At first glance, it might appear that the author is talking about a death. However, the constant theme of “Everybody watching all along” seems to suggest a small-time community gossiping quietly about the unfortunate nature of the incident and “victim” characters (“The sad eyed sisters”) who are under the glare of the small community spotlight. This chimes in with the second verse of Valley Road: “Out in the hall they were talking in a whisper… everybody knew what they were talking about.”
The real craft of these songs is that whilst the broad themes of hypocracy, distrust, gossip and back-stabbing are fairly apparent, the author does not divulge the exact circumstances, location or identity of those involved. On one hand, this is infuriating for the listener. I’ve been listening to The Show Goes On since 1989 and cannot get my head round the precise meanings in the song – which even seems to fade into a love song towards the end! I have fared little better with The Valley Road. However, this is the big strength of both songs. By leaving some details open to question, Bruce’s songs become applicable to society and human nature in general, in whatever part of the world. Thus, Hornsby demonstrates a particular lyrical quality, the musical equivalent of leading short story writers, such as Guy de Maupassant or Kate Roberts.
Oh, yes – I’d forgotten about the music! Valley Road is fairly typical of the early Bruce Hornsby & the Range sound, with the steady 4/4 beat, “bonehead” drum sound and nice piano solo in the middle. However, The Show Goes On is probably one of the most skilfully crafted arrangements on any of Hornsby’s albums, including one of the nicest piano solos in the middle, and the shortest yet sweetest electric guitar solo you’ll ever hear, coming in towards the end of the song.
The Show Goes On
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Band show; soundboard recording
May 14 1996