Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury

By Lesley-Ann Jones


In her well researched, carefully crafted book Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, British music journalist and author Lesley-Ann Jones shines light on some of the more private moments of late rock singer Freddie Mercury’s life. Mercury examines all of the love, artistry, and life struggles that led Mercury from his early musical achievements to mega-stardom with Queen to his final years which ended in his 1991 death from AIDS-related complications. Fortunately, there’s more to Mercury’s story than his wild ride with Queen and his reputation for flamboyance. Mercury also documents the band’s full career and the era of glam-rock weirdness, replete with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. The tone is matter-of-fact rather than sensational.

Jones spent time on the road with Mercury and Queen over the years, and she conducted more than 100 interviews with the musicians, family, and friends in and around Mercury’s circle while assembling this work. Fortunately, Jones ties the significant periods in Mercury’s life together with fluidity and balance — from his exotic and somewhat secretive childhood to his early rock ‘n’ roll years in London.

Mercury reveals a few new facts about the band, like label woes, mild flair-ups in the recording studios, and periods of falling out. It touches on the fiery but mutually supportive dynamic between the bandmates and their excitable singer. It isn’t the typical rock star’s rags-to-riches tale, but it traces an arc from early frustrations to terrific success, from innocent musical experimentation to excessive and extravagant sessions and tours. The chapters amiably wind through the glitz and glory into darker territory, through the despair to redemption.

Then it backtracks through his childhood in India and Africa (he was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 in the British protectorate of Zanzibar) through his early adulthood as an art student and aspiring professional musician in Middlesex, England.

Mercury was one of the first major rock idols to die from AIDS, and many of his friends and colleagues have never opened up about their experiences and feelings until now. There are a flew flashes of resentment and anger from some testimonials, but many of them are aimed at the confusion and fear surrounding AIDS in the early 1980s than at the singer himself.

Jones carefully handles the issue of sexuality in several chapters about Mercury’s most significant romantic relationships, from an early ’70s romance with model Mary Austin to Mercury’s elbow-rubbing with men in the discos of New York to Munich. While some were dysfunctional, many of Mercury’s long-term boyfriends and girlfriends in the U.K. and U.S. remained close with him for years after the break-ups.

Jones veers away from the storytelling pattern of so many rock biographies, which tend to trace the musicians from their wild youth and their early misadventures and through their rise to the top. While some chapters in Mercury provide new insight into Queen’s career — how they fought, functioned, and persevered — Freddie himself remains the primary figure throughout.