Dan Nester has invented his own genre, and I don’t know what to call it. He writes about his lonely obsession with the rock band Queen. His entries proceed track by track, album by album, over the years of his fandom. I refuse to call his surprisingly engaging entries “prose poems,” which clumsy categorization is like a stab in the heart of his book. I should mention, quickly, that I didn’t expect to like this book. The premise seemed way too particular. And yet I couldn’t stop reading it. I couldn’t help sticky-noting all the places I laughed out loud (pages 20, 40, 47, 59, 85, 104, 108). I couldn’t help sympathizing with Nester’s plight, so much so that I resolved to go back and listen to old Queen albums. Nester’s book is not really a memoir (although it’s autobiographically inspired, as prose from a devoted fan should be) because the only details you learn about Nester’s life are those that in some way have to do with his love of Queen. Most of these details are painful and/or painfully funny. You can imagine how lonely it is to be an enduring fan of a band like Queen and a front man like Freddie Mercury, but you can only learn the particulars of it from Nester.
“Flashback to ‘Beat It’ at Camden Catholic High School, all the kids dancing together. . . .we’re treated to Jeffrey Osbourne’s ‘Stay With Me Tonight,’ which features the guitar work of one Mr. Brian Harold May [Queen’s guitarist], whose solo I now perform for my nerd posse friends. . . .They are left stunned, and stare down into their soda cups.”
“I trudge home to listen to them alone with headphones, determined to discover the outcome for myself—without the ceaseless distractions of Philistine non-Queen fans. . . .”
“In 1984 I joined the Official International Queen Fan Club, and shortly thereafter called their London office. . . . I was home sick from school, and I wanted to talk to someone—anyone—who actually liked Queen.”
“I told this story last week to an older man at a bar who had actually seen Queen play live in concert. I started asking my usual questions. What songs did they play? Who opened? What was Freddie wearing? I went to buy him a drink. When I got back to my seat, he was gone.”
“I can only mark off to utter asshole foolishness whatever compels my friend Henry and I to don blackface and dress as Public Enemy for a Halloween frat party. . . . And when we run up to a friend’s car to say hello, they don’t recognize us. The tires burned rubber and tear away. . . . That was the first night Flav and I hear it:
Ice, Ice, baby, too cold. Word to your mother, indeed.”
“At the 2002 Official Breakthru North American Queen Fan Club Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, trainees from the neighboring Lockheed Martin conference room steal all of the cranberry juice from our breakfast buffet.”
“I have been primed all my life for a comeback that never came.”
“Jesus Christ. The money I have spent on this fucking band.”
All obsessions are odd. They don’t start out odd. They start out as preferences, as likes. They move into affection. Somehow, over time, the affinity gets lodged in the chest, part of you. Do obsessives even realize they’re obsessing? Nester as the self-conscious writer is painfully aware of his obsession and of the unpopularity of being an obsessive fan of a band that, while secure in its legend, never really became all that popular in America. Queen is simply not cool anywhere except as background music in a sports stadium (“We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust”). Nester tries to conceal his obsession from many of his friends, but he can’t conceal it from himself. His God Save My Queen books are his way of legitimizing his affection, justifying himself and even Queen by the creation of art, these books. And Nester succeeds precisely because he is so ambivalent about his crush. He is idealistic in his affection but realistic about how the wider world regards the object of his affection as a joke. This tragicomedy galvanized the creation of Nester’s unique genre, whatever you care to call it.