(This is the second part of the previous blog post introducing the music of Queen and its magnum opus Bohemian Rhapsody. Link is here.)
Before we begin here are some precludes to the analysis of this piece of art.
Like many great works of art, this piece is not something that reveals its truest self immediately. It leaves you – the listener, or rather, the consumer of art – dazed and confused. It touches certain parts of you and absolutely slips off others. You want to listen to it over and over again because of the connections it made with you. They make you want to grab its complete meaning. The meanings and inspirations and basically the inner workings of the artist come to you only slowly and you return to it over and over again till that happens.
All language is but a collection of associations or what poets like to call metaphors. Everything, seemingly, has a meaning of its own and also an associated meaning that refers it to something else, bigger or smaller that itself, depending on what the user wants to do with it. This art piece is known as much for its musical splendour as for its literary skills and use of words. some call it ridiculous and others call its genius. But none can ever call it ordinary. There are random sounding words, seemingly irrelevant syllables, inserted between a story that is the song. But going by the rules of associative nature of language and also not underestimating the genius of its creator Freddie Mercury, we will look at their inherent meanings.
And then, having broken down this piece of rather heavy to digest soul food, we will try to consume it in its entirety. Allow it to dissolve itself in our guts and swirl with our minds to nourish our souls and help us summon that shy wild animal that is our soul. So we can have a better look at it, so we can give a better meal to it.
The song begins with a story before digressing into seemingly parallel universes and finally returning back to the story. It is the story of a murder. A death has occured.
Death here is an important motif. In mythology, death is usually associated with a new awakening. Because it is believed that there is not such thing as absolute death but only transformations. Energy travels from one form of manifestation to another. Thus death to one kind of world is but a birth to another, new world.
A young boy is confessing to his mother, that he has killed a man. He has put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud sees the symbol of a gun with a barrel and a trigger to be a metaphor for the male sexual organ. Here is where we quickly remind ourselves that Freddie Mercury was a homosexual man, born in a conservative religious family, but whose spirit was that of a bird. He nourished his wings the with music of rock and roll and dreamt of becoming a legend one day. A legend who can be looked up to and not mocked at (for being a homosexual or anything else at all). There was a transformation that was at the heart of this young boy from a very young age, maybe since he first named himself Freddie from Farokh Bulsara. (Mercury is only the ruling planet of his sun sign, Virgo. He was not a believer of astrology but still used the zodiac symbols of all his team mates to create the logo for Queen.)
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me.
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.
In the next few lines, he speaks about how he is going to leave behind people of the world. It is this world where the death has occured. He is going to leave them behind to realise the truth. He is bidding goodbye to the world that refuses to accept the truth that he has realised and which is giving him strength to leave it for good. It is this truth that is empowering him to oversee the death. The death, it must observed is of a man, by a boy.
A man, who in the society Farokh Bulsara is brought up, is handed down roles to fit into. The worst of which is that a man is not to love another man. Not like you would love a woman, like the eternal love that binds two souls, like the love that is consumed into marriage. Here a man never kisses another man with passion. Not on lips, not anywhere else. Passion is a barred, banned word here.
But what is the truth he is leaving behind for us? Religion says that all kinds of sexual indulgences should be done in the name of propagating the young ones and helping the species survive on this planet. Science supports that indeed sexual partnership occurs only for the reason that new generations can continue coming into this world. Then how do we explain homosexuality and the sexual urge of a man for another man, when we know there is no way for a young one to fruit off of this union? What can possibly be true and natural about such an urge and not be just a disease, an anomaly in the human gene of the individual, as is popularly believed amongst the homophobics?
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.
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.
Let’s try to find out before we move on with the story here.
Recently I watched by the youtuber vsauce – Why We Wear Clothes that spoke about the reason humans wore clothes, that opened my mind to a new possibility of looking at the world. It said that the reason humans are a different species from the rest of those on earth, if not superiors exactly, is intelligence.
What is intelligence? Is it the size of the brain of the species? If yes, then there are so many species born with larger brains. Infact, it is not just the size of the brain but the proportionate size of the brain when compared to the body of the animal. For example, even though the whale has a much larger brain in its body, as compared to the human being, it also has a much larger body to cater to with it. While humans have a much smaller body to cater to, in comparison to the size of the brain that they have. The ratio of the size of human brain to the human body size is the largest, bigger than even the dolphin.
This is possible because even after the human baby comes out of the body of the mother, the brain continues to grow. The child needs nurturing and caring in order to have their brains grow larger. During this process, it is not advisable for the parents to have more young ones. Although there are other species of animals too that require care for the young one long after it is born, humans surpass all of them in the time duration required for its young one to come of age. (Sometimes upto their middle ages as well, which is when they begin taking their own decisions and live autonomously. But that is a whole different story.) Thus, merely sexual activity is not responsible for the successful propagation of the human species on Earth. There are more subtle and important factors in play that give us our intelligence, which is soon proving to be a major factor in our propagation on Earth. And this is why humans cover up their private parts so as to not propagate sexual feelings that may eventually lead to young ones being born before the others are grown up enough. We wear clothes to propagate our intelligence and eventually help the survival of our species on Earth.
It is a particularly popular fact about homosexuals that they do not indulge into sexual activity as much as the heterosexuals do. Which also makes sense because it is not a natural physical tendency in them to do so. However, they do share some of the deepest of bonds with their partners. These bonds are built on attractions that are more subtle than the physical drive of the organs for each other. It is the drive of the softer, more intellectual nerves that brings them together. It is a bond of emotions. And emotions do not root anywhere else but in a sophisticated brain. A brain that is self aware and free to acknowledge its dynamic nature.
So maybe the truth is in the near future, ahead of us, where the homosexual tendency will no longer be considered rooted in a diseased or dysfunctional human brain. Rather it will be recognised as the characteristic of a more refined human brain that is sensitive and self aware. After all we have altered so many truths of the past like racism, sexism, etc. This could be another one where men who dare see a new world will rise to be in a greater number and help us all see with new eyes.
Until then, we have men like Freddie Mercury who feel the truth in their soul and only know how to translate it into their art.
In the next part, the song translates into a mock opera style music. Interestingly, this opera style is nothing but Commedia Dellarte where the famous opera Marriage of Figaro by Mozart is being referred to. This format of the opera was famous for pulling the aristocratic leg of the society at the time. Aristocracy was known for its hypocritical ways where the men in power, abused their power to bend the laws of the society in their favour. Figaro is the character who puts up a fight against a rich landlord, for whom he works. His fight is for his lover Susanna who is also eyed by the Count Almaviva. They are both his servants. But Figaro manages to teach the arrogant and blinded-by-lust owner a lesson in humility and honesty. He manages to marry his lady love and also restores the love in his Count’s life.
What does this have to do with Freddie and Queen you may ask? Well, although it is metaphorically relevant in terms of fighting the established institutional truths that are blinded by power and money, there is another connecting dot. It is the character of Cherubino in the opera. Cherubino is a character in the story of Figaro that has a disputed sexual orientation. But he is not discriminated against by Figaro for his queer gender orientations. In fact, he gains help from this disputed state of his sexual orientation and fools the arrogant master. The opera, Marriage of Figaro, was acted out during the time Queen was working on its masterpiece. It is highly likely they visited the opera. The album was called A Night At The Opera which houses the hit single Bohemian Rhapsody. Too much coincidence?
Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows),
I don’t wanna die,
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.
I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
Coming to the other parallel universe characters.
Fandango is essentially a dance that is danced at the end of the opera, Marriage of Figaro, where Figaro is finally happily married to his lady love Susanna. This is a traditional dance of the couples, also in the traditional sense of a couple being a man and his wife.
Scaramouche is another name for a scapegoat of the society. He is ordered around like a puppet to dance the Fandango in the story. That is he ordered to have a married life, in the traditional sense of it. Which is why a silhouette is asking the boy to dance the mating dance. Along with thunderbolt and lightening – means they are punishing the boy with this order. He is being asked to marry a woman although he has maintained that he is a gay man. He has killed a man, which is the man in himself. He has died to the truth of a man that society defines for him, a man who marries a woman and does the mating dance of Fandango. He has chosen to remain an innocent boy who loves everyone without any gender biases or physical obligations. He loves whosoever he chooses to and not someone the society chooses for him.
That brings us to the most important character reference of Galileo who was a man that stood up against the society blinded by religion and believed in the truth of science. He believed in the power of rational thought and human curioisity to prove the faith of religion as falsehood. He was against the blind acceptance of faith and beliefs in place of radical thought and science. When the world around him said the obvious thing that Earth was at the center of the world and the rest of the Universe including the Sun and the stars, circled around it; he maintained that, in fact, the Earth went around the Sun adn not vice versa. He was punished publically for this was an offence of the established truth, the Church, the authorities who only wanted to suppress the truth for it had the freedom to set the men free. And freedom was not good for authorities, especially not of those being ruled. So Galileo is symbolic of a man standing against the society for a truth he believed in with all his logical and pragmatic thought. He was against the self-proclaimed Men of God.
With time we have come to acknowledge this truth as well. Earth is indeed not the center of the Universe, infact, it is a very very very tiny part of it.
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
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.
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.)
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.
Opera is also symbolic of using the feminine high pitched voices in place of people who are in support of the young boy wanting to break away from the society. Sensitivity, tenderness and sophistication is more often than not associated with the feminine parts of a human being. Hence the women are in favour of the truth that the boy has learnt and wish for him to be let gone. (This is another reason a feminist is often called a defeatist because they believe in letting the culpable go. While the truth is they understand what truth lies even in the apparently culpable hearts. It is a truth that brings a dawn of a new day. She is life and supports this new life even if it means death to the old one.) Death is supported here and thus there has to be a devil involved. It is the character of beezlebub who is an ancient devilish character that propagates death, that sets aside a devil for the young boy’s spirit.
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
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.
And then, it is fuck-this-shit. It is time for the young boy to come out and say it in the face of all those who are against his truth, even if they are his loved ones. Which is why he challenges those who love him and says that he will not be left to die by them. It is reminiscent of the Hero’s Journey as outlined by mythologist Joseph Campbell. Since Freddie was brought up in a strictly religious environment, their is great influence of mythology on his work. A hero, in all mythologies, has to first go against those that are close to him – people of his world – to set out on an adventure. This adventure is the quest for truth. And he must leave, even if, those that love him think they are doing good for him by keeping him tied down. He must still break away and go. Which is what this story ends like. The young boy breaks away and in style.
Enter the Rock and Roll that Queen is famous for. Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here. And he does.
Here is where the song grasps at the heart of all those listening. The power of the electric guitars and the drums are emanicipating and liberating. It is the reason the song was twice on the Top Musical Charts of the world, separated by two decades. This piece has a universal appeal. It is the power of the soul claiming what is its own, what the society and those around him are snatching away from him. It is a summon to all the energy of the world to help him claim his life back, to help him transform for a new world, a world where he belongs, a world he partly discovers and partly, builds for himself. This piece is the reason Queen is not just a rock and roll band but a legend in itself.
Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me.
Anyway the wind blows
I hope you liked this rather longish analysis of Bohemian Rhapsody, the magnum opus of legendary rock band Queen. More musical analyses to come ahead. Do comment below whatever you felt about the piece and propose any more artr pieces that you would like to be analysed.
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