My analysis will be of the band Alice in Chains artistic response to the Vietnam War with a song called “Rooster”. The song was written by Jerry Cantrell Jr. Jerry wrote the song after interviewing his father,Jerry Cantrell Sr. who went by “Rooster” in his younger days, who is a Vietnam Veteran. Jerry Sr. did not talk to his son about his two tours in Vietnam for nearly 25 years.
Jerry Sr. survived his tours but saw his friends die and war being fought with new tactics. Jerry Sr. fought the Viet Cong who believed in fighting with what today we call gorilla warfare and using children. This was a change in how the wars were previously fought including the Civil War and World Wars I and II were the two enemies would fight mostly in open fields. Vietnam was a politically driven war which divided U.S. citizens and the views on American soldiers. Some citizens were so against the war that they treated the soldiers with complete disrespect when they returned home. Jerry Sr. remembers thinking to himself and is captured saying in the interview, “What the hell are we doing here”?
Jerry Jr. was so moved by his fathers description of the war he decided to write a song about it called “Rooster”. Jerry Jr .wrote the song from his fathers point of view. The following are the lyrics to the song:
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, aww yeah, hey yeah
Yeah here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain’t gonna die
No, no, no, ya know he ain’t gonna die (x2)
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, aww yeah
Yeah here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain’t gonna die
No, no, no ya know he ain’t gonna die
The song is precursed by a woman’s humming, which I think of as Jerry Sr. day dreaming from present time back to his time at Vietnam.The first two lines are about the mental aspect of the war where you are thinking of how they have not killed you, but that time might be soon while you are dealing with slight nuisance pain. The third line tells about how they walk almost non stop with no end in sight. The fourth line tells of him thinking about his home life and what he is longing for. The fifth line simply explains that it wasn’t safe to be in the American Army. Up until this point in the song, the singing is slow, melodic and almost as if he is day dreaming while in war. The last line of the first verse would be a break in the day dream when the singer’s pitch and volume change and the day dream ends with a bullet coming from an unknown location. The first two line of the chorus, I understand as Jerry Sr. pumping himself up and the next two lines he motivates himself to stay alive and that death is not an option for him.
When I read the first line of the second verse, I picture a man a war walking through the jungle with a machine gun. The second line tells of how he knows he will be treated by his fellow citizens if/when he returns home. The third line to me would be more motivation to stay alive, but also shows how soldiers communicated with their family during the Vietnam War. The next line tells of one of the medications that was given to the soldiers while at war and one of the obstacles that had to be overcome. The last line is about death being around him and almost imminent and this is his last request.
Here is a link to the official video on Youtube:
The music video starts with brief excerpts of Jerry Jr. and Jerry Sr. talking about Sr.’s interview. The video then shows Jerry Sr. going to hunt on the family farm. While hunting, Jerry Sr. experiences Post traumatic stress disorder through flashbacks of his time in the war. The video then shows clips of a Vietnamese kid crying, soldiers dragging what looks to be another dead soldier’s body,a Vietnamese kid who had an American soldier putting a gun to their head and it also shows soldiers running to a medical helicopter. There is a quick clip of a map with a marked ambush site which is representative of an intelligence report. It then shows a soldier having his leg blown off while Jerry Sr. comes to his aide. The video shows a young Vietnamese kid who has been captured and is being interrogated with a knife and a gun pointed to his head. There is a scene where a man is shot in the upper body and Jerry Sr. comes to his aide but the man ends up dying and Jerry cries. During the video, while showing Jerry Sr. at present time it is shot in black and white and most vegetation is dead. When it has the flashbacks to Vietnam, it has a very vivd green hue and the vegetation is full. To me this symbolizes how at the time Jerry Sr. was emotionally alive as a person, but in the present day is dead for the things he has done and the way he was treated by his fellow citizens back home. Jerry Sr. says in the video, “It was a weird experience, sad experience, and I hope nobody else has to go through it”. The video also shows a Vietnamese soldier die and an Ace of Spades playing card is placed on his body. This was customary for soldiers at the time to mark a dead Vietnamese soldier. This became such a popular tradition that Bicycle Card company sent over boxes of Ace of Spade cards marked “Bicycle Secret Weapon”. In the outtro of the song and video, a woman hums the same way as the beginning and I think of it as Jerry Sr. ending his day dream of the Vietnam War and coming back to present time.
“Rooster” is not thought of as an artistic response to war by many people today. I have learned through one man’s gift to his father that this period in time in this country was a traumatic, political and dark moment in history. I feel Jerry Jr. did a good job elaborating on what his father went through at the time. I feel sorry to all Veterans of that war for what they had to go through during the war, when they got home and what they deal with physically and emotionally today. I feel as though the music video does a good job portraying what Jerry Sr. deals with on a daily basis in regards to how his flashbacks appear to him including the number and vividness of these episodes. What I take away from the video is that the Vietnam War was difficult to deal with as an individual and a country. I feel that the war’s today can be compared to the Vietnam War with regards to war being fought differently through tactics and political rhetoric and the trauma to soldiers. In the video, Jerry Sr. states he hopes nobody else has to go through it and I feel that at least on the home front, modern day soldiers are not treated as badly as they were then. Although not popular by today’s standards, this song has become an anthem for our troops today.
Friedman, H. The death card. Retrieved from http://www.psywarrior.com/DeathCardsAce.html
About the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooster_(song)