Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lyric Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

By JccKeith

I am not even going to pretend there is anyone out there who has not heard this song and at some point, sang along.  Now granted, most of us only know some of the words or at least only think we know all of the words.  As with all epic songs, we all sing along at some time and then think to ourselves, “I like that song. I’m going to look up the lyrics when I get home.”  And then life intervenes and we forget to do just that.  Then we hear it again and wonder, “What is this song about anyway?”

Let’s get started.  First off, the word Bohemian does not refer to a location rather it references the group of artists and musicians around a century ago who defied conventions and standards of the day.  They lived as they wanted not as society said they should.  The word Rhapsody means a piece of Classical music, usually with a theme, where certain sections are played as one movement.

The problem with this song is that neither Freddie Mercury nor his band mates would ever reveal exactly what this song was about.  In fact, in an interview after Mercury’s death Brian May said, “What is Bohemian Rhapsody about, well I don’t think we’ll ever know and if I knew I probably wouldn’t want to tell you anyway, because I certainly don’t tell people what my songs are about.  I find that it destroys them in a way because the great thing about a great song is that you relate it to your own personal experiences in your own life.”

Well, no offense to Mr. May but many of us want to know.  So where do we go for answers?  As it turns out, the answer begins with Tim Staffell.  Staffell was a college friend of Mercury in the 60’s and a member of the group Smile, the precursor to Queen.  Staffell gives us a little insight into the song by revealing that back then, in the 60s, the song was just a collection of bits and pieces that Freddie referred to as “That cowboy song.”  This is important since the staccato piano part of the Bohemian Rhapsody is the same as the piano music played along to the old silent black and white westerns.

There are several interpretations as to the meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody but one of the most common is that it is about a man who committed murder and is about to be put to death.  This theory goes well with Staffell’s statements about the song being originally referred to as “That cowboy song.” 

**Note** This song is NOT about AIDS.  There are some who think, because Mercury eventually contracted AIDS, that the song is about the disease and its complications/death/etc.  It is not.  I can definitively say this because the song was released on October 31, 1975.  Dr. Robert Gallo did not announce the discovery of AIDS until 1981.

Rights to the song are owned by Queen Music c/o EMI Music Publishing.

Back to the song.  Here we go, let’s break this beast down a few lines at a time:

Is this real life?

Is this fantasy? [Narrator is speaking and pondering how unreal this all seems]

Caught in... landslide

No escape... reality [There is no way out of this situation, no escape from the reality happening]

Open... eyes

Look up to the skies... [The Narrator refers to looking up to see his impending hanging for murder]

I’m just a poor boy... no sympathy [He is a nobody]

... easy come, easy go [Life in general is fleeting and ended easily]

Little high... low [Hanging reference, start out high before then drop low after]

Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter... [A hanged man does not care which way the wind blows]

... just killed a man

... gun against his head

... now he’s dead [Narrator is speaking of committing a murder and seems remorseful]

... life had just begun [Narrator is a young man]

... thrown it all away [Now he will be executed for murder]

... ooo [ooo just sounds really cool]

Didn’t mean... make you cry [He feels bad for committing the murder and making his mother cry over his crime and the fact that he will now be put to death]

If I’m not back... [Not sure if will be caught and hanged today but prepares her for the possibility]

Carry on... nothing really matters [Carry on without me]

Too late... time has come [Narrator is caught at last and set to be hanged]

... shivers down my spine [The thought is frightening]

Body’s aching... [It’s painful]

Goodbye... I’ve got to go

... leave you all behind and face the truth [Says goodbye to family/friends and accepts his fate]

Mama... (any way the wind blows) [Hanging reference and neat sounding phrase]

I don’t want... die [Regrets his fate]

I... wish I’d never been born at all [Feeling sorry for himself and his actions in life, sadness]

... see a little silhouetto of a man [People speaking are referencing a hanged man’s silhouette]

Scaramouch, Scaramouch... do the Fandango [Scaramouch is a boastful coward, as the bad guys in old westerns often were. Fandango is a dance.  Some people say prisoners do a ‘dance’ on their way to the hanging or other form of execution as they try to struggle against their captors and escape as the final realization sets in that their death is coming.  The people speaking are taunting the Narrator, calling him a Scaramouch and asking if he will ‘dance’ on his way to the hanging –a.k.a struggle]

Thunderbolt and lightening – ...very frightening me [Symbolic of increasing action and fear]


... Galileo,

Galileo... magnifico [Could be part of song Mercury said was just rhyming nonsense – although
Galileo was unfairly persecuted by authorities during his time, even threatened with torture at one time but the Narrator has confessed to murder so is not persecuted unfairly – maybe is being taunted unnecessarily as above lines illustrate]

... nobody loves me [He’s a nobody]

... just a poor boy from a poor family [Concurring he is just a nobody]

Spare him his life... this monstrosity [Show him mercy.  Spare him his life from a hanging, considered a monstrous display]

Easy come easy go – ... let me go [Life is fragile - narrator pleads for his life as the hanging draw nearer]

Bismillah! No –... will not let you go – let him go [Bismillah is opening line of Qu’ran and means In the Name of Allah.  This is followed by those desiring narrator’s death arguing with his supporters or at least those who want him shown mercy]

Bismillah! ...will not let you go – let him go

Bismillah! ... 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 [now narrator is pleading with those wishing to put him to death]

Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go [accepting fate again, telling his mother to let him go]

Beelzebub has... devil put aside for me [Beelzebub is another name for the Devil, narrator is saying he is going to Hell]

For me

For me

So you think you can stop me... spit in my eye [Narrator, who is probably a cowboy, is angry at someone for stopping him on his way to the execution and either spitting in his eye literally as a sign of disgust or just condemning him with words]

So you think you can love me... leave me to die [This person was a lover who has abandoned him now in his time of need]

Oh baby – can’t do this... me baby [Angry at lover]

Just gotta get out – just gotta get ... outta here [Referring to dying since now he has nothing left]

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah

Nothing really matters

Anyone can see

Nothing really matters

Nothing really matters to me

Any way ... wind blows… [Life has ended; he has been hanged so nothing matters to him anymore because he is dead]

There you have it folks, mystery solved.  Freddie Mercury was apparently a fan of the old black and white silent westerns.  This connection to a cowboy being hanged for murder would not have been possible without Tim Staffell’s comment on the original bits and pieces of the song.

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