“Simply because you can breathe,doesn’t mean you’re alive, or that you really live” is how one of RiseAgainst’s songs, titled Black Masks andGasoline begins. It is one of their many statements through which they attemptto light a fire in their fans’ hearts and minds in order to convince them toovercome the apathy so predominant in society today, to fight the status quoand to improve the dire situation society finds itself today. As such, it is nowonder 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. Ifone were asked to define the punk subculture by using just one word, it wouldmost likely be one of these two: rebellion or anarchy. This particularsubculture “emerged in 1976” and it was mostly made up of the “consciouslyworking class” (Subculterslist, web).
Although it spread to other arts andaspects of society, it began with and it was mostly predominant in punk music.Its members “represented themselves as aliens” (Subculterslist, web), as beingon the outside looking in, usually rejecting what the rest of society wastrying to impose on them and actively fighting against it, more often than notcalling for anarchy. However, while the band Rise Against often criticizespolitical decisions on matters that concern the entire population, such as war,the destruction of the environment, human and animal rights and more, theirstyle of approach is a rather unique one. It is positive, in the way that theydo not encourage taking down the government, for example, but rather bringattention to these problems and often provide solutions. The song Hero of War, for example, tells the truestory, through both the lyrics and the music video, of an American soldierfighting in the war in Afghanistan. It is separated into three parts by thechorus which changes slightly just before the end of the song. The first parttalks about the soldier’s recruitment, training and about him becoming close tohis brothers-in-arms. This part is used mainly to introduce the story but alsoto speak about the naivety of the recruits.
He said “SonHave you seen the world?Well what would you sayIf I said that you could?Just carry this gunYou’ll even get paid”I said, “That sounds pretty good”(Excerpt from the first verse,Hero of War, Rise Against)The second part presents thehorrors of war from the perspective of the soldier. It is clear here that hesuffers a transformation, one from which he, most likely, will never recover.I kicked in the doorI yelled my commandsThe children, they criedBut I got my manWe took him awayA bag over his faceFrom his family and his friendsThey took off his clothesThey pissed in his handsI told them to stopBut then I joined inWe beat him with gunsAnd batons not just onceBut again and again(Second verse, Hero of War, RiseAgainst)The third part talks about an eventwhich brings the soldier over the edge: the death of an innocent. Due to histraining and the context of the battle, he shoots an innocent girl, an act thatwould burden his conscience forever.She walkedThrough bullets and hazeI asked her to stopI begged her to stayBut she pressed onSo I lifted my gunAnd I fired awayAnd the shells jumped trough the smokeAnd into the sandThat the blood now had soakedShe collapsed with a flag in her handA flag white as snow(Third verse, Hero of War, RiseAgainst)The song ends with the chorushaving a few lines changed to show the fact that he lost the trust the soldierhad for his government, for what he was told was right, rather than what hebelieved himself to be true, and with the first four lines being repeated. Itis important to notice that the music video depicts the story visually as it istold in the song, ending with a few scenes in which it is clear that the manthe song speaks about has lost grip with reality due to PTSD. Another fact thatis important to mention is that, according to Tim McIlrath, the band’s leadsinger and rhythm guitarist, this story is a true one a soldier once told theband members before they came up with the song.
Thus, the message becomes somuch more important. What the band Rise Against does here as part of the newpunk subculture is to bring attention to the horrors of war, the casualties andunnecessary violence it produces in a calm manner, especially considering thatthis is an acoustic song, compared to the rest, in a manner that would appealto even the most unconcerned citizen. Apartfrom concerns such as war and the environment, there are songs in which theband takes keen interest in the matter of human rights and, arguably, queerstudies. In the song “Make It Stop”, through both the lyrics and the musicvideo, the story of three gay suicidal students is told. The story begins witheach of them being bullied at school in various manners just for beingdifferent from the rest in this particular way, then continues with themattempting to take their lives at which point the lyrics call for “a differentbeat, a brand new song” (excerpt from Make It Stop, Rise Against) by which anew paradigm is demanded, one in which everyone’s preferences should be acceptedand respected, and finally ends with those three students deciding to continuetheir lives, getting married to the spouse of their preferred gender and endingup being successful. During the final repetition of the chorus, a few names arecalled out, all representing people who took their lives due to being bulliedfor being different. This issue is one of global concern today, as more andmore cases like this emerge and the ideas of compulsory heterosexuality andheteronormativity are still predominant in our society. Inconclusion, while Rise Against’s songs are not lyrical masterpieces, theyfollow the punk subculture by rebelling against the status quo, but doing so ina positive matter, raising awareness to many issues in our society today, someof which pertain to the area of queer studies and some to other differentareas.