In 2018 Bohemian Rhapsody tore up the theatres, telling the story of Freddie Mercury and introducing the music of Queen to a new generation. As a musician, who used to play Queen songs on stage, I was excited for this biopic to come out and it did not disappoint. Rami Malek delivered an Oscar winning performance, the rest of the cast was fabulous, the music was front and centre, and the story of Freddie’s inspirational but difficult journey was told with respect.
Spoiler alert: To write this article I need to talk about the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, and want to, please don’t read any further.
The movie tells the story of Freddie’s journey, both as a person and as an artist. It chronicles, with many liberties taken with the factual timeline, Queen’s rise to fame and Freddie’s remarkable talent as an artist. Along the way it also tells the story of Freddie coming to peace with his true sexual identity, of the things that he lost along the way, and about how he came to accept his AIDS diagnosis. The movie’s climax is the band’s 1985 performance at Live Aid. This performance, often touted as one of the the greatest of all time, can be seen here if you haven’t seen it before:
There is a scene near the end of the movie, set during rehearsals for the Live Aid show, where Freddie tells the band about his AIDS diagnosis. During the conversation Freddie tells the band that he does not want pity, but rather that he wants to use the time that he has left to do what loves the most: make music.
During the Live Aid performance Queen opened with Bohemian Rhapsody, where Freddie sings the following lines:
Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all
You can see Freddie sing those lyrics for real via the link above, from 1:35 – 2:18. It is a poignant and powerful moment, hearing him sing those lyrics while knowing that he had an untreatable life threatening illness.
The movie ends with the Live Aid performance, showing Freddie at the top of his game and doing what he loved. When the film faded out a funny thing happened… nobody moved. It’s like the audience was holding its collective breath, not wanting the experience to end. Then, as the credits rolled to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, a few people got up and danced in the aisles. They danced… in a theatre… during the credits. It was a surreal experience.
There is always a difference between reality and film-making, of course, and the truth is that while Freddie may have been sick in 1985 he didn’t actually know that he had AIDS at that time. The poignant Live Aid scenes described above were brilliant screen writing for sure, but not how it actually happened. By most accounts Freddie wasn’t conclusively diagnosed until 1987, and most likely didn’t tell the band until some time after that. Freddie was an enormously private person after all, who didn’t tell the world about his diagnosis until the day before his death on November 24th, 1991.
What we do know, however, is that Freddie lived his life unapologetically, continuing to be his own man and doing the work that he loved for as long as his mind and body let him. Freddie taught us to be true to ourselves, to always believe in our talents, and to live the life that we want to live without regret. Queen released three more albums after Live Aid, the last just 9 months before Freddie’s death. Fittingly, the final track on Freddie’s last album is the classic song “The Show Must Go On”, written specifically about Freddie’s continuing efforts despite having a terminal illness. It is telling to me that some of Freddie’s last lyrics included the following lines:
“I’ll face it with a grin, I’m never giving in, On with the show”
What is the tie in to photography and life? I’m getting there, I promise…
I have been around a lot of suffering in my life: watching patients pass away during my former career as a paramedic, losing brothers and sisters at work to accidents, illness and suicides, losing members of my family, etc. I have also been sick myself, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is nothing more powerful than being faced with your own mortality. It can be overwhelming, but it can also be incredibly motivating. Years ago, inspired to follow my dreams of working as a full time photographer after a period of being sick, I made several life changing decisions. It wasn’t easy, it required a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I regret nothing. I now lead a wonderful life as a photographer, educator, writer and speaker. It’s pretty damn amazing.
So, I ask you:
Are you prioritizing what you love? It might be something small, perhaps just walking the dog more, learning a bit about macro photography, or perhaps practicing a new instrument. It might be something huge, perhaps a move across the country, writing a book, or changing careers to become a full time photographer. Either way, start working toward your goals. Just start. Go out and find that thing that brings you joy, then do it over and over and over again because you love it. They say that nothing in life worth having comes easily, but pursuing it is always better than living with the regret of never doing it. Freddie taught us that life is a gift, as is being an artist, and we all owe it to ourselves to live our best lives, don’t we?