Somebody to Love, a recent biography of Freddie Mercury, is a fascinating read that wove the history of AIDS into the book. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but having an interest in history and medical history, I was utterly engrossed. Richards and Langthorne manage to create an almost unbroken link between the original AIDS-infested primate in the Congo and Mercury, not to mention the six-degrees game between Mercury and alledged ‘Patient Zero’ Gaetan Dugas (which was more like two degrees), although I suspect said link was more creative than reliable.
The music side of the biography was interesting, looking at Mercury’s life from his upbringing as Farrokh Bulsara and the conservatism of life in India which coloured his attitude towards his sexuality his entire life. Though he had come of age in the swinging sixties, there was still a great deal of homophobia that influenced the way he lived his life, never publicly coming out until he was on his deathbed. It goes into his attempts as a young adult to confirm to heteronormativity, and one girlfriend who became a life-long friend, the platonic relationship lasting far longer than the romantic one did.
Reading about Queen’s formation and rise to fame reads like a Who’s Who of 70’s music, and highlights just how much they contributed to modern music. Richards and Langthorne were quite critical of the way the remaining members – Brian May in particular – have continued to benefit from Queen’s legacy, from the moment of Mercury’s tribute concert that was more about the big-name artists of the day and not those Mercury had actually admired – Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson etc.
While there is a decent chunk of the book dedicated to their music and its effect on the industry, much of it was about Mercury’s personal demons, namely his inability to publicly acknowledge himself as gay, culminating in his outing himself as a gay man and one with AIDS on his deathbed; the day before he died, it turned out. Which brings me back to my original point; this was as much as story about Freddie Mercury as it is about the public face of AIDS and its place in popular culture. Mercury, along with Rock Hudson, was among the first known celebrities to die of the disease. His illness and death helped raise awareness of the disease, although we still have a long way to go. The emphasis on the history of AIDS may not interest some, but I found in intriguing and would recommend this book because of it.