So What Is "Bohemian Rhapsody" Actually About?

So What Is "Bohemian Rhapsody" Actually About?

"Any way the wind bloooowwwss...."
9092
views

From your parents' car, to a night at Applebee's, to malls and to shuffle on iTunes, this song is everywhere, beckoning large groups of people to belt out this tune...and argue/sing the operatic courtroom part with friends and even strangers. It's global and quite intriguing at the same time.

One late night, I was sweeping up some leaves and fallen flowers from our rose sale at Hy-Vee floral. The song starts playing, and generally when I'm sweeping or doing work things, I tend to listen to lyrics much closer than I normally would if it were in the background. I know the words like the back of my hand, but never did I actually think hard about what everything meant, or where it came from. For that reason, I started to wonder and research about the song. The following are my gatherings, including allusions from the song and meanings that can be pulled from it.

General History

According to 'Is this the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Queen' by Mark Blake (2000), the original working title for the 1975 hit was "The Cowboy Song." Explains all the gun wielding and killing a man business, right? Freddie had written the "Mama just killed a man..." line while still back at Ealing Art School in London in 1968. Struggling to compose any music to go along with the lines, he used to sing the lyrics while playing the theme from the Beatles' A Day in the Life on the college piano.

The whole song wasn't ever totally composed until it was recorded. It was recorded in six different recording studios with 180 overdubs on the final recording. The opera bit alone took about 3 weeks to record - which is about as much as most bands take to write a full album. Ultimately, it hit the charts in not only the UK, but America, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland. It also became the UK's third best selling single of all time.

Allusions

Goethe's Faust

Goethe's Faust follows the story of medieval academic and scholar who is met with a devil who offers him good looks, boundless opportunity and the ability to do whatever he wants. Mephistopheles, the devil, wins him over and thus Faust sells his soul to him. Long story short, (literally long, when acted out, it takes about 15 hours. Goethe himself worked on this since he was a teenager. He didn't decide it was done until he was 80 years old) Faust learns the implications of these powers and the pitfalls of life, but eventually takes control. He ends up going to heaven, overcoming the devil and developing a new country with the powers that Mephistopheles gave him. The Faustian Idea is that, in order to fully develop, we must flirt with danger, but hold on to a sense of higher purpose. (If you must know, I know this much about this because I read it in my Major Authors Before the 1800s class at KU. Thank you, Professor Schieberle.)

According to this 2004 BBC Article, a cassette was released in Iran with complete translated lyrics and an explanatory leaflet by the band itself. "It tells Queen fans that Bohemian Rhapsody is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil." Take another look at the Verse #2 and you'll know what I mean.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Unlike Faust, band members have never outright said that this book correlates with the song. Even some rumor that the lyrics are simply nonsensical - famous UK DJ Kenny Everett has quoted Freddie Mercury himself, saying that the lyrics were "random rhyming nonsense." However, the fans have been obsessed with the fact that the lyrics eerily line up with this 1942 French novel.

It tells the story of Meursault, a young man living in Algiers. He receives a telegram that his mother has died. Upon hearing the news, he opens fire and kills a man. The philosophical novel covers the events leading to the murder, his time in prison to the people that beg him to repent for the execution that he will face for his crime. At the end, according to summary,

"Meursault suddenly becomes enraged, grabs the chaplain, and begins shouting at him. He declares that he is correct in believing in a meaningless, purely physical world. For the first time, Meursault truly embraces the idea that human existence holds no greater meaning. He abandons all hope for the future and accepts the “gentle indifference of the world." This acceptance makes Meursault feel happy."

Eerie.

"Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me"

Word Definitions

Bohemian - One may refer to "bohemian" as those sweet braided hairdos and long flowy clothing, but Bohemian either refers to a person actually from Bohemia or a person who has unconventional or informal social habits.

Silhouetto - A singular color image framed by a contrasting color image. The "I see a little silhouetto of a man" bit perhaps refers to a Faust-like devil encounter.

Scaramouche - A rogue clown character - perhaps also an allusion to Mephistopheles.

Fandango - Not just a popular movie website, this is a famous couple's dance that slowly increases in space. It was originated in Spain. Think of the red dress emoji lady.

Bismillah - An Arabic phrase that translates to "In the name of God."

Well?

I don't know about you. But I feel pretty learned right now. Given these allusions and definitions from the song itself, what does one make out of it? Take a look at the song lyrics. Listen, let it manifest in pictures or feelings, and you tell me.

[Intro]
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
A little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, to me

[Verse 1]
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
Mama, ooo
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
Mama, ooo (anyway the wind blows)
I don't want to die
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all

[Verse 2]
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me
Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo Figaro - magnifico

But I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me
He's just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
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 let me go
Never let me go ooo
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

[Verse 3]
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

[Outro]
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters nothing really matters to me

Anyway the wind blows...'

Surviving band members have offered input on what the song is about. In an interview with the BBC, drummer Roger Taylor described it as "fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle." While Brian May, Queen's Guitarist, supports suggestions that the song contained "veiled references to Mercury's own personal traumas."

However, I would most like to leave this article with my favorite take from Mercury himself in an interview with Simon Lupton,

"People still ask me what Bohemian Rhapsody is all about, and I say I don't know. I think it loses its myth and ruins a kind of mystique that people have built up. Rhapsody is one of those songs that has a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then decide for themselves what it means to them."

People have raved about the meaning for some time. Some state it's a wonderful mixed up version of the Kubler-Ross model/five stages of grief. Others will magnify specific instances from Mercury's life and search for the lyrics to animate them somehow. Some note the beautiful way the phrase "Nothing really matters" progresses from a depressive realization to an comfortably sighed phrase. But I find the best way to understand this song better in another way.

So what is "Bohemian Rhapsody" about?

There's most definitely a reason why this song is so popular and effective, and still standing today. It's so oddly relatable to everyone who hears it, whether that's being incredibly attached to screaming "Let him go!" a lot, reflecting on the ballad or meditating on the entire metamorphosis of the song. It is a multifaceted song that resonates with the masses. For this reason, I'm not sure that it would go over well if I had revealed a secret interview where Freddie Mercury says "This song is absolutely about _______" For this reason, I think that this song is kept alive in the way people cherish and grasp it with a sense of wonder, and in the connection with the way that they answer the questions themselves.

As for answering my article's title question - sometimes I think questions just might be better left unanswered.


Cover Image Credit: Queen

Popular Right Now

'Baby, It's Cold Outside' Is NOT About Date Rape, It's A Fight Against Social Norms Of The 1940s

The popular Christmas song shouldn't be considered inappropriate.

15834
views

The classic Christmas song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has recently come under attack. There has been controversy over the song being deemed as inappropriate since it has been suggested that it promotes date rape. Others believe that the song is another common example of our culture's promotion of rape. You may be wondering, where did they get that idea from?

The controversy has led to one radio station, WDOK, taking the song off the air and banning it from their station. Some people believe that this song goes against the #MeToo movement since it promotes rape. However, people are not considering the fact that this traditional Christmas song was made in the 1940s.

People are viewing the song from a modern-day cultural perspective rather than from the perspective of the 1940s. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written in 1944. Many people have viewed the song from the perspective of our cultural and social norms. People believe that the song promotes date rape because of lyrics that suggest that the male singing is trying to stop the female singer from leaving, and the female singer is constantly singing about trying to escape with verses like "I really can't stay" or "I've got to go home."

When you first view the song from the perspective of today's culture, you may jump to the conclusion that the song is part of the date rape culture. And it's very easy to jump to this conclusion, especially when you are viewing only one line from the song. We're used to women being given more freedom. In our society, women can have jobs, marry and be independent. However, what everyone seems to forget is that women did not always have this freedom.

In 1944, one of the social norms was that women had curfews and were not allowed to be in the same house as a man at a later time. It was considered a scandal if a single woman so much as stayed at another man's house, let alone be in the same room together. It's mind-blowing, right? You can imagine that this song was probably considered very provocative for the time period.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is not a song that encourages date rape, but is actually challenging the social norms of society during the time period. When you listen to the song, you notice that at one part of the song, the female states, "At least I can say that I tried," which suggests that she really doesn't want to leave. In fact, most of the song, she is going back and forth the whole time about leaving stating, "I ought to say no…well maybe just a half a drink more," and other phrases.

She doesn't want to leave but doesn't really have a choice due to fear of causing a scandal, which would have consequences with how others will treat her. It was not like today's society where nobody cares how late someone stays at another man's house. Nowadays, we could care less if we heard that our single neighbor stayed over a single man's house after 7. We especially don't try to look through our curtain to check on our neighbor. Well, maybe some of us do. But back then, people did care about where women were and what they were doing.

The female singer also says in the lyrics, "The neighbors might think," and, "There's bound to be talk tomorrow," meaning she's scared of how others might perceive her for staying with him. She even says, "My sister will be suspicious," and, "My brother will be there at the door," again stating that she's worried that her family will find out and she will face repercussions for her actions. Yes, she is a grown woman, but that doesn't mean that she won't be treated negatively by others for going against the social norms of the time period.

Then why did the male singer keep pressuring her in the song? This is again because the song is more about challenging the social norms of the time period. Both the female and male singers in the song are trying to find excuses to stay and not leave.

On top of that, when you watch the video of the scene in which the song was originally viewed, you notice that the genders suddenly switch for another two characters, and now it's a female singer singing the male singer's part and vice versa. You also notice that the whole time, both characters are attracted to one another and trying to find a way to stay over longer.

Yes, I know you're thinking it doesn't matter about the genders. But, the song is again consensual for both couples. The woman, in the beginning, wants to stay but knows what will await if she doesn't leave. The male singer meanwhile is trying to convince her to forget about the rules for the time period and break them.

In addition, the complaint regarding the lyric "What's in this drink?" is misguided. What a lot of people don't understand is that back in 1944, this was a common saying. If you look at the lyrics of the song, you notice that the woman who is singing is trying to blame the alcoholic drink for causing her to want to stay longer instead of leaving early. It has nothing to do with her supposed fear that he may have tried to give her too much to drink in order to date rape her. Rather, she is trying to find something to blame for her wanting to commit a scandal.

As you can see, when you view the song from the cultural perspective of the 1940s, you realize that the song could be said to fight against the social norms of that decade. It is a song that challenges the social constrictions against women during the time period. You could even say that it's an example of women's rights, if you wanted to really start an argument.

Yes, I will admit that there were movies and songs made back in the time period that were part of the culture of date rape. However, this song is not the case. It has a historical context that cannot be viewed from today's perspective.

The #MeToo movement is an important movement that has led to so many changes in our society today. However, this is not the right song to use as an example of the date rape culture.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The 5 Things I Learned Through Having An Amazing Roommate

Lyndsey and I have at least 5 occurrences a day when we say the same thing at the same time, that's the kind of thing you're in for right now.

10
views

Lyndsey and I have at least 5 occurrences a day when we say the same thing at the same time, that's the kind of thing you're in for right now.

1. I AM Able To Live With Another Person... And Successfully!

Giphy

Coming into college as an only child (for the most part, the cats don't count), I was super nervous that I would be intolerable as a roommate and overall just not someone that would live well with another person. That was somewhat true at first. I went random with my roommate and my OG roomie was very problematic. However, after doing a room switch and again getting a random person, I found one of my closest friends and I am forever thankful that my prior roommate didn't know what a trash can was.

2. There Is At Least One Other Person On The Planet That Thinks Like Me

Giphy

I don't know how it is even possible for someone to have the same sense of humor, the same way of expressing ourselves, the same train of thought for making jokes, and knowing the same "underground" Vines.

3. Being Able to Be Comfortable in Your Most Raw State (Right Before Bed) is Liberating

Giphy

One of the first nights that I moved in with Lyndsey, we stayed up past 3 am talking about things from our grandmas to wanting to find religion. The foundation of our soon to be bountiful friendship was laid. Since then we have had many nights of late conversations and have told each other some of our most cringe, darkest moments. And yes, we have gone through our tagged Facebook photos/Instagrams with each other. All 1,005 of Lyndsey's Instagram posts.

4. People Watching Is At Its Best In A Food Related Setting

This might seem like an odd one on this list, however, the sightings and events that have occurred while getting food are the best. Between the regulars that camp out in the dinning hall to the kid that Heely's with such grace it could make a grown man cry. If I didn't have Lyndsey, I would have been nose deep in my phone not paying attention to the mayhem around me.

5. Having A Bond Like This Is Once In A Life Time

Best Friends Love GIF by TV Land - Find & Share on GIPHY Giphy

The Cosmos would implode if anyone tried to set a friendship up like this, they happen by chance and I am forever thankful. The only way this could get better is if our sleep schedules would regulate out! I can't see myself without Lyndsey in my life now and all of the silliness that we have been involved in. Multiple Chili's trips, the friends I have made because of her, and the constant emotional/mental support we give each other. Not to mention the constant stream of jokes/memes.

Related Content

Facebook Comments