Who is your favourite singer? Do you feel like you know him or her, know the words to all the songs, wait for each new album and video to come out, tell your friends all about this great music? Do other bands fall short, do you argue with your friends and siblings about why your favourite is the best? When new bands and singers come along, do you find yourself measuring them against your favourite?
What happens to all that enthusiasm as you grow older? For the lucky ones among us, it never goes away. Your favourite keeps making new and interesting music. As you grow into an adult, all those songs become links to your past, but they also take on new significance and meaning. Eventually, you look back and see how music has become a part of your life, as important and real as any other long-term relationship. That’s how I feel about the music of The Beatles, which has been with me since my infancy, or about the music of Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Iron Maiden and all those other bands I discovered in my teens.
That’s how Mike Dawson feels about the music of the classic English rock band Queen, and their lead singer Freddie Mercury. In his graphic novel/memoir Freddie & Me: A Coming-Of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, he shows us the day when he heard a Queen song and really liked it. His older brother lends him a cassette of Queen hits. Little Mike finds that the songs on that cassette are all equally good.
He is hooked. He starts learning the words, telling his friends about this great music, waiting for the next music video and album by his new favourite band.
Most of all, he is fascinated by Freddie Mercury. A singer with an amazing vocal range and expression, Mercury was a brilliant songwriter, composer and pianist. With Queen’s guitar wizard Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, also a very good singer and songwriter, and bassist John Deacon (who only ever wrote one song for the band — sorry John, facts are facts!) Mercury created a legacy of albums that range from the earth-shakingly operating (A Day At The Races, A Night At The Opera), the catchy and versatile (The Works, A Kind Of Magic) to their complex, multi-layered swan song Innuendo. Along the way he justified his chosen surname, Mercury, which in the form ‘mercurial’ means ‘changeable’ by adopting a variety of guises, from the harlequin diva of the early years through the moustachioed arena rocker of the ’80s to the frail poet of his final years.
Dawson follows Freddie through all these transformations, loving a lot of the new material, being disappointed by at least one album along the way, but always steadfastly adoring the music of Queen above all other forms of music.
His little sister loves George Michael, but Mike can’t see why, at first. He is especially annoyed when George Michael releases his big hit, Careless Whisper and his sister can’t stop listening to it.
When his family shifts from the UK to America, Mike initially finds it hard to reach out to people who have heard Queen, but with the release of the movie Wayne’s World which includes Queen’s hit song Bohemian Rhapsody (go look for it on Youtube at once if you haven’t heard it already!), his new peer group finally gets in on the act — although he also finds he regrets Queen’s new found surge of popularity in the US a little, as they are no longer something that he has to tell people about.
When Mercury tragically dies of AIDS, Mike is as devastated as if it was the death of someone he knew personally. And yet, Mercury’s music lives on, it keeps popping up in Mike’s life and even allows for a lovely bit of bonding with his mother when they attend the Queen-themed rock opera, We Will Rock You (look it up too!) when Mike is a grown-up.
This is a great memoir, full of the pains and pleasures of growing up, of finding your place in the world and learning what you want to do with your life. It’s also a great meditation on the nature of memory itself — but I’ll leave you to discover the many fascinating things contained in this book on your own!
In the meantime, go listen to your favourite song by your favourite singer, the one you know all the words to. Sing along and make it loud!