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Mark Blake Shares 'The Untold Story of Queen'

Biography peels back layers of iconic band

May. 1, 2011
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Queen was a popular and prolific music factory, selling more than 300 million albums across the planet. With sales numbers second only to the Beatles, Queen ruled the airways and the concert circuits. According to Mark Blake's Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen (Da Capo Press), Queen's beginnings are found in a handmade guitar built by guitarist Brian May's father from old boards, buttons and scrap wood, much like the Frankenstein monster. May played it for some 40 years.

May, who excelled in school and studied to be an astrophysicist, founded a band named 1984, after the great George Orwell novel; the name was eventually changed to Smile. With drummer Roger Taylor, in school for dentistry, they went through a variety of lead singers and bassists. Around this time, a thin, swarthy art student from Zanzibar named Farrokh Bulsara (who called himself Fred) became friends with May and Taylor and instantly knew he wanted to become a pop star. Having self-learned the piano, Bulsara practiced his singing; although not immediately good, he insisted that he would be the greatest singer rock had ever heard.

Soon, May, Taylor and Bulsara began getting gigs, still relying on bassists for hire (some of them dismissed after one gig). Young bass player John Deacon eventually proved to be the missing link, and the band started to hit on all cylinders. It was, of course, Bulsara who named the band, insisting that the title was regal and noble, with a wink to the Queen Mother of the monarchy. Early in the band's formation, he legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury, after the messenger of the gods.

To say that Queen was an overnight sensation was not quite the truth. The band's career began at small venues, and Queen's first album was slow to catch. But the band aggressively promoted the album on tour, giving them their first real glimpse of stardom. As the author insists, the success of Queen was largely due to the amazing talent of their frontman, who had an uncanny ability to energize crowds with his tremendous range of voice and cagey onstage antics, wooing the fans to his whim.

But Mercury became obsessed with a love of cocaine and sexual relationships. While his new lifestyle did not affect the working relationship of the band, his private life sank into excess. Ultimately, it led to his demise, when he contracted AIDS and died well before his time. The world lost an ultimate showman.

The Untold Story of Queen
includes many revealing passages. Early in his life, Mercury penned the phrase “Mama, just killed a man” in his journal, which would become the genesis of their greatest song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Sadly, the man he killed was himself.


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