he.
It is also incredible to read about Freddie being unable to write songs at first and slamming his piano in frustration. This is the man who in just a few short years would be responsible for Bohemian Rhapsody, a regular winner of The Best Song of All-Time polls. We all have to start somewhere. Through sheer force of will, Freddie forces himself to become a great songwriter, a great singer with stage presence and forces his way into the vacant spot in Brian May and Roger Taylor’s group Smile. There is no doubt that when Freddie heard Brian and Roger play in Smile, he could hear the engine of the group that would take him to success.
Freddie’s influence on Queen cannot be underestimated. He named the group, he designed their logo, he made the breakthrough by writing their first Top 10 hit (Seven Seas of Rhye, Brian May wrote Queen’s first ever single Keep Yourself Alive and it flopped badly), he wrote their first number one single (Bohemian Rhapsody) and he even was responsible for the costumes they wore on stage and the lighting that would make them look dynamic. This was in addition to playing piano, doing backing vocals (with their huge stacked harmonies) and co-producing all their records with the rest of the band. That is not to underestimate the other members of Queen who were all highly-intelligent guys, virtuoso musicians and innovative songwriters who could follow the lead of Mercury and write in the style he had established. When Freddie’s songwriting output dwindled in the 80s (and all the tales of cocaine-fuelled lascivious excess are here), it was the others in the band especially Roger Taylor (Radio Ga Ga, A Kind of Magic) and John Deacon (Another One Bites The Dust, I Want To Break Free) that saved Queen from fading away. “I’m nothing without the others,” Freddie said in the 80s when his solo album came out.
In tandem with Freddie’s rise to stardom, his struggle with his sexuality is sensitively handled. You can see Freddie slowly beginning to drift away from heterosexuality, spurning female Queen groupies that break into his room and asking his assistant to tell girlfriend Mary Austin that he might be gay and being rebuffed. When Freddie eventually does tell her the truth himself, it is very moving how they react to one another. It gives the whole book a tragic dimension; Freddie had just become the confident, successful and famous star of his dreams and yet, at the same time, he was unwittingly sowing the seeds of his own destruction by rejecting Mary and setting himself on the path to catching the dreaded AIDS virus that killed him. That scene alone shows a writer in total control of his subject that he can put you right at the heart of a crucial, intimate moment in the life of a man who was ferociously private about everything. Blake has clearly done painstaking research over many years to piece all this together and it is a triumph of investigative reporting. Even though the information to go on is thin, the prose is sparse and only a few lines are given to it, it does the trick of filling in the many blanks in the story.
On the downside, there are dozens of typos in the book and some phrases repeated twice in the same sentence. Proofreading? There are also some minor but niggling factual errors; Queen played Slane Castle in County Meath not Dublin (Brian May made the same mistake at the Slane gig: “It’s good to be back in Dublin!” to which the crowd shouted back “We’re in Meath!”), Rock Hudson died on October 2nd 1985, not October 3rd. It doesn’t stop your enjoyment of the book but it is careless and takes you out of the story occasionally. Perhaps these errors could be corrected in future versions.
The book is good on Queen’s “night of Halloween madness in 1978” in New Orleans, excellent on Queen’s Munich recording sessions for The Game album detailing their working methods, fights and extra-curricular activities. It’s also excellent on the impromptu recording session and massive subsequent power struggle between David Bowie and the Queen camp that resulted in another classic single “Under Pressure.”
After Freddie’s death in the book, you really do miss his humour and big personality in it in the way the remaining members of Queen and his fans around the world did and still do. The book ends with “speculation” that Adam Lambert would take over as Queen’s lead singer, “though nothing has come of it.” And Sacha Baron Cohen being set to play Freddie in a “forthcoming” film. We both know that the opposite has now happened to both those bits of gossip with Lambert fronting Queen on their American tour this summer and Baron Cohen dropping out of the film over creative differences.
With each passing year, the loss of Freddie Mercury seems greater and greater. Here, for the first time, we have the definitive account of his life, extraordinary career and tragic death plus you get the stories of all the other members of Queen too. There really can be only one and it is Freddie Mercury, we were lucky to have had him as long as we did. May he rest in peace.
on 23 October 2010
I have been looking forwards to this book for some time, having been a huge Queen fan since the late 70s and having read most books released about them. However after reading this over the last few days, Queen remain, along with Van Halen, one of the most entertaining bands in search of a good book. There is nothing really new in the book, and is much like a detailed list of events as they happened. I guess part of the problem with Queen is much of the story revolves around Freddie Mercury, who died almost 20 years ago and who was very private off stage and who didnt really give many interviews after Queen became a big group. Also a number of the people close to him have also since died, so digging up new angles on his life is difficult. In addition, the 2 people closest to him in the last few years of his life (Jim Hutton + Peter Freestone) have also published books, neither of them really giving the reader any insight ino Freddie Mercury the person, rather than the entertainer. There are a lot of the stories and quotes in this book which are just cut and pasted from previous books. There are no new interviews with the remaining members of Queen, so no first hand input into the creation of the albums or the tours, which would have added to story. Each album release is covered in a basic way, with little analysis of the individual songs. I guess we will have to wait for Brian, Roger or John (unlikely)to write their autobiographies in order to get the in depth story of the band. So in summary, the book tells you of the events, but not much else.
on 13 February 2011
This is the best book I have ever read about Queen the band and it',s also the best I have read about Freddie Mercury. The writer really brings Freddie to life with stories and information I guarantee you will not read anywhere else. Sometimes there can be too much Freddie but the book does not ignore the others. This gives you the real picture of Queen. Why there music sounded the way it did, how hard they had to fight to become stars and how much they enjoyed it when they got there. There is sadness here as well --- Freddie is so complex and strange and the writer makes sense of why --- how much of his life he had to hide. Also it is shocking to read about how much he was chased by the press when he was dying of AIDS. This subject of the story is dealt with very very well. If you have read the other books on Queen I still recommend this one. It is better written and has lots of new info. If you've never read about Queen or Freddie Mercury, then you are in for a treat!
on 3 October 2011
Very impressive book on what is a much written about band. Mark Blake has made a huge effort to interview so many people with a genuine connection to Queen - and not simply re hashed information from the public domain. A lot of thought and time has clearly gone into this book which is the best biography on Queen by far.
on 22 October 2014
Its style is nice and clear and the author made his homework and contacted some eye witnesses. It's nice to hear, for instance, John Anthony's and John Brough's sides of the story, as people often talk about Roy Baker, David Richards, etc., overlooking others who also played a key role there.
The downside is that some stories are indeed just regurgitated from other sources without verifying them any further. Just because loads of websites, magazine articles and books repeat something, it doesn't make it any more true if the original claim was false to begin with, as in the story of Kenny Everett playing Bo Rhap fourteen times in his radio programme (it was four, no -teen).
Mostly it's very good, though, and it was a worthwhile purchase.
on 1 January 2013
'Warts and all' story of the band and the band members without digging the dirt for the sake of it. The author seeks out the views of band members and various musicians and music industry people who came into contact with the band, frequently pointing out where there are conflicting views of events.
As a fan of Freddie and Queen I've found the book an excellent read and difficult to put down.
on 17 January 2011
Very disappointed in this book. It seems to be a re-hash of many other biographies that have been written. It is littered with mistakes which would have been very easy to research for the correct info, ie, Roger Taylors birth date quoted as 26th JUNE 1949 where true queen fans would know its 26th JULY 1949 but the worst was towards the end of the book where the author stated that Freddie died on Nov 25TH when in fact it was Nov 24TH. Simple but important things. As the book goes on it seems the author started to rush & it ended up cobbled together. As i said to start, very disappointing. Would not recommend this book to any true fan!
on 26 January 2011
OK, so I'm not a great Queen fan, but I wanted to know what made the band tick and this book didn't tell me.
It's a light easy read.
It's a list of who did what when.
It tells us who said what about whom.
But it doesn't get under the skin.
Whose idea was it to throw the lavish parties? Who thought it would be a good idea to have naked waiter/waitresses etc? Why?
Freddies lifestyle was dissolute and ultimately destroyed him - what did the rest of the band do to prevent the disaster occuring? Nothing apparently. Why?
The band was 'clean' in the early days, but Freddie and his entourage took Coke later - how did this affect relations in the band?
I suppose for me, the book describes events, but it does not bring them to life. It feels like a re-hash of old interviews and published fact, rather than an untold story.
Ultimately rather disappointing.