I discovered my love of Queen music at the age of ten, while listening to a tape in my friend’s bedroom. She played me Bohemian Rhapsody and I was instantly hooked. It was the same year Freddie Mercury died.
Over the proceeding 25 years, Queen’s music has been a huge influence on my life. Sadly, I was never able to see them perform live. I did, however, make repeated pilgrimages to Garden Lodge (Freddie’s London home) to add my own heart-felt tributes to the colourful wall of graffiti left by fans from all over the world.
There is one song in particular which has inspired, lifted and motivated me throughout my life. A song which has never failed to empower; during my darkest hours it is a fail-safe and has never let me down.
The Show Must Go On is the ultimate exhibition of perseverance and courage in the face of adversity. The song is about courage in the face of great adversity. Freddie sings passionately about how, while his heart is breaking and his make-up is flaking, he keeps going forward with a smile. It is simple yet important wisdom.
This rousing piece of music has been my crutch on more occasions than I care to remember. Following grief and loss some people drink, some binge eat, some isolate themselves and some seek therapy. I can admit to doing all of those things and yet nothing fires up my inner strength as much as sitting in a dark room and listening to this epic anthem on full volume.
Released in 1991, just six weeks before Freddie’s untimely death, it was officially written by Queen yet was actually a Brian May masterpiece. Brian later spoke about Freddie’s incredible courage and determination when he was incredibly ill. Freddie insisted on carrying on recording songs and did so with good humour and never a single complaint. It’s obvious this song pays tribute to Freddie’s remarkable strength. Freddie never publicly spoke about his fight against AIDS and so The Show Must Go On gives one of the only insights into his attitude and mindset as he faced the ultimate loss.
And what a mindset. If he could greet death with grit, determination and even the ability to grin then I know I can face anything.
Freddie’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful as the music conveys the feeling of marching steadfastly onward. From the first four irking drumbeats, the listener feels as though an army is carrying them forwards, powering on to face their troubles with grace and courage. The evocative music and profound lyrics combine into a deafening crescendo of inspiration and empowerment dealt out by May’s potent guitar solo and Mercury’s passionate vocals.
However many hundreds of times I’ve listened to The Show Must Go On, my eyes always fill with tears when Freddie hammers out the lyrics, ‘I’ll face it with a grin.’ The hairs on the back of my neck stand up every single time. Even if there are no challenges in your life, as there weren’t in mine when I first heard the song, you can’t help feeling stronger as a result of listening.
It was only when I reached my twenties that the song’s true meaning was revealed to me. I suddenly understood the song’s formidable ability – to empower and encourage when grief, heartbreak and loss became unwelcome companions for too long.
I began to understand the lyrics, how a soul can be painted like a butterfly and fairy-tales never end. Death doesn’t mean the end. This is evident in Freddie’s legacy and Queen’s continual popularity and influence over the last 25 years.
If Freddie Mercury could find such impenetrable courage during his darkest hours, there’s no reason why we can’t all do the same. Whoever and whatever you’re going through- The Show Must Go On.
Indeed, we are all just trying to carry on with our own shows. Freddie’s grace and resolution at the end of his life is something we can all learn from when faced with our unique adversities.
The Show Must Go On. Indeed it will. This song helped me learn how, during the show of life, it’s our performance in the face of adversity that shows us who we truly are and what we’re capable of.
(The Show Must Go On, written by Queen, 1991, from the album Innuendo. Listen to it here.)