Illusion of Life Through Rise Against’s “Prayer of the Refugee”

With many punk rock bands the idea of fighting against the norm and bringing awareness to oppressed groups is a unifying strand and from this ideal and their use of upbeat intense music and gritty lyrics they tend to appeal to young adults (both male and female) aging from 16-30. The band Rise Against is no exception to this umbrella of punk rock bands. Just from their band name, it is evident that Rise Against is an active group when it comes to shedding light on controversial societal norms whether they lie in the realms of politics, social habits or even daily human interactions; furthermore, their presence on the mainstream platform of music has made their messages extremely effective because of their great listener appeal. One of their songs in particular that shed light on a very controversial issue in the United States of America is “Prayer of the Refugee” (2006). The context of the track illuminates the struggles of immigrants to the US and at the same time acts as a call to action and unification for these oppressed people’s rights. Through effective congruent patterns the song ultimately acts as both a “prayer” and an “anthem” for the oppressed immigrants of the US by shdding light on their oppression and calling them to action. This post will examine the virtual time, virtual experience and congruity of the song to determine how it accomplishes the spread of its message.

Prayer of the Refugee is a very interesting track to analyze under the “Illusion of Life” perspective because of its combination of a wholly congruent pattern through both intensity and release patterns coupled with comic-dramatic and tragic-poetic lyrics respectively throughout the song. If we take a look at the virtual experience of the song the first thing to note is the title; as a “prayer of the refugee” the song acts as a both a plea for salvation and an anthem for the “refugee” or US immigrant. The beginning of the song appears to be the plea for salvation as the lyrics depict an immigrant sharing his experiences with a young child. With a sombre tone the refugee tells the child “stories of a better time; In a place that we once knew” clearly referring to their country of origin where life was better and they weren’t “the angry and the desperate; The hungry, and the cold”. These lyrics from the first verse and the first half of the second verse portray a tragic and poetic illusion as the protagonist appears to be coping with fate and dwelling on the past to communicate a sense of finality because they have “left all this behind [them] in the dust”. From here however Rise Against changes the course of the song entirely by shifting the virtual experience to a comic and dramatic illusion thus also converting the plea into an anthem or a call to action. Through amplified and yelled lyrics like “we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm” and “We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up; Everything you’ve known” the refugee shows how the immigrants have been beating the odds and fighting to change the system that they have become trapped in. Furthermore, the chorus of the song, which is yelled with great anger and enthusiasm, is a message from the refugee that he or she does not need to depend on anyone anymore and they don’t need us to hold them up anymore because they are strong enough to hold their own ground thus continuing to develop the idea that the immigrants have beaten the odds. The final verse of the song solidifies the dramatic illusion of the lyrics as the refugee is telling the child to take the reins and continue the refugees’ fight, that it’s time for them to be on their way and “broken windows and ashes; are guiding the way” so they may let their voices be heard and “sing though the day;…of the lives [they’ve] reclaimed”. The First generation immigrants have broken the barriers (windows) and burned the bridges (ashes) so that it’s up to the new generation to firmly plant their rights and their ways of life in their new home. Through the use of strategic ambiguity the song persuades it’s listeners to take heed of both the plea for salvation and the call to action without using specifics within the language; thus ultimately leading the listeners to become aware of the oppression of the refugee but not to think that he or she is weaker than them in any way even if that was not the listener’s initial perspective.

The analysis of the song’s virtual time produces very similar results in that the song begins with a release pattern that leads into an intensity pattern which also cements the idea that the track acts as a plea that transforms into an anthem. Throughout the first verse and the first half of the second verse the music primarily demonstrate release patterns with a predictable slow tempo, a constant harmonic structure, legatos and little instrumentation. Just as in the virtual experience of this song it is at this point that the track changes direction. Just as the call to action begins the drums suddenly increase in volume and speed, the base and guitar becomes more frantic and a background harmony builds up that adds to the intensity of the remaining verses and the chorus. The patterns that demonstrate this intensity are an unpredictable driving tempo, a dissonant harmonic structure, accented phrasing with many crescendos and multiple amplified instruments. The shift from a release pattern to an intensity pattern is effective in illustrating that during the plea for salvation the refugee seeks sympathy and desires fellow US citizens to become aware of his position yet when the shift occurs the refugee is now calling out to his fellow immigrants so that they can understand that they are strong and they must unify to continue beating the odds and thus the intensity pattern is effective in pumping up the listener and rousing their excitement towards the cause.

Although Prayer of the Refugee alternates through different virtual time and experience it still displays a wholly congruent pattern. During the first verse and part of the second verse the message is a clear appeal for the awareness of oppression towards immigrants in the US which is conveyed via lyrics that are tragic and music that follows a pattern of release. This congruence along with the idea that the audience isn’t being directly addressed but is instead listening in on a conversation between the refugee and a child ensures that although the message may be overly depressing the message will not be short-lived but instead heard and understood. Furthermore the use of congruency of lyrics with a comic and dramatic illusion with an intensity pattern functions effectively as an “in-group”message to rally the immigrant group towards the cause of changing the system and standing up for themselves without the dependence on others by making the message aggressive and evoking.

Implications of this effective use of congruency could be an overall awareness and appreciation for immigrant minority groups in the US from the young listeners of today; consequently this may go against the US melting-pot culture which in turn could lead to a more diverse and dynamic social system in the country. Ultimately Rise Against’s Prayer of the Refugee effectively uses a dynamic congruency patterns to illicit feelings of both sympathy towards immigrant minority groups and passion for change and unity within those groups.


One thought on “Illusion of Life Through Rise Against’s “Prayer of the Refugee”

  1. I myself have had experience listening to punk rock music as well as songs by the artist Rise Against – a band renowned for composing outspoken though melodic rock anthems. Yet, for anyone that has neither listened to songs from this band nor listened to punk rock music in general, Mark has still done a great job in briefly introducing the punk rock movement as well as illustrating Rise Against’s ambitions within the music scene. Furthermore, besides some discrepancies with his content, Mark has wonderfully broken down Rise Against’s “Prayer of the Refugee” to explain each element of the Illusion of Life in parallel with the music and lyrics of the track at hand, and clarifying the purpose behind each element regarding the song’s connotation added great depth to the analysis.

    Firstly, Mark’s notion that the audience is not being directly spoken to by the singer but is rather listening to an exchange between a father and his son is quite thought-provoking. It is almost as if the singer wanted us to decipher and grasp the message for ourselves, and then make our own judgement about the state of minority and immigrant groups in the United States. This, I feel, is where strategic ambiguity is being hidden since the singer hopes that listeners take the side of the refugee and to be conscious of his struggle, even if the singer does not persuade this idea openly. Secondly, Mark effectively takes each verse and chorus to describe their characteristics in terms of virtual time and virtual experience. He mentions that the two verses utilize release patterns, which in turn offer tragic lyrics and poetic illusion, while the choruses and the bridge employ intense patterns along with comic lyrics and dramatic illusion, which seems consistent with the song itself.

    This is where, however, things become peculiar. While I would concur with Mark’s concept of combining intense and release patterns with their respective characteristics in a single song, “the critic’s goal is to determine holistically whether the music represents primarily intensity or release patterns” (Sellnow 118), emphasizing on “primarily”. In other words, one must decide which one of the two patterns the song operates with that greatly showcases the song’s intent. Usually, punk rock songs fall into the category of “patterns of intensity”, and this is where I would also classify “Prayer in the Refugee” since the majority of the song contains many amplified instruments, fast tempo and comic lyrics that exclaim protest against the system, which was the point of the song in the first place. In addition, it would have been beneficial had Mark had given context as to why immigrants wanted to “beat the odds”, especially considering the year the song was released (2006) and the political condition of the United States at the time. Finally, I felt that it would have been notable to mention what the “illusion of life” actually was not only from the perspective of Rise Against but from the perspective of the genre as a whole – perhaps mentioning the band`s motives Mark wrote in the introduction as possible answers to this question.

    Overall, despite the inconsistency of the musical patterns mentioned in his analysis, Mark has done an admirable job in illustrating the song’s possible motives with regards to its virtual experience, along with describing the characteristics of virtual time with reasons to support the lyrics and the motive that listeners would want to sympathize with the refugees and even give “prayer” for their cause.

    – Ramiz Khan


    – Sellnow, Deanna D. “A Music Perspective: The Illusion of Life Theory.” The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2010. Print.

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