Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer
ONLY ON THE WEB
Sometimes, it seems as though the building might fall down. Stomp-stomp-clap. Stomp-stomp-clap. Sports fans know how to make noise, but it’s not the cheers that raise the rafters during games, tournaments, and playoffs. No, the stadium shakes at a sound that rattles the roof, supports the team, and is awfully fun to do. Stomp-stomp-clap, and when your team wins, it gets better: there’s the other half of the song to sing.
You know where that tune came from. You might even remember where you first heard it. In Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen by Mark Blake, you’ll learn about the band that brought sports fans that anthem, and more.
If you were going to create a musical group, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more motley crew.
Farrokh Bulsara was born on an island near Zanzibar into a family that was wealthy enough to afford domestic staff. Young Farrokh—usually called Freddie—was a popular boy who loved music and adored Jimi Hendrix, was very self-conscious of his teeth, and had a flair for the dramatic. His friends tolerated Freddie’s eccentricities, figuring them to be “just Fred.”
Brian May didn’t live far from Fred Bulsara once Freddie landed in England, but May later came to realize that they’d been at the same Hendrix concert once. May, who would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics, loved to improvise on guitar, just like Jimi.
Roger Taylor remembers banging on his mother’s pans as a child. He joined May in a band after seeing an advert in a local drum shop. And John Deacon, a relative latecomer, had gone to school to be an electrical engineer as a fallback career, in case his musical career didn’t pan out.
While May, Taylor, and Deacon were playing together and with other musicians, growing their experience and honing their talents, they had one very exacting, particular fan: a roadie named Fred who liked to give them advice after their gigs…
With so much attention to detail, so many little tidbits for fans, and so many memories it evokes, it’s hard to hate a book like Is This the Real Life?
It’s hard to love it, too.
Author Mark Blake doesn’t seem to have missed one single event in the lives of the men who were Queen, or the few women who were peripherally involved with those men. While some of those finer points make this book trivia heaven for Queen fans, much of it plods along: lengthy accounts of concert dates, musicians who came and went throughout the decades, people that the four band members knew as children, and other minutiae that die-hard musicians and rabid followers are mindful of, but that most of us find mind-numbing.
I think, if your iPod is filled with Greatest Hits and you couldn’t look at this book without singing the title, Is This the Real Life? will be a royal treat for you. If you’re not quixotic on Queen, though, just stomp away.
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And if you’ve already located your Queen on vinyl and are searching for a good place to curl up and reminisce, you’ll also want to find Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock by Phil Sutcliffe (Voyageur Press, 2011). Jam-packed with pictures, poster reproductions, and lots more information on the boys in the band, this huge paperback book will thrill rock & roll fans and will show youngsters how rock was really done.
Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen
by Mark Blake
2011, Da Capo (dacapopress.com)
410 pages (includes index), $25
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.