Monday, August 6, 2018

Nothing Really Matters

From a treatise on the Catholic Church and the repercussions of Galileo's dispute with Cardinal Bellarmine to the most transparent of all interpretations  a young man pleading to an unsympathetic jury after murdering a man – "Bohemian Rhapsody" may instead simply be the nonsense that Freddie Mercury typically claimed it was. (Though in a more lucid moment Mercury stated, "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?")

The epic radio opera need not be analyzed in such a fashion. On a cursory level, we can instead course the trajectory of the song through its emotional content. At first, for instance, there is Confusion: "Is this the real life?/ Is this just fantasy?" Nonchalance: "Because I'm easy come, easy go,/ Little high, little low,/ Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me." Next comes Cognition: "Mama, just killed a man,/ Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead," and Regret: "Mama, life had just begun,/ But now I've gone and thrown it all away." There is Acceptance: "Too late, my time has come…/ Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth," followed by Fear and Sorrow: "Mama…I don't wanna die,/ I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all." 

All of this leads to a trial or sentencing (whether real or imagined) in which reality is shattered: "I see a little silhouetto of a man,/ Scaramouche, Scaramouche [a character from Punch and Judy], will you do the fandango?/ Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening." There is a Plea: "I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me./" And a choral response: "He's just a poor boy from a poor family,/ Spare him his life from this monstrosity." And finally Judgment: "Bismillah! [The first word of each chapter in the Quran, meaning 'In the name of Allah']/ No, we will not let you go./ [The chorus replying:] Let him go."

From this comes Anger, steps, as if this were the stages of grief: "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." And since getting "right out of here" is not possible, there is final Resignation: "Nothing really matters, Anyone can see,/ Nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me."

Said Brian May, "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."

Indeed there is an interminable amount of ballyhoo over this, the greatest of rock singles and arguable the most iconic rock song of all time (if that is what it is), and meaning is indeed up to the interpreter, yet from an emotional standpoint, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is no mere anthem (leave that for "We Are the Champions"), it is an epic track with an epic emotional content that better than I will contemplate. Will it really matter?

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