June 2008

Beth Harrington

nonfiction

Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson

It is hard to find someone who is not on some level a Queen fan, and it is this very universality that gives Mike Dawson’s Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody its appeal. The memoir, in comic book form, depicts the youth and passage into adulthood of the author framed by his lifelong love of the classic rock quartet Queen. Young Mike hears his first Queen song (“I Want to Break Free”) in 1984 when he is living in his birthplace of England. Somehow, something clicks and it is love at first chord. From there, the memoir takes us across two decades and the Atlantic Ocean as Dawson navigates the usual adolescent tumult in a new home in New Jersey. In the midst of all this change, the only two constants in his life are his love of sketching comic art and a lively Queen soundtrack playing in the background.

However, all is not fun and superficial drama in Dawson’s high school years. After a bit of a jump forward in time, the story picks up with a poignant note on November 23, 1991, the day Freddie Mercury announced that he had AIDS -- a relatively unspoken affliction at the time -- only to die a day later. The author uses this moment to touch upon some of the more sobering themes that his memoir grapples with: namely, the disappearance of time, the erasure and reformation of memories, and the transience of human life. The passing of his idol is Dawson’s first acquaintance with death, made all the more harrowing by Mercury’s superhuman status in his mind.

Freddie and Me suffers from a certain amorphous quality within the plot. Time starts and stops quite a bit and the episodes Dawson chooses to focus on from his life are neither earth-shatteringly stupendous or terrible. Yet this stability is also one of the book’s greatest strengths as it is what renders it so instantly identifiable for readers. In this age, perhaps it is rewarding enough simply to read a tale of adolescence that, while heavy on angst and rock, is not marred by substance abuse, family dysfunction, or some other anomalous trauma. At its heart, Freddie and Me is always highly relatable.

Standout moments in this graphic memoir include a ten year-old Dawson’s hilariously gutsy rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at a holiday camp talent show in which the host keeps trying to cut him off after each verse; his idea to silk-screen a Queen tribute t-shirt in art class -- “it’s going to be so cool to wear around school next week” -- only to wreck the thing by forgetting to iron it before putting it in the wash; and his devotee’s frustration at the resurgence of Queen’s popularity in the aftermath of Wayne’s World. Sweeter and more innocent than Frank Portman’s recent ode to adolescent rock obsession King Dork, Freddie and Me remains likeable from start until conclusion. In surprisingly subtle ways it intimates the author’s growth and transformation. One can only hope that it will catch Brian May’s notice and enable Mike Dawson to realize his hinted at silver medal consolation wish.

Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1596914769
304 pages