With recriminations still abounding from the Red and Yellow forces (and add
in the Army), this book is well timed. Bangkok May 2010, subtitled
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand is just available in Bookazine Big
C Extra. The book was edited by Michael J Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun
and Aekapol Chongvilaivan (ISBN 978-616-215-042-5, Silkworm Books, 2012) and
those three writers have also contributed to some chapters.
To try and ensure a balance between Red
and Yellow preferences, the book is made up of items/articles/blogs from 26
writers, with many from tertiary institutions within and outside of
In Montesano’s Introduction he writes,
“Scholars may treat the ongoing conflict between Red and Yellow as Asia’s
first major violent revolution - whether triumphant or extinguished - of the
young century. They may see it as the sad end to a royal reign that looked
so successful for so long. Or they may determine that it was due to the
greed, cynicism, and evil of Thaksin Shinawatra alone.”
In the third chapter, James Stent
writes, “The tragedy is Thaksin proved to be a false prophet, a venal and
egotistical demagogue who had realized the potential power of the rural
voting masses, but did not use this insight genuinely to reform the nature
of Thai society.”
The concept of the ruling elite (ammat)
versus the poor peasant (phrai) is a wonderfully emotive way to look
at what happened in May 2010, but is far too simplistic, and this is ably
shown throughout the book. Many graphs are printed to attempt to show where
the support groups lay, and it is obvious that “reds” was not a cohesive
slice of the Thai population and many factors smudged the edges, including
the cash hand-outs for the demonstrators from the bottomless piggy bank held
by Thaksin Shinawatra.
Examination of the May 2010 conflict
automatically brings up (or dredges up) the massacre of 1992, and no attempt
to suppress this is done in this book. There are more than passing
similarities, and much of this can be explained by Thai culture/society.
This is dealt with by more than one author of the chapters.
This book was a brave undertaking right
from the outset, as the internal struggles are far more than a democracy
trying to make itself apparent. It is also not a condemnation of what has
gone before the Thaksin years, the patronage system, Bangkok versus Isaan
Thai and other popular concepts such as the lese majeste provisions in the
legal code and the vexed question as to whom is the next to succeed HM King
Bhumibol. The book offers no real definitive answers, but does bring forth
several points to ponder, far more than the surface battle of the colors.
A weighty tome and good value for
anyone with an eye to the future - the future of Thailand itself. The back
cover says it all, “Contributions examine socio-economic, political,
diplomatic, historical, cultural and ideological issues with rare frankness,
clarity and lack of jargon.” The only omission to this book is the fact
that the red sympathizers are now in power, and Thaksin’s younger sister is
to be the definitive biography of the band Queen’s front man Freddie Mercury
by Lesley-Ann Jones, the front cover simply features the man in his typical
stage pose. The back cover has a tribute from Thailand’s own rock authority
Simon Napier-Bell, and it was that which prompted me to pick up the book
from the Bookazine shelves at Big C Extra.
Queen, as performing artists, have fans all over the world and the life of
Freddie Mercury was one which must have been difficult to describe, being
one of surreal excesses, culminating in his early death at only 45 years of
age from AIDS-related illness.
The popularity of Queen goes without question, their Greatest Hits album
being the number one seller in the UK at 5.4 million. Yes, outselling the
Freddie Mercury (ISBN 978-1-444-73369-3, Hodder and Stoughton, 2011, B. 495)
is a complete biography, describing the life of the man of African-Indian
heritage, right from his fairly secret childhood in Zanzibar.
His problems with his family’s religion which banned homosexuality, are
explained with an understanding of what this had meant to Freddie Mercury.
With Zanzibar having outlawed gay relationships, even his birthplace was
being denied him. Author Jones even postulates that much of his lyrics were
Freddie escaping reality, since his childhood memories were being made
The early years of a band called Smile were mirrored by many fledgling
groups, with the band members living in squalor in pokey flats. That anyone
actually made it to stardom was amazing. Only those with immense talent, and
a modicum of luck would make it. Freddie and Queen, of course, did.
Much of the book is a chronicle of the band, with their struggle to attract
a record company, with Freddie as a lead singer posturing on stage in front
of a world that was not quite ready for such campish behavior.
Every band of that era which had obtained any fame can be found between the
pages. Mott The Hoople, Black Sabbath and Motorhead for example.
The long play Bohemian Rhapsody is dissected and the initial reluctance of
radio stations to air this recording apparently had the other members of
Queen very worried, but not Freddie (or not shown by Freddie). Freddie comes
through as always having a very personal side, which was not shown to many
of his confreres.
Comparison is drawn between Freddie Mercury and Elton John, both of whom
were sensitive children who adored their mothers and played piano, both
changed their names, and both gay. (However, this should not be taken as a
way to spot latent homosexuality.)
It is an insight into the man whose talents exceeded his hold on reality. It
is doubtful whether anyone, even someone with a very secure psyche, could
withstand the pressures of stardom such as his. The price to pay for the
adulation of millions is just too high.
I found the book fascinating in its pen portraits of those involved in the
music scene, with the ‘marriage’ of music and managers being highly tenuous
If you enjoyed their music, you will enjoy Freddie Mercury.