Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury

~by Lesley-Ann Jones

In 1997, award-winning music journalist Lesley-Ann Jones wrote Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography. In 2011, she updated the biography and published it under the same title in the United Kingdom. It wasn't until 2012 that the biography was released in the United States with the title Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury. When I heard about the updated edition of Mercury's "definitive" biography, I knew that I had to read it. Although Queen is one of my favorite bands of all time, and Freddie Mercury is one of my favorite performers, I actually knew very little about its members beyond their music. I saw the new release of Mercury as an ideal opportunity to learn more about the lives of Freddie Mercury and the rest of the members of Queen. There have been many books, biographies, and memoirs written about the band and its members. Mercury is actually the first one that I have taken the time to read. I was looking forward to its release a great deal.

On September 5, 1946, Farrokh Bulsara was born in Zanzibar to Jer and Bomi Bulsara, Parsees originally from a small town in India. Farrokh was sent to an English-style boarding school in India where he went by the name Freddie. Eventually, Freddie and his family would flee to the United Kingdom to escape the Zanzibar revolution. Involved in music for most of his life, Freddie was destined to become the lead singer for Queen, recognized as one of the greatest bands of the eighties. Together with Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, Freddie, now going by the name Freddie Mercury, would end up taking the world by storm. Living the high life of sex (with both men and women), drugs, and rock and roll, in the end the decadence would catch up with Mercury--he would die on November 24, 1991 from AIDS-related illness at the age of forty-five. A phenomenal and highly charismatic performer, Freddie Mercury's legend live on and inspires others even today.

I really wanted and expected to like Mercury. Unfortunately, more than anything else, the biography frustrated me. Organizationally, the book is a mess. It does include useful end material such as a chronology, discography, select bibliography, and index, but to sit and read Mercury from beginning to end is often confusing. Jones assumes that the reader is already familiar with the details of the lives of Freddie Mercy and the other members of Queen. The individual chapters in the biography are arranged only vaguely by theme and chronology. Jones has a tendency to jump back and forth in time and from subject to subject which makes Mercury difficult to follow logically. In addition to the story being told out of order, the biography is also terribly unfocused. I was interested in reading about Freddie mercury, but most of the book, particularly the first half or so, seemed to be about Queen and the music scene in general. (Granted, Mercury was a very important part of both of these things.) Because of this, I found large portions of Mercury to be tedious and tangential. It wasn't always clear why a particular bit of information was being introduced or how it related to Mercury himself.

"An intimate biography" is a much more accurate subtitle than "the definitive biography." In the course of writing Mercury, Jones spoke with nearly two hundred people who shared their memories and opinions about Freddie Mercury with her: family and relatives, friends from throughout his life, peers and colleagues, intimate partners, other journalists, and various experts. Despite touring with Queen, Jones only includes one personal anecdote of Freddie Mercury of any significance. Although she interviewed many different people while writing the biography, very little of the information collected comes directly from Freddie Mercury himself. Instead, Mercury is made up of the recollections of the people who knew him. Although I haven't read the first incarnation of Jones' biography of Freddie Mercury for comparison, Mercury does include details about his life that have only recently come to light. So, although I was mostly disappointed with Mercury, there is certainly some value to the work.

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