The celebrity bio of a one-of-a-kind rock ’n’ roll impresario, equal parts fawning and dreary.
Rock journalist Jones (Naomi: The Rise and Rise of the Girl from Nowhere, 1993) spares no backstage details in her wide-eyed portrait of outrageous Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (1946–1991). Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to a family with both African and Indian roots, he fled his strict Zoroastrian upbringing for swinging London, where he was an art student whose dreams of rock glory would be realized when he met a talented band in need of an over-the-top lead singer. Fully intent on being a legend, Mercury was campy and outrageous from the beginning and soon rich enough to indulge a lifestyle that was as excessive as his vocal style. Due in part to his religious upbringing, he was sexually confused into early adulthood; his longtime female lover, Mary Austin, seems to have figured out his gay orientation well before he did. Although Mercury never officially came out during his lifetime, songwriter Tim Rice fascinatingly suggests that Queen’s signature hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” can be read as Mercury’s own coming-out song: “He’s killed the old Freddy he was trying to be: the former image.” Jones dutifully follows the shaping of Mercury’s persona and the backstage goings-on of the “most debauched party-givers in rock.” Although Mercury often comes across as shallow and irresponsible—he didn’t let the growing threat of AIDS slow down his promiscuity until he was diagnosed in 1987—he was apparently generous and kind. Jones and her many interviewees recall him in numbingly glowing terms.
While devoted fans will likely swallow this hagiography whole, anyone looking for more than just a little silhouetto of a man is likely to be disappointed.