The ultimate question. Seeing as Freddie never explained the meaning of this song, I would like to offer my own analysis. No one will ever know the real answer to this question though unless one day a recording surfaces of Freddie explaining it, which is very doubtful.
I have had a theory on the meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody for many years and to me it was obvious, especially as it became public knowledge that Freddie was gay after he passed away.
Here it is:
Let’s start with the title:
Bohemian: a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts.
A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations. Wikipedia
I think this is fairly clear. Freddie was certainly unconventional and as you will see with the remaining interpretation, an unconventional lifestyle is what the song is about. And yes, it is certainly a Rhapsody. I think it qualifies as free flowing and featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality.
Now to the lyrics:
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality”
Freddie is struggling in his life. He’s unsure whether what he’s experiencing is what life is about or whether it’s a fantasy world all of his own. He feels out of control and like he wants to escape, but cannot avoid what is really happening to him and the reality of what his life entails.
“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”
Freddie is saying here that he doesn’t want sympathy and he doesn’t really care what others think. His life isn’t really his own, it’s up and down and he doesn’t have much control over it. When he refers to, “Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me” he is stating that however his environment (friends, family, fans, business, relationships) behaves, it doesn’t matter to him, he is who he is. He’s also stating that he’s not fully in control of his own destiny.
“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”
Here is the crux of the song. Freddie here is referring to realising that he is bisexual (not gay). He has just murdered his old self, the person his parents knew and who has certain expectations placed upon him. Freddie knows he’s going to disappoint his mother and as such the reference to having thrown it all away. He’s thrown away all her hopes and dreams for him.
“Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows)
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”
He is referring here again to the fact that he has disappointed his deeply religious mother. He’s telling her not to worry about who he is and that if the old Farrokh isn’t back home, not to worry and to carry on with her life. I get the idea here that he knows he doesn’t have her approval and his best hope is that she stops worrying about him and just carries on.
“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”
This is where I find the song quite prophetic. Ok, so Freddie may still be referring to his sexuality and to leaving his old life behind, however I can’t help but think of Freddie’s destiny which would befall him years later. His ill health as a result of the HIV virus and how he passed away prematurely.
“Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows)
I don’t wanna die,
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”
Did Freddie actually think in 1975 that he was going to die? No, he is referring to the death of his old self. The line, “I don’t want to die” is indicative of the fact that this is not an easy decision for him and that he actually doesn’t want to be bisexual, but rather feels he has no choice in the matter.
“I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very, very frightening me
Freddie is here referring to his old self as a silhouette and to Scaramouche (a clown character from Italian traditional theatre who often wore a mask and who was a rascal) as being the new Freddie. He’s asking here whether he will proceed into the world of being bisexual (doing the Fandango – a Spanish dance done in triple time – 3 beats to the bar). The relevance of this dance is that it is in a different time signature to traditional music and a little offbeat.
Immediately after the question is asked as to whether Scaramouche will do the Fandango (i.e. whether Freddie will explore his bisexuality), all hell breaks loose (thunderbolts and lightening). Freddie is very frightened at the reaction he will receive when his mother and others react to his choice of lifestyle.
It would be an error to ignore the phrase Galileo Figaro Magnifico. This is a key phrase in the song and is vital to its understanding. The phrase Galileo Figaro Magnifico is translated from latin as, “Magnify the Galilean’s image”.
“Galileo” was the name of Jesus Christ in the ancient Rome. I take this phrase to mean that he feels the only way to escape his horrible predicament is to magnify Jesus Christ and ask for his help.
Galileo is also the Italian physicist and astronomer who made the first functional telescope and was the first to view the sky with one. He was the first person to view the planet Mercury through a telescope! By now I’m sure you are starting to realise that Freddie Mercury’s epic Bohemian Rhapsody is an absolute masterpiece!
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
Freddie here states that he’s not good enough to ask Jesus Christ for help as he’s just a poor boy from a poor family. He’s pleading here to have his life spared from this terrible condition. He is in a predicament between who he feels he is and what he thinks is right/wrong/moral/immoral about who he is according to his religious beliefs.
“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 him go!)
Will not let you go (let him 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”
Here Freddie is really delving into biblical concepts and a terrible struggle is occurring between God, the Devil & Freddie. Bismillah is an Arabic phrase which means, “in the name of God”. Freddie is pleading to be let go to live his life and be who he is. He repeats mama mia and asks her to let him go also. It’s clear he sees his mother as deeply religious and as a representation of traditional beliefs which do not align with his lifestyle choice.
“So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye? (Yeah!)
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”
As the operatic section ends, the mood shifts and the expression here is of anger. The song becomes very heavy and Freddie is referring to someone stoning him and spitting on him. Freddie belonged to the medieval religion, Zoroastrianism which is from Iran. According to Zoroastrianism, conversion from Zoroastrianism to any other religion carried the sentence of death and the chosen method was stoning.
One can hypothesise that becoming bisexual would be akin to changing religions and was certainly against the tenets of Zoroastrianism.
Freddie is stating that he’s leaving the religion and just has to, “get right outta here”.
“Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me”
The song now takes on an apathetic tone in it’s final verse. Freddie doesn’t denigrate his religion and state that he disagrees with it so much as saying that “nothing really matters” to him. He’s basically saying that he doesn’t care.
“Any way the wind blows”
In the final line of the song, Freddie states that he is at the whim of the wind. In other words, he isn’t in control of his own life.
So there it is, that’s what I think. I think this is one of the most tragic and brilliant songs ever written in modern times. Freddie Mercury was indeed a master of his craft and chose this forum to give us his life’s most challenging time.
Lots of love to you all!