An Artistic Response to War

Alice in Chains-Rooster

Ain’t found a way to kill me yet
Eyes burn with stinging sweat
Seems every path leads me to nowhere
Wife and kids household pet
Army green was no safe bet
The bullets scream to me from somewhere

Here they come to snuff the rooster
Yeah here come the rooster, yeah [2x]
You know he ain’t gonna die
No, no, no, ya know he ain’t gonna die

Walkin’ tall machine gun man
They spit on me in my home land
Gloria sent me pictures of my boy
Got my pills ‘gainst mosquito death
My buddy’s breathin’ his dyin’ breath
Oh god please won’t you help me make it through

Here they come to snuff the rooster
Yeah here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain’t gonna die
No, no, no ya know he ain’t gonna die

An Artistic Response to War

Jerry Cantrell Jr. is the lead guitarist as well as vocalists to the band Alice in Chains. He wrote the song “Rooster” after hearing horror stories of his father’s deployment to Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

As a young child Cantrell Sr. had unmanageable hair that in turn gave him the nickname “Rooster”. This name stayed with him into adulthood. The song is written in the perspective of Rooster. The lyrics paint a picture of not only the unspeakable trauma it was to be a soldier in the Vietnam War but also of the unbearable experience of returning home to a land that hated you for your forced service. Chords, key, and infliction of notes reinforce the message of the lyrics. Although the song was written in a major key the chords of the chorus are F to A flat which suggest a modulation to a minor key.

Verse 1 depicts Rooster’s journey through the Vietnam jungle. In this era, with no global positioning devises, American soldiers had very little knowledge of their environment. “Seems every path leads me to nowhere” demonstrates the disoriented feelings of Rooster provoked by treading through the roughage. “Army green was no safe bet” due to the abundance of land mines and stealthiest of the Vietnam militia. The line shows that even though the uniform was camouflaged it was not bulletproof. Rooster must have felt this vulnerability with every breath he took.

Verse 2 contains the chorus with the repetitively mocking words of “Here they come to snuff the rooster,
Yeah here come the rooster, yeah [2x] You know he ain’t gonna die,
No, no, no, ya know he ain’t gonna die”. With the almost certainty of death, Rooster repeats these phrases as if to trick himself into having hope and courage. In the middle of this verse, the power chords of the guitar are introduced representative of the bombs exploding near and around Rooster as he continues through the forest.

The foreshadowing of the return of Rooster to America is in the first two lines of verse 3. “Walkin’ tall machine gun man, They spit on me in my home land”. When returning from the Vietnam War, most soldiers were not greeted with praise because of the high disapproval rating of the war. Soldiers instead struggled to find jobs and many developed drug addiction to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder.  Those that avoided poverty and addiction were subject to illness such as cancer from the chemical usage over seas. “Gloria sends me pictures of my boy” depicts the anxiety that war put on not just the soldier but also the entire family. One could argue that this line was a fragment of the foreshadowing above. Saying that since so many men returned home changed men, the divorce rate increased, thus separating fathers from children and husbands from wives.

In the same verse, a change of temperament is noted in the lines “My buddy’s breathin’ his dyin’ breath, Oh God please won’t you help me make it through”. Rooster now feels the hollow, helplessness of war. As he watches his friends being picked off one by one, he begs to just outlast the circumstances.

Jerry Cantrell Jr. depicts the horror of war through his fathers’ eyes. It becomes very apparent from the beginning that Cantrell Jr. has distaste for the Vietnam War. He shows the cruelty and savageness that is violence as well as the immorality of killing.

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