Let's just bite the big bad truth at the outset: This is a gossipy tattle sheet about Freddy Mercury & by extension, Queen. I was initially quite irked by the author's voice, which is that of a self-loathing hack journalist whose greatest ambition is to gawk at famous people. She boasts of having "worked as a columnist on The Sun, The Daily Mail, The News Of The World and The Sunday Express." I was about to bail on this, when I suddenly realized that I was getting direct access to a personality I've never myself encountered, and although I can't say she's at all attractive, she does channel the British underclass obsessions and anxieties. Armed with this realization, I kicked back into enjoying this guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the book doesn't give a great deal of insight into Freddy Mercury, who remains rather enigmatic. But there's lots of quotes (the audiobook's additional quirk is that multiple actors voice the different persons quoted). There's some interesting info about Queen, e.g., that they're the only band to ever have more than one #1 single written by each of the 4 members (so, there, they're better than the Beatles, and indeed, Ms Jones states that Queen has sold more albums than the Fab 4). I was fascinated to learn that Freddy developed a close relationship with Barbara Valentin, an actress in Germany who'd been in several Fassbinder films. I ended up enjoying this romp, although it's not at all a well written book.
Dave Van Ronk had the absolutely best window on the world that spawned the folk revival in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. His memoir is full of fascinating details (e.g., folk music was originally scheduled in Beat coffee houses to clear the room between sets, so that a new round of coffee drinkers would come in to hear the next poet). I wished this could have been 2X as long.
If you're interested in the Village, in folk music, in NY history (political radicals, musicians, hipsters), this will stand out as a unique record. Never boring, often funny and always well-spoken. Note for Dylan fans (of which I'm one): DVR was one of Dylan's earliest admirers/fellow-travelers. He writes with gentle insight about Dylan, worth hearing, but it's a minor part of the memoir.
The account of the family feud amongst Emily Dickinson's brother & others is fascinating. Who knew that someone in the 1870s could be virtually polyamorous? Austin Dickinson was in a marriage that cooled, due to his fear that his wife Susan would be harmed by any additional pregnancies. Although their marriage was not dead, it was gravely wounded when an astronomer, David Todd, came to Amherst, with his wife Mabel. The marriage between the Todds was decidedly odd. David was a louche, who angled to get other women into bed. He encouraged his wife to pursue a symmetrically open attitude. When she encountered the charismatic Austin, she swooned, and they eventually consummated their "marriage" of true minds. She did continue relations with her weasel husband, David, and he actively encouraged this affair, since it greatly aided his standing within Amherst College, where Austin was the treasurer. There's a sad, and somewhat sordid, quality to this affair, since 3 of the parties were enthusiasts, but the 4th, Susan Dickinson, was greatly aggrieved. While Lyndall's book fascinates in its first half, focused on Emily Dickinson, and her family milieu, the second half is a serious slog. Very few people can be expected to care about the posthumous manipulation of Emily Dickinson's oeuvre with anything like the intensity of attention lavished upon it by the author. It's certainly fascinating the Mrs. Mabel Todd succeeded in controlling a great deal of the manuscripts left by Emily, notwithstanding the apparent fact that Emily never once deigned to speak to her, and could plausibly be viewed as being quite chilly toward this usurper. If the second half had been compressed by a factor of ten, it might have been a great story. But the endless dilations on the manuscript wars can only be of interest to a very small number of scholars. I write this as someone who has a great appetite for academic feuds. The former magazine Lingua Franca could have made hey of this in an incisive 10 to 15,000 word essay, which could have been delicious. But to spend more than 5 times that many words on something so dusty is ultimately a misperception of the audience that could possibly exist for such a work.
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