[Analysis] Bohemian Rhapsody — Queen

On Halloween of 1975, rock legend, Queen, released their hit single, Bohemian Rhapsody, and it instantly held the charts as number one for nine weeks upon release, and became the UK’s third best-selling single of all time after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991. Easily considered Queen’s greatest work, and arguably the greatest rock song of all time, Bohemian Rhapsody tells of tale of a young boy’s internal struggle upon killing another man, and his overcoming of this conflict within his mind. This song breaks normal structural conventions, having no chorus, but instead three different arcs; it starts off as a soft piano intro of the boy addressing his mother and telling of the terrible deed he committed; afterward it moves into a operatic descent into insanity as the boy becomes tormented by the devils inside of him; lastly it ends with a heavy rock finish as the boy expels the devils within him and accepts his fate.

The song begins with an eerie questioning of reality:

“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”

This more or less describes being caught between a dream and awakening; as a reference to the murder the boy committed, this is probably just latter of the act and he’s in shock, still not sure whether or not to believe what he had just did. Sadly, it wasn’t a dream, and the boy realizes that he did what he did and he can’t take it back.

“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”

Already the boy knows that he is nothing special and the world is not going to treat him pleasantly after this climax in his life; the world has no reason to go easy on him because he is insignificant and whatever happens won’t change anything to anybody but himself, hence the “easy come, easy go, little high, little low.” He accepts that this is the case and decides that it doesn’t matter what happens, and that he will take whatever may come; “any way the wind blows” him, he will go and it “doesn’t really matter” to him anymore.
Next, the song goes into his addressing of his mother:

“Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead”

These particular lines are pretty self-explanatory, and probably require little analysis except for this: the boy put a gun to a man’s head and then pulled the trigger; this means that during the act, the boy was completely aware of what he was doing and it was no accident. A crime of passion? Maybe, because the subsequent shock over what he did, him questioning if it had actually happened, and his regret over the murder shows that he might have committed it in a fit of emotion and not realized what he had did until afterward. This also brings into question why the young boy had a gun in the first place, but there can be any number of reasons for that.

“Mama, life has just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”

The young boy realizes just how young he was, but this point in his life may signal the beginning of the end as he had “gone and thrown it all away” by committing this crime. A man in his youth is not supposed to realize is age; he is supposed to live life day in and day out and feel as alive as can be; however, this young man just brought upon the end of his childhood, the beginning of manhood, and can no longer live without care, because he now has no idea how long the remainder of his life is anymore after this murder.

“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”

This boy obviously cares a lot about his mother, and he did not mean to disappoint her, deeply regretting what he had just done. Because the song doesn’t suggest otherwise, the last two lines of this stanza can be interpreted as the boy is going to go off by himself, presumably to come to terms with what he did on his own. He basically bids his mother a final farewell in case he never comes back, showing that he’s not sure what he’s going to do next, probably still in the dream-like daze of his initial shock. The “nothing really matters” becomes a motif, and like in the first few stanzas, he wants his mother to accept his fate and go on as if nothing matters; he doesn’t want his mother to feel grieve over him and his inevitable fate.

“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”

“Too late, my time has come / send shivers down my spine” expresses how the boy realizes that there is no turning back now, what is done is done, and it scares him. He finds himself in a deep state of unrest, yet he chooses to not run away, but to “face the truth” and come to terms with what he has done on his own.

“Mama, oooooooh
I don’t want to die
Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”

This boy’s wish is made, probably as a way of saying he wishes he could take back all the hurt and pain he’s caused everybody, specifically his mother. But that now that he is alive, he wishes not to die, because of the pain it will cause himself and those around him. This is logical; nobody really wants to die, even if they do imagine how much better life would be if they were not around at all.
Thus ends this section, and begins the operatic arc, the boy’s descent into insanity. The way this entire section is setup pays homage to old operas (fitting, since the song was featured on the album “Night at the Opera”) and is preformed in such a way similar to that of being mentally tortured by your own thoughts in a spastic, violent manner.

“I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango?”

Scaramouche is a type of clown character used in Italian acts, depicted as a “boastful coward”. In the case of this song, the meaning probably refers the the cowardly part of it. The “little silhouette[o]” expresses the small shadow the boy is casting; shadows are often used to symbolize a person’s true self or ability; this boy’s shadow is small, suggesting that he is a small man, which further supports him being a coward. A “Fandango” is a type of Spanish dance; the usage of this word suggests that the tormentor is mocking the boy, “egging him on” to do a dance for him, further paralleling the clown, Scaramouche.

“Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me”

Storms are often associated with terror; the thunderbolts and lightning further support the terror and inner-torment the boy is experiencing, giving a more vivid image to his conflict.

“(Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o-o”

This line is most definitely referring to Galileo Galilei’s house arrest after his studies in astronomy greatly opposed the opinion of the Catholic Church in the 1600’s.”Figaro” is a noun for someone who handles situations very well under pressure, while at the same time unscrupulous. In this passage of the song, the boy is being compared to Galileo as somebody who condemned, yet he’s handling the torment extremely well, and is being complimented, possibly by his tormentor with the “Magnifico,” or even possibly by a third party supporting the boy; this third party brings about the concept of shoulder angels. On one side is the tormentor, the devil, while on the other side is the supporter, the angel; a classic representation of inner conflict.

“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

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

In first person, the boy is saying that he’s not important, still torn between himself and believing that nothing that happens to him really matters. Meanwhile, the angel is still fighting to bring him to clemency. Once more, between the fighting of good and evil, the boy is still saying that it doesn’t matter with “easy come, easy go.” He continues to say he’s not worth the trouble while asking to be let go from all this torment and torture. However, the fighting between the angel and the devil still continues:

“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 (Will not let you go) (Never, never, never, never)
Let me go, o, o, o, o
No, no, no, no, no, no, no”

“Bismillah” is an Arabic noun that roughly translates to “in the name of God,” meaning that the devil, who does not wish to let the boy go, is acting as a judge and is already sentencing the boy to his fate. The devil and the angel are in a back and forth argument, but then the angel is replaced by the boy as it switches from third to first person. The boy is now fighting for his freedom against the devil, but the argument still appears to be getting nowhere as the devil overcomes the boy with a series of “no”s.

“(Oh mama mia, mama mia) Mama Mia, let me go
Beelzebub has the devil put aside for me, for me, for me!”

The boy no cries out to the devil as if it is his mother. One’s mother can be seen as a judging, authoritative figure that holds the boy down; the young boy is probably in his late adolescence and is ready to break free from his paternal figures and live his life on his own; this decision on his own also symbolizes his decision to be free from the devil (or Beezlebub, one of the seven princes of hell, otherwise known as Satan), and the final chain the torment had on him is now broken.
So between the latter “easy come, easy go line” and the Beezlebub line, the boy has made a transition from puppet to puppet master as he refuses to let the devil take him and takes his life into his own hands. This thus ends the operatic arc of the song, and onto the the heavy rock finish as the young boy becomes a man.

“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”

Both of the first two lines imply being tortured and hurt in some way by an antagonist. The stoning more relates to the bible, and possibly to Jesus, and being ridiculed by the spitting in the eye. Love, however, can be arguably more painful when one is betrayed by a lover and left to die with a bleeding heart. Neither case happened, as the speaker is spitting back in the faces of the tormentor continues to run free from the terror as the song breaks into a guitar solo.
The song slows down to the same pace as the beginning as Mercury descends with a series of “ooh”s, and ends with lines very similar to the beginning:

“Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me”

The boy has come full-circle, but now with the inner strength he gained from surviving his descent into insanity. Now, instead of believing that he doesn’t matter, he believes that where he goes on to next doesn’t matter to him because he now has overcome all his devils and is ready to face the future with no regrets; he is ready to let the future take him where it decides, as the song ends with:

“Any way the wind blows…”

Within this entire song the “Hero” archetype is realized as this young boy gets his own “Hero’s Journey;” he starts off very unsure of himself, innocent to the world, yet is forced onto a path of great torment and despair, yet he comes out a better, stronger man as he breaks away from the chains of terror, a true hero. For this concept to be done into a song so perfectly is just amazing beyond evaluation, and is forever a testament to Queen’s glory and Freddie Mercury’s memory. This song is dubbed “the greatest rock song of all time” for good reason and it will be years, if ever at all, before anybody is able to top this masterpiece, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bibliography:

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 (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 has just begun
But now I’ve 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 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, oooooooh (Anyway the wind blows)
I don’t want to die
Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all

I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me
(Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o-o
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

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 (Will not let you go) (Never, never, never, never)
Let me go, o, o, o, o
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mama mia, mama mia) Mama Mia, let me go
Beelzebub has the devil put aside for me, for me, for me!

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

Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me

Any way the wind blows…

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