Promises & Pill by SOJA ft. Alfred the MC is a song that depicts the hardships of veterans after returning from war. Some of these men have to deal with serious mental issues — like depression and suicide — and the government does not offer much help. Through this song the artists and songwriters let the listener know that they always prepare you for war, but they never tell you how to survive after coming home. It is important to note that the mistreatment of veterans goes back at least to the Vietnam War. These soldiers after returning home were treated with disrespect and hatred, instead of being seen as heroes. For this second listening I want to focus on the lineage of mistreatment of veterans, the trauma caused by war and the anti war themes seen through different musical pieces . The lineage goes like this:

Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel, 1982 –> Devils & Dust Bruce Springteen, 2005  –>  Michael Franti and Spearhead – “Light Up Ya Lighter”,  2006

Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel is a rock song released in 1982 as a tribute to Vietnam veterans. This song was as a response to the mistreatment of these veterans after coming home. It tells the story of what soldiers lived through in Vietnam from their training in Parris Island to remembering Charlie and Baker who probably died in combat. Joel’s goal with this song is to bring to light the hardships of veterans in combat and their daily life, like looking at Playboy Magazines, smoking hash out of a pipe and hearing the sounds of helicopters as night came. I decided to choose this song because it is an excellent representation of events that cause mental illness and problems after coming back home and trying to reintegrate in society — what Promises & Pills is about. Themes present in both of these songs are life of a soldier in combat, and the memories that veterans have to live with. Promises & Pills has an angry and rebellious delivery, and it can be said that it is because the songwriters are tired of the system and how soldiers are treated. Goodbye Saigon has kind of a sad delivery, giving tribute for the first time to veterans. SOJA is tired from the mistreatment and this can be perceived in their delivery when compared to Goodbye Saigon. The excerpt below is a snippet from Goodbye Saigon of the life of a soldier in combat, we can be transported to the combat zone and understand how one can come back with the mental issues described in Promises and Pills.

“We had no home front

We had no soft soap

They sent us Playboy

They gave us Bob Hope

We dug in deep

And shot on sight

And prayed to Jesus Christ

With all of our might”

The second song I want to connect with Promises and Pills is Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen. This folk rock song tells the story from a soldier’s point of view that is struggling with the acts he is committing for his country. His friend, Bobbie, died in combat and he remembers him, ” Well I dreamed of you last night // In a field of blood and stone // The blood began to dry // The smell began to rise”.  This directly connects with what Promises and Pills puts forward, being prepared to fight but the lack of support on how to deal with what war puts on your mind. Another line that connects with Promises and Pills is ” Well I’ve got God on my side // And I’m just trying to survive // What if what you do to survive // Kills the things you love // Fear’s a dangerous thing // It can turn your heart black you can trust // It’ll take your God filled soul // Fill it with devils and dust…” Here you can see the trauma that war can cause and the anti-war theme also seen in Promises and Pills. A good example from SOJA that can be connected with the lyrics metioned above is” And my soul is beat to shit and half my friends are dead and gone //For all these fucking games you play, we pay the price with our own blood”. Both of these lyrics can create a direct reference to the same themes because they depict the trauma– “It can turn your black heart” and “my soul is beat to shit”.

The third song I want to focus on is a reggae song by Michael Franti and Spearhead called Light Up Ya Lighter. This song was released in 2006 and I decided to focus on it because it specifically mentions the PTSD soldiers come back home with, “ One step forward and two steps back // One step forward and two steps back // Why do veterans get no respect? // PTSD and a broken back“. This directly connects to Promises and Pills in that it brings to light the mental issues that veterans come back home with after “fighting for the freedom in this land” (lyric from SOJA) referring to home. Moreover, Light Up Ya Lighter as Promises and Pills, is an excellent example of what reggae music is — bringing to light social injustices, and rebelling against the government for their wrongdoing. For example, “Tellin’ you they’re gonna protect you // And tellin’ you that they support the troops // And don’t let them fool you with their milk and honey // No they only want your money“. This stanza goes back to Promises and Pills in the way that SOJA depicts the United States as a “system” — without feelings and on automatic, sending more and more troops, giving guns to the youth and only thinking of their end goal without disregard to human lives and the trauma caused in war.