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Anatomy of a Song – Bohemian Rhapsody

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been contributing posts to Rock NYC since July 2013 and write from the perspective of the listener, a concert-goer, enjoyer of music – not a music expert – and have never really thought about the make-up of a song. The more reviews I read the more I want to understand the ‘anatomy of a song’.

Presented the idea to Iman and he gave me Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen – supposedly one of the more complicated songs written. Complicated because of its perceived topic? Probably not, but maybe. A London broadcaster said “it is one of the greatest Rock songs ever written but I still don’t know what the hell he is talking about.” I’ll take a shot at being one of many whom have attempted to determine BoRhap’s intended message. In the end, there is no right or wrong. The beauty of a song is it can mean something different to every listener – and that is what Freddie Mercury wanted.

“It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them… ”Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not? – Freddie Mercury

Title: Bohemian Rhapsody, as best I can decipher, is a socially unconventional piece of music meant to express a lot of emotion. It is off the album A Night at the Opera. The title of the album was taken from the Marx Brothers 1935 American comedy with the same name.

According to Freddie Mercury, it was mainly about relationships. There is no shortage of research or opinions regarding the song’s meaning. Whether the lyrics describe a suicidal murderer haunted by demons and having an epiphany before his execution as depicted In Albert Camus’s The Stranger (and similarly translated in Persian) or Mercury’s way of dealing with personal issues. Those closest to him thought Bohemian Rhapsody marked a turning point in his life.
Intro: (0:00-0:49)
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.

Reality and fantasy are interchangeable. The operative word here is landslide. What is it that is compromising the foundation to make it crumble? Is it a reality that you want to make your fantasy reality?

Open your eyes, Look up to the skies and see,

Once you come to terms with what is weakening you the only way is up.

I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, Because I’m easy come, easy go little high little low, Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

The poor boy is the weak state of mind, uncertainty or feeling of not belonging. No sympathy needed because there is a light at the end of the tunnel (look up to the skies and see – faith). Interestingly enough, Doris Day sang a song called Any Way the Wind Blows … love has its highs, love has its lows (ups, downs, ins, outs … love’s like a circus and you’re on a trapeze) unrelated but curious enough to mention. Overall, I think the sentiment is good days, bad days and regardless how things turn out everything will be okay.

Ballad: (0:49-2:35)
Mama, just killed a man, Put a gun against his head, Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun, But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

Killed what? The ideal? The traditional expectations? Have-it-all, successful career and loving family, an admiring significant other and it’s not enough (thrown it all away).

Mama, ooh. Didn’t mean to make you cry, If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Most humane people don’t want to cause pain but being true to self takes precedence. Move on with your life (carry on).

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.

I’d like to think the shivers down the spine is the sixth sense – knowing the choice being made is the right one. Body’s aching all the time is the opposite. Knowing when something doesn’t feel right. Saying goodbye does not mean the relationships will come to an end, just an end to how it used to be. Accepting one’s authentic self.

Mama, ooh, anyway the wind blows, I don’t wanna die

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all. Guitar Solo: (2:35-3:03)

Sometimes it’s easier to not deal with the truth.

Opera: (3:03-4:07)
I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

I tend to be an incredibly analytical person and my lack of understanding of a subject often leads me to do more research. I may be terribly off on this analysis but it makes the best sense to me.

A little silhuetto of a man – his shadow; Scaramouch is a roguish clown who typically wears a mask or character in a comedy depicted as a boastful coward easily beaten and frightened; will you do a Fandango.

A reason for wearing a mask is to pretend to be someone else. The mask being a kind of language expressing an emotion of the persona one chooses to create. Fandango is a lively Spanish dance by couples (male and female) starting out slowly and gradually increasing in tempo. The Portuguese Fandango typically has two male dancers facing each other (probably an irrelevant difference). “As a result of the extravagant features of the dance, the word fandango is used as a synonym for a quarrel, a big fuss, or a brilliant exploit.” (Wikipedia)

According to Carl Jung the shadow plays a central part in the process of individuation, the development of self. If Scaramouche is a coward then a Fandango is the dance with reality. The courage to be one’s true-self.

Thunderbolt and lightning, Very, very frightening me. (Galileo) Galileo. (Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro, Magnifico.

Thunder and lightning can be expressing the fear of God’s wrath or the perceived punishment for doing something against your religion – in Mercury’s case homosexuality. While some suspected the reference to Galileo was because of a band member’s interest in astrology, I believe it to be more. Mercury indicated BoRhap took a bit of research, so, I approached it in that manner. Galileo was persecuted because his scientific theories contradicted the Bible and he was eventually brought to trial for his (forbidden) scientific publications, prosecuted and put under house arrest. Believe the relationship between the two is the struggle he had with the reality of his sexuality and how it was religiously forbidden.

Figaro was the main character in a series of comedic operas (Barbera of Seville, The Guilty Mother and The Marriage of Figaro). Barber of Seville is one of the world’s most famous comedic operas. Possibly, Mercury is seeing the humor in the situation.

I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

Make it easy for him. Let him live his life.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?

The term easy come, easy go is used to indicate that a relationship or possession acquired without effort may be abandoned or lost casually and without regret – lack of concern how things turn out.

Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!) Will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Never, never let you go, Never let me go, oh. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Bismillah, in Arabic, means in the name of God and represents his struggle (let him go, will not let you go) with his religion (Parsi) as analyzed by many. I’m sure it was not an easy thing to go against a religion he once identified.

Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.) Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

Mama Mia is said to be his mother and/or former lover (girlfriend) and lifelong friend Mary Austin and he is asking for his freedom (and/or forgiveness).

Beezlebub translates into “Lord of the Flies” which was a book written in the 1960s by William Golding. “The central concern of Lord of the Flies is the conflict between two competing impulses that exist within all human beings: the instinct to live by rules, act peacefully, follow moral commands, and value the good of the group against the instinct to gratify one’s immediate desires, act violently to obtain supremacy over others, and enforce one’s will. This conflict might be expressed in a number of ways: civilization vs. savagery, order vs. chaos, reason vs. impulse, law vs. anarchy, or the broader heading of good vs. evil.” (via Sparknotes) Relevant? Maybe.

Beezlebub has a devil put aside for me – does he believe he has sold his soul to the devil for his choices and the devil will get his payback at a later time. In the end, maybe dying of AIDS is considered his ‘devil put aside’.

Hard Rock: (4:07-4:56)
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?

Stone me is a phrase used to imply a person’s surprise at the realization of an event that is unexpected and to spit in someone’s eye is to treat that person with disrespect or contempt. I don’t think Mercury is the one being stoned or disrespected but instead he is referring to those whom matter in his life, maybe his anticipation of their reaction to his news of being a homosexual.

So you think you can love me and leave me to die? Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.

Again, I don’t think Mercury is referring to himself but foreshadowing a conversation with Mary. Love Me or Leave Me is another Doris Day song. Again, it may have nothing at all to do with the song but I find it curious. Doris Day and Rock Hudson were side by side in many movies together and it was common knowledge in Hollywood that Rock Hudson was a homosexual. I don’t think he ever admitted such but according to my research it was the belief of his peers. Do the two songs validate anything or is it just a coincidence?

Outro: (4:56-5:55)
(Oh, oh, yeah, oh yeah)
Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me.

Anyway the wind blows.

1 Comment

  1. Sandy on May 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Hey!! Good job. My opinions about the “meaning” of BoRhap run along the same line yours does. I’ve spent a good deal of time researching the references in the “operatic section” and finding the correlation between them. I, too, am a seeker and tend to find meaning in things which are not intended to be there. You’re a good writer, too.

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