The Songs of Darkness and Light

To celebrate the upcoming re-release of Brian May’s “Back to the Light” (1992/2021) album, I would like to dedicate a few words to each song, reflecting either on a couple of lines from the lyrics, or on a song in general. If you never listened to this album before, please check it out (here and here)!

I. A shadow of a man I used to be – Brian May, ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ [From my Tiny Essays project]

These words, chosen by my friend as a theme for this mini-essay, always strike me, right into my heart. For me, Brian’s lyrics are true poetry, because he has a gift of putting his emotions into beautiful and poetic and yet very exact words. But even among Brian’s saddest songs, this one is special; it is a confession, a warning, a lament that describes the emotional state of a very particular person, and yet, encompasses the whole world, making this cry relatable to anyone who ever endured a loss.

These words have been on my mind for almost a week; I keep on playing them, turning them around, trying to put my own emotions and associations in line with this beautiful line. I think of the realm of shadows, the kingdom of Hades, where only shadows (or shades) dwell; I think of an old belief that our shadow is, in fact, our soul; and I try to put these thoughts together with the song. It is about loss – but not the loss of soul; it is still there, perhaps, the only thing left; and yet, it gives rise to hope that one day the wound will heal, and strength will return to you.

II. “Last Horizon” [From the essay celebrating Dr. May’s birthday in 2020]

What do I see when thinking of the “Last Horizon” solo? I see a powerful magician floating in the air, in space, surrounded by asteroids and planets. I see a man sitting in his living room, consoling us with the fiery sounds of his beloved guitar. I hear grief and hope, loss and gain, and above all, I experience a huge wave of freedom. Because that is what Queen music and Brian’s tunes are about – liberating, breaking free, reaching for another world. Once, while talking about his solo album, Brian said that his dream was to find “another world” that would stop people from suffering, and then leading others there. I think these moments when we witness Dr. May playing his solos – and especially, “Last Horizon” – are giving us glimpses into that blessed realm where everyone is happy and free. And this is probably one of the most important things that I’ve learned from being his fan.

III. Driven By You

With the first chords of “Driven By You” playing in my headphones, I always feel like dancing, singing along, or running happily through the green alleys of our little neighborhood. When I heard “Driven By You” for the first time, I perceived it as a lighthearted and upbeat piece – but then it opened up to my understanding, just like many of Brian’s songs do. And while I see it both as a love confession and a prayer, I think that most importantly, it is a path, a stairway that leads you out of a dark place. We all have to care about our inner children, cherishing those precious and poignant moments when this powerful and overwhelming drive takes us on the mission of finding “a brighter light.” To see it, you have to look harder, to reach it, you have to try your best; just keep walking and working – and one day, your dream might come true.

IV. Back to the Light

It all starts with a heartbeat and a distant call, followed by the burst of lights, voices, and sounds. We see the world from above, from the bird’s eye point of view – the dark silhouettes of trees and buildings, the pale haze of the morning fog, and the approaching dawn. The fiery guitar riffs sparkle like the sunrays that shine on trees in the early hours as the voice leads us through fire and water, until “it all becomes very human,” with the focus shifting to the personal perspective, the redeeming journey of a man from the dark place into a new life. “Back to the Light” speaks to me on so many levels: two years ago, it propelled me into action; today, while savouring a wonderful experience of the online launch of the album, I feel liberated of some of my inner demons, the barriers that caused me a lot of pain; and the golden glow of joy overflows my whole being.

On and on
Searching for a clearer view
Winning and losing an inner war
Wonder what we do it for
Though the road seems never ending
Hold on to the hope I’m sending through

Katya Neklyudova (katya.3d), 2021

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