While AP showers the family dog, Ruby Soho, with attention, Rise Against frontman McIlrath produces two root beers and a bowl of pistachios from his kitchen for our living-room chat. He's a gracious host, a well-spoken interview subject and—just as important—an attentive listener. There's no denying McIlrath's passion toward the injustices he sees on the planet, but what's truly admirable is that he doesn't ever flood the conversation with impenetrable rationale, like your typical media pundit (choose the wing of your choice). He's measured, considerate, and cognizant of the larger picture, which in this exclusive bonus excerpt, addresses racism, hate crimes and the cultural desensitizing of everyday life. [For more of AP's conversation with McIlrath, pre-order issue 286 right now, before it hits newsstands on April 3.]
Earlier this year, the website Buzzfeed ran a list of people—with their names blacked out—slurring African-Americans on Martin Luther King Day. There were profiles of people who looked like they were of Middle Eastern and Indian descent doing the same thing but adding “No prejudice” to their posts, as if that disclaimer somehow made it acceptable. Are Americans that naïve or just plain stupid?
[Deep sigh.] Yeah. That’s the craziness of social media, too. The message boards are filled with such incredible hate.
Buzzfeed followed that up with a list of 25 girls claiming on Twitter how they wouldn’t mind it Chris Brown punched them in the face. Are we getting desensitized to things as a nation? Or has social media given us a pulpit to say whatever irresponsible thing comes to our minds?
A lot of it is not only the availability of a pulpit, but also the exposure to somebody else’s pulpit, which is, like, the dude down the street. All of a sudden you start getting encouraged by people’s bold attention at saying something like that. And then it’s like, “Well, he said it, so I can say it.” One asshole can be the first domino. They’re saying it because they are racist; they’re doing it for pure shock value; or it’s a way to dismiss someone like Martin Luther King, who is a hero of civil disobedience and a way to prevent any sort of conversation or dialog about that. Even in a culture today where, if Martin Luther King was alive today, there are people who would brand him a terrorist.
There are devices in place today with everything from the Department of Homeland Security to the government itself that would brand what he was doing as terrorism. Who knows if he could continue with his mission that has been so important to America? It’s the new way the establishment is doing away with activism—rebrand it as terrorism or something criminal. If they can do that, then they’ve won. It’s what they’re doing to animal-rights activists, branding them as “eco-terrorists.” If you follow the money, you can see why it’s a partially successful campaign. You have gigantic agricultural industries like the cattle industry, that see an animal-rights organization elevating the consciousness of the people they are talking to as a direct threat to what they are doing. So they pay lots of money to some think tank and ask, “How can we stop this?” “We can dismiss their activism as criminal.” The second you throw the word “terrorism” into a bill, no politician wants to look soft on terrorism. Some states have passed them, some haven’t. These same laws would’ve branded someone like Martin Luther King a terrorist.
Have you ever seen that kind of disconnect from a Rise Against fan who support your band, but they still need to elevate themselves to the matters at hand?
Oh, yeah. There was one specific story that was just terrible. We were playing somewhere in Florida. It was a great show, and afterward I was hanging out by the stage, saying hello and shaking hands with whoever was around. There was this one kid who was all sweaty and his shirt was all torn. And he was like [imitates psyched fan], “Hey man, that was a fucking awesome show. So amazing, you guys were great. I was in the pit and I was punching people all night!” I was like, “Whoa! I’m glad you liked the show, but you probably shouldn’t be punching people in the pit next time. Not cool.” And he was like, “Oh. No, no, no: They were all faggots.” I was at a loss for words: He was genuinely concerned that I thought maybe the people he was punching weren’t “faggots.” It was like [adopts politician tone of voice] “I assure you that none of those punched weren’t faggots.”
There are those fans… I have no delusions; we’re a band that gets played on the radio that people are coming to see maybe because they heard one song or they are a casual listener that hasn’t looked past a catchy chorus. Our doors are open to that fan. But then you also find people who are completely out of alignment in terms of what you’re singing about. But I’m happier that those people walk into our shows than if they were to never find them. Because that gives them an opportunity to be exposed to things they haven’t been exposed to. If we can get that CD in their hands, the music on their iPod or the song ringing in their ears at the end of a show, maybe, just maybe, they’ll start to listen to the lyrics and find out who we are as a band and start to connect some of those dots.
Instead of preaching to the converted, I want to be in a band that’s putting water where the fire is. And where the fire is, is usually an uncomfortable place to be. But I want to be there. It shouldn’t be about making people feel comfortable; it’s about crazy friction, the crazy friction that makes change. alt