Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody

By Mike Dawson
304 pages, black and white
Published by Bloomsbury

I’m always a little envious of people who grew up with a singular, favorite band. It gives you a frame of reference that you get to build memories off of; what you were doing in your life when each album and was released. That’s what I was expecting from Mike Dawson’s Freddie & Me, and while that was certainly part of his autobiographical book, what I also found was in many ways the more interesting aspect of the book.

Mike Dawson and the rest of his family used to live in England, but everything changed when he was 11 years old and they moved to the United States. Mike figured that girls would go crazy about him—after all, he had a British accent and his favorite band was Queen. How cool would he be? But while Queen was hardly a big part of most people’s lives in America, it never stopped being part of Michael’s, able to set all of his memories of his life to the band’s music. Maybe growing up won’t be so bad, so long as his little sister stops listening to Wham!. They could never hold a candle to Queen, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, Freddie & Me is ultimately an autobiography that weaves in and out of Dawson’s love of Queen, and for that alone I really like it. He’s able to narrate his life in a way that keeps it interesting, from interactions with angry neighbors and passive-aggressive grandparents who don’t want the family to move, to falling in love and wanting to start his own band. His stories have a nice sense of humor about them (which if you’ve ever read his comic Gabagool! that he co-created with Chris Radtke, won’t surprise you that a lot of Freddie & Me is funny), and they’ve got a good pace that keeps things moving continually. Some of the funniest moments involve his sister Sarah’s obsession with Wham!, and Dawson’s imagined recreations of George Michael’s life. They’re certainly based on fact, but Dawson fills in all the details himself, and it’s hard not to laugh at them.

The core of the book for me, though, really comes through when Dawson briefly stops his recollections (upon arriving in America) to explain just how memory works for him. He talks about the details that he had to fudge because he’s not entirely sure how things happened, and explains how his memories of an incident (the angry neighbor, for instance) are colored by his own views and aren’t necessarily the entire story. It’s a thoughtful, honest look at not only how Dawson looks back through his own life, but the creation of stories and how he tells them. And once he explains how he attaches significance to certain parts of his life, and how his outlook on some scenes might be different, it puts the rest of Freddie & Me in a more interesting light. It made me stop and think about how other people in the story must have felt, and wonder how they’d have recalled the same events. So much of the book is about the act of remembering, and the final big scene with Michael and his mother wouldn’t have half the punch it would if everything hadn’t lead up to it—both in terms of actual events, and the ruminations on how memory works.

Freddie & Me is also a big love letter to Queen in not only the writing, but the art. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Mike imagines himself climbing up onto the lunch table and singing, “Somebody to Love”. As he does so, he slowly transforms into Freddie Mercury, even while still retaining his own distinct look as Mike. It’s a great visual effect, one that needs no note or narration explaining what’s happening; it’s perfectly executed through Dawson’s art. There are a lot of great little moments in the art that are just dropped in without any huge notice given to them; Mike’s idealized body when he imagines what he’d look like with a Lion Rampant tattoo on his back, for instance, or the different faces he makes for Aliza’s amusement. Best of all, though, I love how Dawson lets the drawings of himself slowly grow into his head; in early pictures, he’s fumbly and gawky with some body parts larger than others, but by the time he enters the near-present-day, everything matches up perfectly.

Freddie & Me is one of those books that can best be described as thoroughly enjoyable. Dawson pulls so much into the book, and has put in such a great deal of thought and care into the composition and flow, that it all comes together perfectly. I freely admit that by the time I was done reading the book I also couldn’t stop humming Queen songs, and ended up writing the review to a Queen-medley playing on my computer. Best of all, I think Freddie Mercury would have appreciated Freddie & Me; I can’t think of a higher compliment to be paid than for someone else to write an autobiography as a love song to your own creative endeavors.

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