July 28th, 2017

eyes black and white

Bohemian Rhapsody as the Grief of Coming Out Gay

In this series where I decrypt art for you, here is Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen. Unlike my previous contributions, about Lovecraft and Picasso, I did not figure this one by myself; rather it was clearly suggested by some biography of Freddie Mercury that I once watched. I still think it deserves to be better known.

Freddie Mercury was sexually attracted to men. But his conservative Parsi mom had taught him all his life that homosexuality was of the devil. So, putting aside some transgressive experiences, he had taken a girlfriend. But eventually he started a homosexual affair in earnest, and after a year or two came out to himself, to his girlfriend and to his friends. One day, in the middle of these events, he came excited to his friends and partners of Queen, with this great song that he had been working on for years, even decades (some witnesses told of hearing him dabbling with the "just killed a man" line in the 1960s), that finally had come to fruition, and they spent three weeks recording it, singing it over and over, overdubbing themselves on analog tape tracks that got overwritten many times.

So, what is the meaning of the song? It's about coming out as gay to his mother. "Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead" is about receiving fellatio from a man; no man dies except metaphorically. The "monstruosity" that the character is being damned for, is homosexuality. The song confronts the conflicted emotions of shame and fear of rejection, and goes through the "five stages of grief", from denial ("Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy") to final acceptance ("Nothing really matters to me"), through anger ("Thunderbolt and lightning"), bargaining ("Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?") and depression ("Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me!"). His mother cries ("Mama, ooh, didn't mean to make you cry"), she tries to convince him to abandon his ways ("Just got to out / Just got to get right out of here"), she gets angry ("Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby!"), and though she has only reached the second stage of grief by the end of the song, Freddie already has completed his cycle, and some day so will she complete hers — or maybe not. Probably for the sake of not losing her, Freddie never publicly came out.

So there. The meaning of "Bohemian Rhapsody". It is beautiful because it comes from the deepest of the heart, the greatest emotional conflict that Freddie had had to face, that shook him for decades, and to which he finally found a resolution. Though this conflict was his own, the emotions are universal, for each of everyone's emotional conflict — and they here find their aggrandized operatic expression, in maybe the most beautiful song of all times.