Thunderbolts and Lightning
August 9, 2018 11:41 AM   Subscribe

 
Actually, pretty good. Not sure on all the points but good enough.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:57 AM on August 9


I mean sure, but Under Pressure is right there
posted by knuckle tattoos at 11:58 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


It's too bad he had to take that weird potshot at bisexuals along the way!
posted by ITheCosmos at 12:00 PM on August 9 [10 favorites]


Wouldn't surprise me in the least.

But picking it on your bar's jukebox is and shall remain an admission that you just want to lay down and die.
posted by East14thTaco at 12:14 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


"It's too bad he had to take that weird potshot at bisexuals along the way!"

I read this before the article and was looking for it, but do not see what you mean. The two mentions of bisexuality I saw were when he temporarily claimed to be so for the effect of "easing in" to the news with his parents and another time to cover those who think a person can't be gay because they're married to a woman.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:14 PM on August 9


As someone with a masters in English Lit, I'll say that this is a very good close reading. Makes perfect sense.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:23 PM on August 9


Wait; is this not what everyone else thinks that song's about?
posted by howfar at 12:31 PM on August 9 [9 favorites]


apparently not
posted by philip-random at 12:34 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The potshot at bisexuals that I bristled at was this:
You know Freddie Mercury was gay, or you may insist he was bisexual, because he was married to a woman and no gay man has ever been married to a woman.
To me, it has overtones of "we all know that so-called bisexual men in relationships with women are actually gay and are just not ready or able to admit it." That kind of bi erasure is really common among gay men.
posted by treepour at 12:37 PM on August 9 [25 favorites]


Oh for fucks sake! Freddie was a bi Icon! That's just plain erasure right there...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:39 PM on August 9 [17 favorites]


Yup, treepour, that's the one I meant too. Definitely a very common and deeply unnecessary sentiment.
posted by ITheCosmos at 12:42 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Agreed on the bisexual problem. Also, I disagree with the idea that he's calling his mother "baby." The lines there are:

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

That sounds more like he's addressing a hook-up in line 2, and homophobes maybe in the first line—and these may be the same person. There's a whole complicated history of gay men hooking up with guys who think of themselves as straight and who might reinforce that self-perception by committing violence against the guy who just sucked their dick.

Just because he was talking in the second person to "mama" in one spot in this long song, divided into multiple sections, doesn't mean he's always talking to "mama" when he uses the second person.
posted by Orlop at 12:46 PM on August 9 [12 favorites]


While I think that by far the most coherent reading of the lyric is that it's about coming to terms with one's sexuality and coming out, I do think it's kind of a shame that the reading in the FPP tends to reduce everything to allegory. Things can be about experiences without being coded descriptions of the literal events.
posted by howfar at 1:03 PM on August 9 [6 favorites]


Re: the "just killed a man." This doesn't have to be some sort of metaphor for "I fucked a man." It could be he killed a man after having sex with him, having realized that he liked it. Sometimes a gun is just a gun.
posted by dnash at 1:07 PM on August 9


I was really confused when I read this because I and many of my friends have interpreted it this way* for, like, years. I said to my partner, "Interpreting Bohemian Rhapsody as being queer, isn't, like, new, is it?" and briefly explained the article, and they said, "Fuck, no, I remember being 14 and going 'holy shit!' when I read the Wikipedia page on the song and it talked about that."

So the defensiveness of "you are going to argue with me about this!!!" was a little weird when I know this song as, culturally, 'the one queer song that queer kids can sing in the car without their parents throwing a fit.' We've always known it's about being queer, and I guess I erroneously assumed anyone who wasn't, like, super homophobic, knew that too.

*Admittedly, we read far fewer dick metaphors into the song, so, uh, props for that analysis I guess?
posted by brook horse at 1:10 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


My read of the song has tended to be along the lines of the classical rhapsody form, or non-form of an extended work involving multiple contrasts and moods, so I'm not convinced that the individual sections, the prologue, the murder ballad, the free-association bit, etc., necessarily have constitute a single narrative so much as a collection of impressions.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:18 PM on August 9 [6 favorites]


Oh for fucks sake! Freddie was a bi Icon! That's just plain erasure right there...

this is a problem with identifying many people in the past as bi or gay - sometimes, we just don't know, because they didn't say. Behaviour does not tell you what someone's sexual orientation was, let alone their identity.

Freddie was one of the most popular signs of bi+ icons that our bi+ group carried in the parade this year - but I didn't make it, and I wouldn't have, because I just don't know how he felt or identified. For bi+ icons, I look to people like Brenda Howard and Alan Cumming, who both have or do identify as bisexual.

As for the deeper past: often all we can talk about is behaviour. We don't know whether Oscar Wilde was gay or bi, we just know that he had sex with men and women. I've heard arguments either way. Same with Julie d'Aubigny - she had sex with men and women, but was she actually bisexual? or maybe would have been a lesbian today? We can't know.

Back to the FPP: maybe I'm just dim, but I always thought it was about a young man who literally killed a man ... and then headbanging. (I love the tune so much, maybe I should have thought about the words a bit more?)
posted by jb at 1:43 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


You know Freddie Mercury was gay, or you may insist he was bisexual, because he was married to a woman and no gay man has ever been married to a woman.

Or maybe we insist that he was bisexual because we’ve heard more than one Queen song.

BIcycle! BIcycle! BIcycle!
I want to ride my
BIcycle! BIcycle! BIcycle!

Even if you want to believe that Mercury wrote Fat-Bottomed Girls to pander to a straight audience, the effort necessary to read Bohemian Rhapsody as a coming out song is significantly greater than the effort necessary to read Bicycle Race as his proclaiming his bisexuality.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:07 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]


I got the coming out metaphor, but I always thought he himself (the idea of him being straight in his mother's head) was who he had "killed".
posted by candyland at 2:22 PM on August 9 [10 favorites]


n.b. - as a cis-het man with limited intersectional analysis please ignore the following if such things are triggering. I'm only posting because I'm curious to hear criticism of my analysis & potentially learn from my mistakes here...

So I've always read the song as a narrative of transformation or metamorphosis -- that the man being killed in the second verse is the narrator's own self as constructed by family and societal expectations.

For me, framing it as an act of violence really hammers home the inherent conflict between a desire to make one's parents (and the society-at-large that they represent) and the need to live one's own truth.

Perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but I've always felt that internalized dialectic plays out thematically through the rest of the sections of the song as well:

"spare him his life from this monstrosity" sung by the chorus evokes that societal understanding of his emergent self as "monstrous"

"we will not let you go / let me go" -- again, the theme of the chorus clinging to the "dead" construct of his pre-metamorphic self

and so on...

And what this does for me is it makes the final line (acknowledging that he's been set adrift "any way the wind blows") that much more powerful. His only reconciliation from the violence of the metamorphosis is to become untethered from the structures that shaped both the pre- and post-selves (the latter being shaped in opposition to those societal expecations) to find his own way.

So: beautiful because self-determinism and truth, but sad because disconnected.
posted by turbowombat at 2:42 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Why not both? "Bohemian Rhapsody" is operatic, and opera used to be an important signifier for gays. I'm happy to believe it's an over-the-top extravaganza about a person facing execution for a crime, and a metaphor for killing your true self. And here's my chance to say that "The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire" (1993) by Wayne Koestenbaum is still a joy to read.
posted by acrasis at 2:46 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


It's a great song that can support more than one interpretation. We can all be right in this game.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:47 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Just yesterday, I was sitting in the backyard as the neighbor's kids, who are probably 11-12 yrs old, were having a birthday/pool party.

I assumed the music being played during the festivities was from one of the parent's playlists, because it was the same 80s pop classics we have all been hearing for over 30 years now: Eurythmics, DuranDuran, VanHalen, Motley Crue, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey...

I was thinking about the enduring appeal and lyrical content of some of these tunes, and wondering if this sort of thing is sending an appropriate message to teenage girls, in the era of #MeToo...is this music I would play, at my kid's party? Hmmm....

When Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody came on, the girls all insisted that the adults turn it up, and they all sang along in unison with the whole thing...twice!

The kids knew all the words...it was hilarious!
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 2:50 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]


Wait; is this not what everyone else thinks that song's about?

I'll grant that I've never been one to closely examine lyrics, but I've always assumed it was about a literal murder / trial / conviction and I never heard any of my friends mention otherwise.

I'm not justifying that or judging these other interpretations, because I can't; just providing a data point in response to howfar's question.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:06 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


was about a literal murder / trial / conviction and I never heard any of my friends mention otherwise.

Me too, and the evidence that they write about such things is Stone Cold Crazy, which is also about shooting people (more figuratively). I don't find their lyrics to be very deep. Not that people can find whatever meaning they want in the lyrics.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:15 PM on August 9


Egad. I originally read this FPP as suggesting that the Bohemian Rhapsody movie might not be coming out. Oh, wow. I feel so much better. Carry on.
posted by 4ster at 3:38 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I'm not justifying that or judging these other interpretations, because I can't; just providing a data point in response to howfar's question

I should say that I'm not saying that my interpretation is the correct one; that's not how interpretations work, after all. I am surprised that more people don't respond to the song as being about a struggle against an enforced shame, with a frequently erotic atmosphere. I think it's at least plausible that it was intended to reflect the experience of sexual emergence in oppressive circumstances, but even if it wasn't, I think that interpretation is a very productive way to understand the song.
posted by howfar at 3:50 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I read an embarrassingly large percentage of this article before scrolling back up, confused, and seeing that the title was not "Is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Actually Coming Out?" and that the article was not going to be about the troubled production history of the upcoming film.
posted by straight at 4:29 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


My analysis stopped when I noticed similarities to The Stranger and I felt sufficiently smugly smart taht I didn't give it any more thought. Glad I read this, my love of Freddie is even deeper now.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:14 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


To echo littlejohnnyjewel, I can confirm that elementary aged kids are super into 80s music.
The other day I was picking up my kid from camp at a popular urban lake and the teens were rocking out to 80s music too.

And my 9 year old loves Queen.
posted by k8t at 6:39 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Branum's book is really good--there's a lot about growing up in a small northern California agricultural town, becoming a lawyer, and quiz bowl team strategy.

Plus, his show "Talk Show: The Game Show" is brilliant.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:43 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Even if you want to believe that Mercury wrote Fat-Bottomed Girls to pander to a straight audience

...was actually written by Brian May, tho...so, not even a pandering by Freddie...
posted by Jon-A-Thon at 7:45 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Oh poo... I always thought Freddie wrote Fat Bottomed Girls... in honor of his cats. Oh well.
posted by biddeford at 8:44 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


this is a problem with identifying many people in the past as bi or gay - sometimes, we just don't know, because they didn't say. Behaviour does not tell you what someone's sexual orientation was, let alone their identity.

Yeah, good point.

I would be inclined to define bisexual as something kinda like "did you have some kind of sexy contact with Gender A? Did you enjoy it?" combined with "did you have some kind of sexy contact with Gender B? Did you enjoy it?" If yes to both, congrats! If you have had sexy contact with folks of Gender A and did not enjoy it but enjoyed your sexy contact with folks of Gender B, then you're probably monosexual. Allrighty then too! Or if you've enjoyed it with A and B but are preferring B these days, then you're bi but prefer B gender these days! Or something!

(yes, this is incredibly simplified and not really focusing on Genders C through whatever, the asexual, etc.)

I have no idea on Freddie Mercury 'cause I didn't even know he was married. The best we can do is try to deduce if it looked like they enjoyed A and B (Julie d'Aubigny sounds like she enjoyed 'em all, I think), I guess.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:24 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I had never considered this point of view and now I love the song even more.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:02 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


When we say that a historical person possibly was some flavor of LGBTQ can we leave all the caveats about queer historiography as understood and in the methods section of our dissertations or a footnote? There's a definite hierarchy when LGBTQ interpretations on history are called into question. Straight interpretations are allowed to stand with minimal evidence. Gay interpretations are strong if there's significant evidence. Bi, pan, or trans interpretations you end up shouldering all the work defining those terms, addressing whether those terms are meaningful before the 1980s, and whether that person can be more easily explained in terms of compulsory heterosexuality (for bi people) or cross-dressing for other forms of status (for trans people).

(And few people are making allowances for the fact that those terms have multiple meanings and those meanings have changed in a relatively short period of time. One could be both bi/pan and gay or lesbian.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:36 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


" They let me know that they were no longer possible financial support, just as I’d suspected. For weeks and months afterward, my parents let me know that there was no compromise. If there was a me that was gay, they didn’t want it. Finally, they resorted to the final tool. They stopped loving me as much."

How can anyone be such an asshole to their own child?

Anyway that aside this strikes me as being like those guys who read a whole lot of subtext into 'The Shining' that according to the people who were there, isn't present. I'm fairly sure Freddie was just giving us a narrative full of pathos that suited the operatic style of the song.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:38 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


There's "I want to break free" as well.
posted by freethefeet at 6:13 AM on August 10


I would be inclined to define bisexual as something kinda like "did you have some kind of sexy contact with Gender A? Did you enjoy it?" combined with "did you have some kind of sexy contact with Gender B? Did you enjoy it?" If yes to both, congrats!

one of the popular definitions of bi+ (bi, pan, omni, fluid, etc.) is
"the capacity to be attracted to more than one sex/gender -- not necessarily to the same extent, in the same way or at the same time."
Basically, bi+ = 'not monosexual', but 'not monosexual' is a mouthful. And there may be a difference between innate orientation (how you feel inside) and how you identify. Some people who experience or have experienced attraction to more than one gender/sex may still identify as monosexual (gay or straight).

Also, re actions: There are many virginal bi+ people who can testify that a lack of sexual experience doesn't affect their orientation :) Just a wider variety of people to have unrequited crushes on.
posted by jb at 7:37 AM on August 10


I've always assumed it was about a literal murder / trial / conviction

On the surface, it's about a murder (first verse), capture and execution (second verse), an after-world struggle for control of his immortal soul (operatic section), then some sort of redemption/revenge finale.

Since Freddy was a gay/bi man , it makes sense that his struggles with family, society, and maybe even himself factor heavily in the deeper meaning. I see it as confession to a crime (homosexuality), the punishment in the form of metaphorical death of his old self, the struggle to define a new self, and the success of becoming a self-defined man who will live by his own rules no matter what anyone else thinks.

"Any way the wind blows"
posted by rocket88 at 7:52 AM on August 10


I find some of the intense territoriality and emphasis on a "splitting" vs. "grouping" paradigm for identifying people as LGBTQ to be really frustrating, unfortunate, and something that obscures the historical and cross-cultural messiness of gender and sexuality. I don't think identifying Mercury as gay or bi should necessarily be interpreted a snub of bi or gay people (unless it's presented with the equivalent of "neener neener" which does happen and might be happening in the linked article.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:10 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I read something a few weeks ago that claimed it was about taking heroin, and that Mercury had confirmed that interpretation. I found it very convincing! And now I find myself equally convinced by this article. It's like looking at a Necker cube; it's very confusing to be simultaneously convinced by two incompatible arguments.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:05 AM on August 11


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