Somebody to Love: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Freddie Mercury
by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
Writing an effective as well as entertaining biography of any subject is a subtle art. Somebody to Love manages not only to chronicle the life and loves of one of rock’s greatest stars with candor and great detail, it is also a compelling read. It puts the life and tragic early death of Freddie Mercury, due to AIDS-related causes, into the context of one of the worst health crises of the twentieth century. Not only does it give a portrait of Mercury’s fascinating life, but it provides a concurrent picture of the epidemiology of a virus that has taken tens of millions senselessly. This is a meticulously researched book detailing the struggles and triumphs of Mercury’s life filled with data and research relevant to the AIDS pandemic.
It’s at one point where facts are put aside for opinion that it strikes a hollow note. The authors come speciously to the defense of the aggressively negligent Reagan administration, who many of us rightly hold responsible for the extent of the epidemic. Within this misinformed viewpoint the book manages to take yet another cheap shot at the father of the modern AIDS movement, Larry Kramer, and backs up its defense with the startlingly anemic numbers devoted to AIDS research during Reagan’s tenure. I can’t help but to think that neither of the book’s authors lived through these years.
This albeit major point aside, Somebody to Love is still an excellent biography with much to offer. Mercury led an incredible life and the authors capture it well. They draw a moving portrait of Mercury’s isolation and loneliness. It was a loneliness exacerbated by his youth in an Indian boarding school, thousands of miles away from his family, and his subsequent isolation as an adult brought about by his secrets. He was forced to hide his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis as an adult and was further isolated by great fame and fortune. His loneliness was the price of that fame. Well documented is the musical genius and star-level talent that brought him those sometimes dubious gifts. It’s the story of one of the world’s truly great rock stars, warts and all.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.