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The Irony Behind Bohemian Rhapsody - Op-Ed Piece

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We have an article for you about the irony of a song you have probably heard of.

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“In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s, we do not accept them easily enough.”

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Early literary advice from the editor of a Midwest newspaper shaped his writing but the entire essence of creativity was his. And anyone who worked with him was reminded of that often. The mistake I think that the writing cadre makes about him is that he wrote to afford himself independence to travel and live a life of adventure. Quite the contrary. He lived to write. It was a necessary catharsis that redeemed him, however so briefly. Was he paranoid about being under surveillance ? He was regarded as an ex patriot formerly a resident of Cuba. Given the misadventures of the Intel agencies, I’d say he had good intuition. Also given the leverage that the IRS could bring, he knew railroading when he saw it. As for using his likeness to excess, that isn’t the fault of authors, it’s the gist of saturation marketing. Authors are charged with being original. Why aren’t publishers ?

 

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The Irony Behind Bohemian Rhapsody - Op-Ed Piece


There are sometimes in art when the art itself outlives the artist and has a life all of its own. You don’t need to know the artist, the history of the art, or anything about the art, because that art has grown to be expected knowledge from our society. The art is a cultural milestone, a question on Jeopardy, a way to ingratiate yourself with your fellow peers. We then use this art as a platform for our entertainment and education.


Although fame in entertainment is selfish due to the artist’s focus being solely on their own life and production, we all agree with this endeavor; this extraordinary task of creating timeless art is something worth aspiring for if creating a piece of art. If you write a book, you are to write the book read by all. If you make a song, make the song heard around the world. If you make a painting, make the painting seen by all. The possibility of this ever happening to any piece of art is about as slim as you winning the lottery. You may even have a better chance at winning the lottery since creating the art requires skill, compared to luck with numbers.


Today, we are going to discuss one of those songs that have circumnavigated the globe more than a traveler and will be played as long as there is music to be heard, and that song is Bohemian Rhapsody. If you are like most, you have heard this classic rock song somewhere in your life and have enjoyed it. But I ask, “Do you know what is being told? Did you really listen to the lyrics? Or did you wait for that Figaro part to sing along too?” I suspect that many listeners who enjoy the song don’t necessarily understand the story being a song. Once you learn the story, you will find an ironic sense to it all.

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Before we get to that, let’s talk about the song from a literary perspective or as a story. In terms of story, Bohemian Rhapsody is a very straightforward tale. A guy kills someone and then gets put on trial for the crime. He then is convicted, although the details of his conviction are sparse. Throughout the story, we are told insights into the narrator’s doubt and fear regarding the situation.


I never understood those that see the song as an analogy or metaphor for something. Theoretically, you can see there to be a double meaning since the story involves popular motifs such as death and law, but I am puzzled when many don’t analyze the song as a tale by someone. Many think there is an analogy or more going on with the song because many make the mistake of seeing the narrator and the singer as the same guy. Freddy Mercury wrote the song, but that doesn’t mean he is the narrator. The guy telling the story is un-named in the song. Aside from a few things, we don’t know much about the guy, and upon further review, he is not the hero you or I think he is.


To give you an example of the author being different from the narrator, we only have to look at the classic young adult book, The Catcher In The Rye. The author of the book is J.D. Salinger. He is never found in the book. The narrator is Holden Caufield, the teenage protagonist who we are following. The thoughts of Salinger, the author, are given to Caufield, the narrator, but that doesn’t mean we can say that Salinger thinks and acts the same as Caufield. One is a real person; the other is a literary character only created within a story. We often misattribute the narrator’s words to the author because we can never meet the narrator. When we buy the book, Salinger’s name is on the cover. Freddy Mercury is the guy singing the word, so it is only natural, albeit wrong, for us to think he is the one struggling in the song.


Let’s get back to the unnamed narrator in Bohemian Rhapsody and why he is not the hero in the story.


“Mama, I just killed a man. Put a gun against his head. Pulled the trigger, and now he is dead.” Those words are the beginning of the story for the narrator. The interesting thing about this action is how brutal it is. The guy is not claiming self-defense here. He killed someone in cold blood. If you kill another with a gunshot to the head, then we as an audience are left to think that you are bad in intent since that kind of murder left the victim defenseless. If you were to define someone who committed such an act, you would probably not speak kindly of them since the nature of the action is hard to justify.


Also note who the narrator is talking to, his mother. In other words, we meet the narrator after the major action has already happened (the murder)


The narrator then questions what will happen to him and his life. The strange part of this section is how the narrator is accepting of his fate, almost to the point that he doesn’t fight it. He killed someone and will have to pay for it because he will get caught. It is also intriguing how this connects the narrator’s questioning of his situation to the theme of the whole piece.

It doesn’t matter. That is what the narrator says. He doesn’t feel that bad about blowing a guy’s brains out. In fact, he seems more selfish than anything else, thinking about how this will only affect him. You should know that a nihilistic, indifferent approach to the world is one that many villains share since they find it convenient to say that their malicious, evil acts are small compared to the rest of the world or have little to no meaning towards the big picture. In other words, they say that it doesn’t matter. Because nothing matters, being bad, which is what they are, is justified. Heroes don’t have the luxury of stating that nothing matters because that is exactly why they are the hero. They have a heart and can see that the average person should be helped as much as the powerful. It’s why Batman sits next to a young girl on a swing and why Superman sits with a kid about to jump off a roof. If nothing matters, that means that you and your struggles don’t matter and that the pain and suffering you feel that no one hears is pointless. Heroes see that it is always worth helping someone.


Yeah, so the narrator in Bohemian Rhapsody is more akin to a villain than any hero you would root for. But there is something unique about him, and that is what we mentioned he did when he spoke to his mother about the murder; he regretted it. That’s intriguing. Mercury gave the man who committed a heartless act a heart and doubt, so there is a human inside of the killer after all. The narrator doesn’t show a bad side of who he is at that point in the song. His nervousness about it all makes him relatable despite the murder taking place.


You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the beginning of the song yet, and there is a reason for that since that part of the song is only an introduction with no actual plot advancement. It is a prelude to the actions, not the actions themselves. It introduces you to the mentality of the narrator, which is “No escape from reality.” That reality in which the narrator realizes his wrongful act will get him in trouble. He is caught. The song begins the same way it ends, with the notion that nothing matters, which is incredible to think that a man who kills someone, goes on trial, and then is convicted could learn nothing. I can only imagine the poor guy’s defense. Oh wait… that is a part of the song. The part where he speaks of being a poor boy and the back and forth of letting someone go is a court case. It is the narrator being put on trial and the reactions from the others in the room. His testimony is that he should be given sympathy since he came from a poor family; in other words, he probably has no legal knowledge and is a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. Also, I should note that the narrator doesn’t say his age. He says that he is a boy, so perhaps he wants sympathy because he is underage in the eyes of the law. Kids get lighter sentences than adults.


Notice how the narrator again presents himself as a heartfelt person, and we, as the audience, should be rooting for his victory since we see that he is not as much of a villain as the crime would imply. He doubted the situation with his mom and then told the courtroom that he was only a poor boy. Yet, his crime says that he is the opposite of someone who we should trust because, as I said, the act of murder was one of the coldest it could be. If someone between the ages of 16-22 (I will guess that is the age of the narrator because he still is a boy in this story) killed someone in the manner explained in the story, how much sympathy would you have? I bet some of you would say, “Let the poor kid go. He is only a child.” As another would say, “No. He is bad. He is evil. That was too much. Put him away.” There would be a back and forth for this type of trial, even today. Do you get how the song imitates a courtroom discussion?


The last action in the song, the one in which the narrator talks of being alive, is ambiguous. It seems that the narrator is trying to overcome what is happening. He was, at least, convicted, although we don’t know how long, and he is saying that he won’t be kept down. This is very different from how the narrator spoke to his mom, full of doubt and worries. Now, as he sits in his cell, we are left hearing the words of a man trying to psyche himself up that he will get out. The narrator even says, “Just gotta get out. Just gotta get right out of here.” He needs to get himself out of prison, which is probably the first thing many inmates think as they sit in their cells.

Then the narrator changes his mindset and brings us back to the theme of the whole piece, meaninglessness. The guy concludes that all of what he has been through is pointless. Nothing matters. After killing a man, worrying about it to his mother, being put on trial, and then thrown in jail, the man sees it as a journey that has no meaning.


Note how he doesn’t apologize for his actions as he leaves us. Or how he comes to a new conclusion about all of what occurred. No. The narrator learns nothing and instead is in his cell in his own misery, almost like the real prison sentence is that he has to sit alone with himself for the rest of his life.


That is where we leave the narrator as a broken, beaten man who sees no future and no hope in his life. The story told, without the rock, elements, is very tragic. We are all singing along, enjoying ourselves to a song where the guy involved is not enjoying himself in the slightest.


I will ask you this, “Do you think you are supposed to see yourself in the narrator? Is he supposed to be someone you relate to, or are we expected to go along for the ride?” This is tough for me to answer since many people would never go through the harshness of the crime that the boy committed, yet many of us will say that life is pointless. It is here that I can see there is a metaphorical approach to the song. We all have our own mistakes or murders we commit, and we must pay for them, whether we want to or not. When that day comes, most of us will probably react the same as the boy in the song and doubt all that the world has to offer and life itself.


Now, there is an ironic part to the song, and it is why I wrote this piece. Having an article about a song would be great, but as many of you know, we gotta bring it back to writing somehow. The narrator claims that nothing matters. That is his big theory on the world. If he wrote a book while in jail, the title of it would be Nothing Matters. In the most popular song of all time, the song that many claims is the best song ever, the narrator says that his story doesn’t matter. Did you get the irony there? If the narrator doesn’t matter, then the song wouldn’t be successful, right? And yet, despite the narrator not ever knowing it, the story of his crime and conviction is the basis for one of the greatest songs ever.


He tells of his tale, all the while doubting the very meaning of his life, without ever seeing that the meaning of his life is to be a part of a story that will shape music history.


The song then takes on an Old Testament aspect because the narrator seems to be being used in something larger than himself. In the Old Testament, the prophets were used by God to explain certain situations. Although we know the prophets, the stories are about the messages God wants us to learn more than the prophets themselves. We then quote the books, not because we love the prophets but because of their message.


There are two stories being told. The first is the actual story, which is the one we all read. And the second is how the story itself relates to us and our place in the world. Only God knows the second story. In a weird way, that is what is happening with Bohemian Rhapsody. We all love the first story of a classic rock song, and the second story is about no matter how hopeless something is, there is always a chance that it can help others. If you were to go into the jail cell with the unnamed narrator and tell him everything will be alright, he would probably assume you meant he would get out and be a free man, not help those with his story.


The narrator will never know that his story will be heard by millions and bring those people joy in the form of a song. He will die a lonely man convinced his murder was the worst decision of his life.


If his story really didn’t matter, then why are we all listening to it?

 

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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes the reader shares that passion.

 

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