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Is Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody "as Gay as a Daffodil"?

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"Bohemian Rhapsody" is arguably Queen's most famous song, and they have quite a few. "I Want to Break Free", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" which Jessie J sang well at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, but once her performance was over I thought it was mediocre; "no, no-one can equal Freddie Mercury".

But "Bohemian Rhapsody" has some very peculiar lyrics. There are lots of different interpretations as to what they mean, but I have my own theory.

Throughout the course of this post, I will try and prove my point by putting on my analytic head and by using a bit of music theory to try and help you see my interpretation of the song.

There is no doubt it's one of Freddie's masterpieces. In early 2012, British television station ITV carried out a nationwide poll to find 'The Nation's Favourite Number One' over 60 years of music. "Bohemian Rhapsody" came out on top, but did Freddie Mercury 'come out' in the song?

The New York Times said "the song's most distinct feature is the fatalistic lyrics", though Freddie never explicitly said what they were about. It's clear the song has a message, and that Freddie is trying to tell a story because the lyrics fit together. In a BBC Three documentary about the making of "Bohemian Rhapsody", Roger Taylor (Queen's drummer) maintains that the true meaning of the song is "fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle". It's not a list of random sentences in all places, and like most literary works with a message to hide, the author adds in a lot of distractions to make you stop thinking about what has just been said, and start thinking "Where did this come from? Hang on, I'm lost". All Freddie ever said was that the song was about relationships, but he refused to say any more.

Brian May, Queen's guitarist, supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury's personal traumas.
"Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song." - Brian May
From watching live performances (like that of Wembley in 1986) and analysing Freddie as he sings the song, there are segments - on some occasions - where Freddie seems to look just a little bit vulnerable. It's not clear in all videos because he was such an amazing showman he must have been able to cover it up. In the case of Wembley there are certain lyrics he overcooks - holds onto for too long - in comparison to the record version, something singers tend to do unintentionally when a lyric is very personal. Bearing in mind that this performance of the song comes after an hour and a quarter of non-stop singing, playing, and jumping around the stage under all of those beaming spotlights in front of 150,000 fans, Freddie would have been very much "in the zone" at this stage of a concert and it wouldn't surprise me if he had an intimate moment with this song which Brian May says he thinks he put a lot of himself into.

You go Freddie gurl! Work that red dress!
Let me explain my interpretation of the song. Some say Freddie never publicly admitted his bisexuality or homosexuality, we don't really know if he was one or the other because he never really said. However, his personal assistant said on a TV documentary that "there were at least two occasions - in the press - where he admitted to being gay. It's there in black and white, but people haven't picked up on it" (S). I think he did admit it. He's known for having said "I'm as gay as a daffodil, my dear" which makes it pretty plain and clear, but I agree with John Marshall of Gay Times who expressed the following opinion in 1992: "[Mercury] was a 'scene-queen', not afraid to publicly express his gayness but unwilling to analyse or justify his 'lifestyle'... It was as if Freddie Mercury was saying to the world, 'I am what I am. So what?' And that in itself for some was a statement". Homosexuality was legalized in Britain in 1967; Freddie must have spent a lot of his life having to hide or even repress his feelings to the point where perhaps he wasn't comfortable explicitly acknowledging it or showing it in public, even when it was legalized. He must have struggled tremendously with coming to terms with his homosexuality or bisexuality; whatever he was, it doesn't matter. He didn't hide his boyfriends, but at the same time he didn't show off about it.

But that's why, in my opinion, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is about Freddie's struggles accepting his sexuality and dealing with the reactions and effects it had on those around him at the time. Music scholar Sheila Whiteley observes in her book Queering the Popular Pitch (2006), that Mercury reached a turning point in his personal life the year he wrote the song. He had been living with Mary Austin for seven years who he loved very much, but had just embarked on his first gay love affair. She suggests that the song provides an insight into Mercury's emotional state at the time, "living with Mary ('Mamma', as in Mother Mary) and wanting to break away ('Mamma Mia let me go')".

"It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them... "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?" - Freddie Mercury
Freddie certainly did do his research. When the band released a Greatest Hits cassette in Iran, a leaflet in Persian was included with translation and explanations. In the explanation, Queen states that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution, he calls for God in Arabic, "Bismillah", and with the help of angels, regains his soul from Shaitan (the Devil). In pretty much all religions, homosexuality is seen as 'sinful' and 'the work of the Devil'. Even if we were to compare Freddie's gay love affair with the above explanation, it makes sense. Just like Faust kills someone, Freddie kills the bond between himself and Mary Austin and probably feels guilty. In both cases it happens accidentally, or in other words they have no control over what has happened. "Selling his soul to the Devil" could be compared with Freddie's acting on his homosexual feelings if we're going to be religious about it. He obviously had to tell Mary (would have felt similar to Faust the night before his execution), and he prays that Mary won't be upset and leave his life completely (Faust calls for God). Finally, Mary doesn't take it too badly, stays a very close friend of his for the rest of his life, and Freddie gets the man (Faust regains his soul from Shaitan).

Finally, here are some other elements I came across during my research into the lyrics that may or may not be of any significance:

  1. 'Faust' means 'fist' in High German. Freddie is famously known for holding his fist high in the air (Google it). Did he compare himself to Faust? Conspiracy or fact? We'll probably never know.
  2. The dominants (basically the bass notes) of the last three chords of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (excluding the final chord) are F, A, and G. Coincidence? As a gay pianist myself, I have written pieces based on those three chords in that order to hide that message.
  3. Galileo Figaro is a name that appears in the song. In 2002, it was the name of the protagonist of the Queen We Will Rock You musical. The name Galileo could likely be a reference to Galileo Galilei, famous for looking far into the sky with an improved telescope. The surname Figaro may be of reference to the play The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais, in which there is drama around a wedding. Freddie may have been looking to the future and the prospects of a wedding. He was very close to Mary, but we know now that he didn't want to marry a woman. He said he was happiest when he was with a man in his last few years of life. If Mary had suggested a wedding and he refused, it may have been taken badly.
  4. There are lyrics in other Queen songs that you can compare to the process of coming to terms with your sexuality. I Want to Break Free for example; you don't even have to look further than the title, The Great Pretender etc.
With my opinion and research now fresh in your mind, I now suggest you listen carefully to the lyrics of "Bohemian Rhapsody". (Feel free to sing along and headbang).

I have a habit of over analyzing so I hope my findings didn't seem too far-fetched!
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