I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Freddie Mercury: A Kind of Magic by Mark Blake


"I don't have any aspirations to live to seventy. I don't want to sound moribid. I've lived a full life, and if I'm dead tomorrow, I don't give a damn. I've done it all, I really have." (1987)
"It would be so boring to be seventy." (1987)
 This coffee table biography book was published in 2016 around the time of Farrokh Bulsara's, or Freddie Mercury as he was known to billions, birthday on September 5, when he would have turned seventy.  It is filled with glorious pictures of Freddie Mercury during his life and the places that he went to and the people that were important in his life.  Also in bold larger than life writing is quotations from Freddie.

The book starts off at the beginning of his life with his birth in Zanzibar and being sent to a British boys school in India called St. Peter's near what is now Mumbai.  He was very shy but showed an aptitude for music and was given piano lessons.  He excelled at drama and art and music but faired not so well at his other school subjects and would eventually be dismissed from the school.  Not long after he is sent home to Zanzibar there is political unrest and his family is forced to flee the country or face death as his father is a government worker for a regime that has just been toppled. Freddie who loves British music convinces them to move to London where he enrolls in Isleworth Polytechnic to study art and hopefully get into Ealing just like Pete Townsend of the Who did. He wanted to be an artist but was obsessed with music.

While he had a four-octave voice it was untrained and wild and when he filled in for the band's lead singer of Wreckage no one paid him any mind. In fact, his friends that saw that performance heard screaming and screeching. But they also saw someone who was outdoing himself trying to put on a show and perform for an audience that was really not paying too much attention.  A performance that people would pay big bucks to see not that far off into the future.

Meanwhile, Brian May and Roger Taylor, the guitarist, and drummer of Queen were in a band together called Smile that was a bit successful.  Freddie used to hang around and do roadie work for them and offer unsolicited advice to them to make their show better.  After two years, the lead singer of Smile would leave and Brian and Roger would see what everyone else had already seen: that Freddie belonged in the band with them.  It would be another year before bassist John Deacon, the final member joined the band that would complete them, though.

Freddie's voice was still rough when they went out to do the gigs they did before they got the record deal. But John Anthony, the record producer who had done Smile's record that went nowhere, saw something in Freddie that he hadn't seen in their old frontman and he liked it and kept his eye on them and when he thought they were ready offered them a bad deal that Queen would take: they would provide Queen with a business manager (a clear conflict of interest), they would have access to a studio (when no one else was using it), they would pay for the album to be produced, and they would be responsible for Queen's publishing and arrangements.  There wasn't anyone else willing to take a risk on them so they took it.

As Brian May would say if you blinked you would have missed it seeing Freddie's voice transform from the screeching singing to the beautiful voice you hear today on your CDs or iPods. Freddie was a perfectionist and with no one more so than at himself.  At each rehearsal, he went full board like it was the take, not a rehearsal take.  Most of the songs from that first album, Queen, released in 1973, were songs that they had written a long time ago and were not where they were now. One single from that album was "Keep Yourself Alive", which I don't believe charted in the top twenty.  The second album Queen II had more success peaking at number five in the UK and the single "Seven Seas of Rhye" peaking at number ten on the UK charts.  It also had the iconic album cover with the four of them against a black background. A US tour supporting Mott the Hoople is planned. Then they come out with "Killer Queen" from the album Sheer Heart Attack and it hit number two as both an album and a single.  In 1974 came the dreaded and mistaken Lynard Skynrd European tour. Whoever thought up that pairing clearly wasn't thinking straight.  It was a disaster.  In 1975 they tour North America as headliners and Japan as Sheer Heart Attack and "Killer Queen" rock America.  They also replace the manager that was forced upon them with John Reid.  Reid got them out of the deal they had made in the first place at a cost.      

Throughout this period Freddie was dating Mary Austin.  They even got engaged once, though he changed his mind about it.  They dated for seven years before he came out to her and told her he was bisexual when she got tired of him lying about where he was.  She told him he wasn't he was gay and to accept it.  They still lived together for a while and acted like they were still dating, but by then Queen had had some success and he got her an apartment of her own whose window looked into his. They remained as close as a married couple to the end of his days.

This book goes into great detail of the making of Queen's defining work "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other songs to the point that you will want to pull out your Queen music wherever you have it stored and listen to the songs all over again with fresh perspective and a new appreciation.  It also gives you a real sense of who Freddie was. He was a shy man in private, while on stage an extrovert.  He hated giving interviews to reporters because of his shyness and often came off as aloof or a jerk for ignoring the press.  He was the glue that held Queen together. When they fought he was the peacemaker who brought them back together.  He had a way about him like telling John Deacon to go away so he could make his song "Another One Bites the Dust" danceable. Or when he was inspired to write "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" in the bathtub he rushed over to the studio and told the guys to hurry and up and get it down before Brian got back and ruined it with his overthinking of the guitar parts in such a simple song.  He was a gay man at a time when it wasn't cool to be gay especially in the rock world in which he lived. He still managed to carry it off in his own way and get away with it.  In the end, he did find someone to love, a hairdresser named Jim Hutton.  He died too young and was too cruelly taken from us.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Freddie-Mercury-Magic-Mark-Blake/dp/1495030113/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1488377353&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Freddie+mercury+a+kind+of+magic



 

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