Queen’s incredible power-ballad, “The Show Must Go On”, radiates the unadulterated strength that bubbles to the surface when one faces a death-sentence in the form of terminal illness. The song itself was released in 1991, just one month before the untimely AIDs-related death of lead singer Freddie Mercury. It opens to a dreary scene as Mercury sings, “Empty spaces, what are we living for / Abandoned places, I guess we know the score / On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?” These first few bars encapsulate the hopelessness and fear that are constant burdens to those with terminal illness. The tone of the song shifts after a chorus of “the show must go on”, and we get our first taste of optimism when we hear, “Inside my heart is breaking / My make-up may be flaking / But my smile still stays on.” This positivity in the face of adversity transforms the struggle of terminal illness into a challenge that sufferers and families can rise to. But the song can be about more than just finding the will to carry on as the body steadily declines. The most empowering moment comes towards the end of the song when Mercury shouts, “I’ll face it with a grin / I’m never giving in / On, with the show.” Look past the battle against Mercury’s AIDs and you can see that this is also about finding the strength to smile and fight and perform to help those that love you see that you will be okay in the end. This is true whether you are approaching the end of life or taking care of someone who is dying.
Mercury’s life was at a close by the time of the song’s release, but the reality of his illness was kept a secret from the public until just 24 hours before the time of his death. Although the song is told from Mercury’s perspective, the lyrics were primarily written by lead guitarist Brian May. The group credit shows how the tragedy—the disease and the turmoil of hiding it from the world—was incredibly hard on all of Mercury’s friends and family. This is the tragic nature of terminal illness. A diagnosis like AIDs turns everyone’s life upside down. It can bring us closer and give us feelings about death that we may never otherwise understand. When a loved one is engaged in a long-term battle for their life, we are right there with them. It is up to us to share their experiences. If life is a show, then it will go on, and we should do everything we can to make it a good one.
Empty spaces, what are we living for Abandoned places, I guess we know the score On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for Another hero, another mindless crime Behind the curtain, in the pantomime Hold the line, does anybody want to take it anymore The show must go on The show must go on, yeah Inside my heart is breaking My make-up may be flaking But my smile still stays on
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