Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody Interpretation

The following is from the book “Rock Commentaries, in the Menu at the top of the site. I’ll blog the section because Fresh Air did an interview, and a new movie has come out, without beginning at a reading of the lyric.

   Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the more difficult, though one of the more interpretable of songs. The band is said to be protective of the secret of the song, to keep us guessing. It is done in five sections, which a note on the internet site Songmeanings.com explains, contains five sections with different modes of music in the same pattern as the five stages of death, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, developed as a theory by Elisabeth Kubla-Ross. If so, the connection between the modes and the meanings might be revealing. The song is, literally, about a murderer or killer in prison awaiting trail and likely execution. The first section…

I.

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 Iv gone and 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 though nothing really matters

II

Too late

My time has come

Send shivers down my spine

Body’s achin’ all the time

goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go

Got to leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama

Any way the wind blows,

I don’t want to die

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all

Nothing really matters to me

“Any way the wind blows” refers to a character criticism of the modern youth, that because we have no principles, we are blown about by whatever happens to us, rather than approaching life with a set plan.

He then sees himself, as the small silhouette of a man on trial:

III. I see a little Silhouetto of a man

Scaramouch, Scaramouch,

Will you do the fandango?

Thunderbolt and lightening

Very very frightening

Galileo, Galileo

Galileo, Figaro Magnifico

I’m just a poor boy…

Nobody loves me

He’s just a poor boy from a poor family

Easy come easy go

Will you let me go?

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me

For me, for me

Let me go

We will not let you go

I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me

He’s just a poor boy from a poor family

Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

The defendant and the advocate plead not that he is innocent, but that he is poor and should be spared from “This Monstrosity.”

Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me

For me, for me.

He may plead the mercy of the court not because he is innocent, but because he will be punished already in the afterlife. A “Scaramoush” is said to be “a disdainful character who appears as a boastful coward.” So, what occurs is that the judging voice appears, to say something like “slave, will you dance!” The poet or protagonist then laments that Beelzebub, the Devil, has a devil set aside for the torment of the guilty after death. Bismillah is said to be an expression that means “in the name of Allah,” and so is an Islamic expression (Bi-smi-Allah).

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye                       [anger]

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 out of here.

Nothing really matters

Anyone can see

Nothing really matters to me.

Here, as it appears, we get into the meaning of the song. The outburst of rock, in the “anger” stage, is anger about being spurned in a bad way by one who once seemed to love him, but now has left him to die. “Get out of here,” a familiar theme, means get out of prison, but this is the non literal or truer level, and so he may be suicidal. Our guess then at the mystery of the song is that his cruel dismissal by one he loves is compared to death sentence, as though he were guilty of murder. All men are said to be guilty of the fall of Adam, and to participate in the sin of Cain, even, as Jesus teaches, when we are angry at our brother. Rejection in love is like a sentence of death for our mortal nature. For this, we are not owed love. As above regarding the thief in Paul Simon’s “Somewhere they Can’t Find Me,” love brings images of crime. Suicide is a crime because it is a murder, and hence our irresponsibility with our own lives is like manslaughter. Is the man he has killed himself?

Any way the wind blows

Nothing really matters to me.

 

   One can see in this song that rock wants to become rock opera. The title of the album is A Night at the Opera, after the Charlie Chan Movie of that name. The song is like a small drama, condensing a story in a snapshot that is like a dream, or daydream, from the anger at the loss of love in a jilting.

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