Bombastic and larger than life, live rock and roll in the 1980s may have very little in common with management best practices in the workplace. But through the lights, the leather and the loud music, I want to share with you one lesson in working relationships that came to life before my eyes as I watched a classic concert of Queen filmed in 1981 live at the Montreal Forum.
This film captures the band at a peak when commercial success was connecting with the group’s flamboyant and hard rocking roots. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever sung along with Freddie Mercury – ever.
Live Queen shows featured a mix of massive pounding anthems, rollicking fast-paced rockers and periods when Mercury would lead the crowd in a sing-along ballad or in sing-and-respond choruses where Freddie sings out solo and thousands of voices sing it back. These were unique moments when he would show off his one-of-a-kind vocal range and also dare the crowd to sing louder and better than he did (and he seemed genuinely pleased if they did). It was during one of those moments in this particular show where I noticed a beautiful personal gesture by guitarist, Brian May. Upon reflection, I understood it was also a workplace relationship best-practice in action.
May and Mercury were performing “Love of My Life”, an acoustic ballad that featured just the two of them on stage under one spotlight and perched on bar stools. No smoke machine. No light show. No pounding drums and bass. This is the moment in the show where May and Mercury become Brian and Freddie, and work to connect with those who came to see them play live.
Queen’s concerts immediately preceding this Montreal show had been in South America where the audiences, by nature, sing along to your songs with overpowering volume and passion. In Montreal, as Freddie concludes the first verse, the film crew’s microphones clearly pick up the crowd singing along with him, but Freddie obviously didn’t hear it that way – or, perhaps, not as loudly as he’d heard it the past few shows. So he says quietly to his accompanist, Brian, “The don’t know it,” then sends glances sharply up to the rafters and down to the floor, clearly not pleased.
Brian’s response brings out the best in his bandmate.
Brian smiles to himself and, as he picks his 12-string guitar through the next two measures of notes, he looks at his colleague, who is upset and uneasy, and he nods and says to Freddie, “It’s alright.” Then, Brian plays the next chord with power and conviction as he locks eyes with his bandmate as if to say, “We know it, and it’s up to us to bring it to ‘em.” Brian then plays the next few notes to slowly build anticipation for the coming second verse and, as he does, Freddie receives the message. He nods quickly in response, points hard to his bare chest in his famous, “You and me” on-stage gesture, and locks eyes with Brian.
They pause together and connect for a breath.
From that moment on, Freddie Mercury takes on the air of self-confidence that famously transforms his vocal performances into works of art. He nails it! Brian May’s craftsmanship on the guitar continues to carry the song, and his friend, through a memorable performance.
This is the brilliance of Brian, in the moment and all at once, collecting his drifting colleague, reassuring him, and inspiring him that he can deliver.
We all have those moments of doubt. Perhaps they don’t occur under a spotlight in front of 20,000 people as we’re wearing only tight white jeans and no shirt. But we have them.
It’s important to understand, then, that our co-workers have them, too. These are our teammates. If they succeed, we succeed … as a team.
When was the last time you told your co-worker, teammate, colleague, employee or boss that you believe in them and you’re proud to work beside them? When was the last time you saw a hint of doubt in their eyes or their voice and responded with, “It’s alright. We know this. Let’s share what we know with them and make that connection!”
So, get your tiger-skin trousers on and take the stage next to your bandmates and rock the house like Brian and Freddie did!
Author’s note: I was fortunate enough to see Queen perform live on this 1981 tour. In addition to witnessing a historical wonder in rock history, I remember a very human moment. At the apex of Bohemian Rhapsody, where a crescendo of piano chords culminates in a huge pounding sequence of all-band power chords, the band miscounted and each member hit the first chord at different times. Devastating, was my thought of the moment, until Freddie looked back from the piano at his bandmates and laughed. They immediately shared understanding, not blame, that they messed up and now must move on. They kept the moment light, caught the very next beat back in sync, and rocked on. I find it no coincidence that both of these supportive moments came from a team which is famous for its longevity. Rock on!