Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen By Mark Blake Da Capo Press, 384 pp., $25.
Drawing on other sources, his extensive previous interviews with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, and more than 100 new subjects, Blake (Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd) has written the most comprehensive bio to date about the over-the-top rockers whose work celebrated fat-bottomed girls, bicycles, and the astronomer Galileo.
Not surprisingly, the band member whose most dominates the English group's narrative is the larger-than-life Freddie Mercury. From his youthful days in Zanzibar and England when he was known as Farrokh or Fred Bulsara, to the flamboyant stagecraft of Queen's heyday, to his excessive indulgence in cruising for sex and cocaine, to his final years suffering and ultimately dying from AIDS.
Queen's story really revolves around Mercury, though Blake could have fleshed out the other bandmembers a bit more.
Blake's early chapters shed light on Mercury's early years when the Jimi Hendrix-obsessed teenager sought to disengage from his ethnic past and reinvent himself as a center-of-attention singer at any cost.
When eventually coalescing together with the brainy shredder May, ladies' man Taylor, and quiet bassist John Deacon - why are the bassists always the quiet ones, except for Lemmy? - Queen's discography of wildly varying quality and genres would eventually embrace rock, pop, balladry, metal, scat, and opera.
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Though two members would later tour and record with ex-Bad Company shouter Paul Rodgers, Mercury's 1991 death effectively ended the reign of Queen. However, a long-running London musical, American Idol, and Wayne's World had introduced the music of Queen to new listeners.
Blake's book effectively illuminates the band's story and music for both the casual fan and diehards.