“Simply the way that they do not encourage

“Simply because you can breathe,
doesn’t mean you’re alive, or that you really live” is how one of Rise
Against’s songs, titled Black Masks and
Gasoline begins. It is one of their many statements through which they attempt
to light a fire in their fans’ hearts and minds in order to convince them to
overcome the apathy so predominant in society today, to fight the status quo
and to improve the dire situation society finds itself today. As such, it is no
wonder that the band’s songs are characterized as belonging to the (hardcore)
punk genre and that the band members proclaim themselves as being part of the punk subculture.

            If
one were asked to define the punk subculture by using just one word, it would
most likely be one of these two: rebellion or anarchy. This particular
subculture “emerged in 1976” and it was mostly made up of the “consciously
working class” (Subculterslist, web). Although it spread to other arts and
aspects of society, it began with and it was mostly predominant in punk music.
Its members “represented themselves as aliens” (Subculterslist, web), as being
on the outside looking in, usually rejecting what the rest of society was
trying to impose on them and actively fighting against it, more often than not
calling for anarchy. However, while the band Rise Against often criticizes
political decisions on matters that concern the entire population, such as war,
the destruction of the environment, human and animal rights and more, their
style of approach is a rather unique one. It is positive, in the way that they
do not encourage taking down the government, for example, but rather bring
attention to these problems and often provide solutions. The song Hero of War, for example, tells the true
story, through both the lyrics and the music video, of an American soldier
fighting in the war in Afghanistan. It is separated into three parts by the
chorus which changes slightly just before the end of the song. The first part
talks about the soldier’s recruitment, training and about him becoming close to
his brothers-in-arms. This part is used mainly to introduce the story but also
to speak about the naivety of the recruits.

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He said “Son

Have you seen the world?

Well what would you say

If I said that you could?

Just carry this gun

You’ll even get paid”

I said, “That sounds pretty good”

(Excerpt from the first verse,
Hero of War, Rise Against)

The second part presents the
horrors of war from the perspective of the soldier. It is clear here that he
suffers a transformation, one from which he, most likely, will never recover.

I kicked in the door

I yelled my commands

The children, they cried

But I got my man

We took him away

A bag over his face

From his family and his friends

They took off his clothes

They pissed in his hands

I told them to stop

But then I joined in

We beat him with guns

And batons not just once

But again and again

(Second verse, Hero of War, Rise
Against)

The third part talks about an event
which brings the soldier over the edge: the death of an innocent. Due to his
training and the context of the battle, he shoots an innocent girl, an act that
would burden his conscience forever.

She walked

Through bullets and haze

I asked her to stop

I begged her to stay

But she pressed on

So I lifted my gun

And I fired away

And the shells jumped trough the smoke

And into the sand

That the blood now had soaked

She collapsed with a flag in her hand

A flag white as snow

(Third verse, Hero of War, Rise
Against)

The song ends with the chorus
having a few lines changed to show the fact that he lost the trust the soldier
had for his government, for what he was told was right, rather than what he
believed himself to be true, and with the first four lines being repeated. It
is important to notice that the music video depicts the story visually as it is
told in the song, ending with a few scenes in which it is clear that the man
the song speaks about has lost grip with reality due to PTSD. Another fact that
is important to mention is that, according to Tim McIlrath, the band’s lead
singer and rhythm guitarist, this story is a true one a soldier once told the
band members before they came up with the song. Thus, the message becomes so
much more important. What the band Rise Against does here as part of the new
punk subculture is to bring attention to the horrors of war, the casualties and
unnecessary violence it produces in a calm manner, especially considering that
this is an acoustic song, compared to the rest, in a manner that would appeal
to even the most unconcerned citizen.

            Apart
from concerns such as war and the environment, there are songs in which the
band takes keen interest in the matter of human rights and, arguably, queer
studies. In the song “Make It Stop”, through both the lyrics and the music
video, the story of three gay suicidal students is told. The story begins with
each of them being bullied at school in various manners just for being
different from the rest in this particular way, then continues with them
attempting to take their lives at which point the lyrics call for “a different
beat, a brand new song” (excerpt from Make It Stop, Rise Against) by which a
new paradigm is demanded, one in which everyone’s preferences should be accepted
and respected, and finally ends with those three students deciding to continue
their lives, getting married to the spouse of their preferred gender and ending
up being successful. During the final repetition of the chorus, a few names are
called out, all representing people who took their lives due to being bullied
for being different. This issue is one of global concern today, as more and
more cases like this emerge and the ideas of compulsory heterosexuality and
heteronormativity are still predominant in our society.

            In
conclusion, while Rise Against’s songs are not lyrical masterpieces, they
follow the punk subculture by rebelling against the status quo, but doing so in
a positive matter, raising awareness to many issues in our society today, some
of which pertain to the area of queer studies and some to other different
areas.

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