Savatage Through Politics and Social Activism

Many bands base their music solely on politics and social activism. Most of those bands ask questions and try to answer them as best they can. During the 1960’s, The Beatles asked numerous questions about society and told the world what they thought through their music. Their song “Revolution” stated that society definitely needed to change, but in a peaceful manner. A large portion of the nation’s youth believed in this idea. So much so, that the song has even been remade a number of times since 1967. The Stone Temple Pilots have even released their version within the past two months.

However, some bands use politics to make music for all the wrong reasons. Rage Against The Machine, for example, asks interesting and insightful questions about today’s society, like The Beatles did during the 1960’s. However, they fail to answer them insightfully. Instead, they choose to use politics as a means of spreading rebellion and anarchaic ideas. The main idea behind “Freedom” is that the United States is not a free country. Singer Zack De La Rocha’s answer to the question, “Why are we not free” is, “Paintings of rebellion are drawn up by the thoughts I think…Anger is a gift.” Slipknot’s views politics are similar, except they choose to describe them with profanities. In today’s society of violent and negative hard rock artists, at least there is one band striving to make a difference for the better, Savatage.

Savatage is the brainchild of two brothers from Florida, Criss and Jon Oliva, and was formed in 1978. Though mixed in with the 80’s “hair metal” scene, the band didn’t fully come into its own until the release of 1991’s Streets – A Rock Opera. The entire CD told the story of a homeless drug dealer in New York City (which the band would later call home) and fully emphasized the messages they were trying to send with the title track from 1989’s Gutter Ballet. A percentage of the sales went to helping various soup kitchens, Salvation Armies, and drug treatment programs in New York.

Just two short years later, the band withstood a devastating blow, as Criss Oliva was killed by a repeat offense drunk driver just outside of Tampa, Florida. The driver of the other vehicle’s blood alcohol content was .294%, more than three times the legal limit in Florida. This had been his seventh DUI offense. Like in any other heavy metal band, Savatage’s members had always enjoyed alcoholâÂ?¦until this point. They began working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and encouraged its fans to become active in activities sponsored by Students Against Drunk Driving.

For a heavy metal band, this was an extremely bold move, as fans of hard rock are fueled by alcohol. To some, it seemed as if the band was trying to take their fuel away from them. However, saddened by the band’s loss, die-hard Savatage fans heeded the band’s statements and did become active in MADD and SADD events, for they had lost a hero who didn’t lose control over his destiny by his own will, but had no control to begin with.

1995 saw the band return more triumphantly than ever and with an unexpectedly bolder statement than most bands would dare at the time. Though the release of Dead Winter Dead barely cracked the pop charts in America, it was nonetheless a landmark album in both political terms and for the band. The release is a concept album about the war in Sarajevo and discusses the effects and hardships of losing loved ones to unnecessary bloodshed. The story is told through the unbiased eyes of a gargoyle that stands on a church high above the torment. The war itself even becomes a character in the story (“I Am” and “Doesn’t Matter Anyway” ). Every night, after the fighting stops, an old, homeless man plays Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach on his violin in the town square, serenading both sides of the war. Toward the end of the story, this man is killed, and each side realizes that “one of the most beautiful things in their lives is gone” and wonder why they were fighting in the first place.

The CD reached the Top 5 in Europe when it was released, and it solidified the band as a driving political force musically. It gained them respect throughout the world, as it showed that a heavy metal band actually cared about world events without wanting to benefit from their message. The band made the CD because they wanted to use it as a medium to say that if war can be avoided, it should be.

The various wars in the Middle East have interested the band for this very reason. 1989 saw the release of “Of Rage and War”, which has been getting its second breath of life due to its anti-terrorist message. Though thought of as not even a mediocre song when it was released, the lyrics of “You’ve got civilian planes crashing into the oceans, airports full of terroristsâÂ?¦When are they gonna learn, you have no Goddamn right to do the things you do, the world would be a better place if we got rid of you” have been taken to heart by fans worldwide. In addition, the words have new meaning to the band, since they have lived in New York since 1994. They bore witness to the first World Trade Center bombing, and the world’s worst terrorist attack was in their own backyard of Manhattan.

Savatage has taken a break from touring and recording since the terrorist attacks of September 11th. They were supposed to be in Europe in the following weeks, but they cancelled the tour. Since it is too soon to release music related to the attacks due to other projects going on with the band members, guitarist Chris Caffery, the only member of the band who has lived in the New York/New Jersey area his whole life, has been keeping in touch with the fans through his message board, “Caffery’s Corner”, on the band’s website. He has replied to fans’ opinions, expressed the band’s, and his own thoughts. He ends every post with, “Be safe” or “God bless you all.” As anti-war as the band may be, Caffery’s initial response to the attacks was,
I feared as we all did for every life in New York City and the whole world. Anyone that cannot realize that this was an act of war on America is nuts. In the weeks to come we gathered the evidence necessary to link the attacks to a certain terrorist group. Terror of this magnitude is an act of war. Since the perpetrators did not have their own planes here in the U.S. they used ours, our flight schools, our technology our own people to aid in their launch of the “Holy War”.

In addition, Caffery felt that it was his responsibility as an American citizen to visit “Ground Zero”. He was devastated by what he saw, as the streets kept getting more scarce as he walked south. “It started getting evil. Like living a movie. Living a bad after-attack part from an action flick. Or if aliens attacked. Definitely surreal,” he stated. Standing in tears looking at an area he always walked through, he could not imagine any god that would accept praise from radicals waving machine guns.

One image stood out in particular to him. It was a building damaged by the fall of the towers. He described it as:
Older and stone. It seemed to stand there crying. Almost like an image surrounding a casket at a funeral. Except it was dead too. Not a single light, not a single sign of life. Now, this is at least a 50 story building. I am not sure what one it is or if it will be torn down. But, it was so sad. A scene from modern war and it is scary. Dead amongst the city that never sleeps. Sleeping with the remains of the once great Twin Towers and the people who perished inside. As if I was not sick enough already. Sick to my stomach at what had happened to my hometown. What had happened to innocent men, women and children from all over the world.

Riding the subway back north to Times Square, Caffery’s actions spoke louder than any words or music could. He was not going to let the terrorists get the best of him. He no longer felt any apprehension about riding on the city’s subway system and told others on the train not to either. Moreover, he spent all of the money he had at Times Square to help the city’s ailing economy and plans to go there numerous times in the coming months. “Anyone can put an American flag sticker on their car, but it is your actions that countâÂ?¦I feel I must do my part as an American, and I hope to make everyone see that they have to do theirs too,” he states on behalf of the band. Spend and work together, for it is not surprising to the band that differences in religion and nationalities are enough to bring out war and destruction.

In addition, as anti-war as the band is, they feel that this war is definitely necessary to catch as many terrorists as possible. Though the world will never be 100% free of them, we must do what we can to rid the world of as many as possible. Religion, color, and history have nothing to do with determining one’s future, and that is where one of the problems lies. He ends his comments by indirectly asking the fans if they want to be like the person who killed Criss Oliva, or if they want to do all they can to help in the war. He posed this question because the anniversary for Oliva’s death was this past October and states, “Criss, I miss you bro and hope you have a better grip on what’s going on than us.”

Though Savatage never started out with the intentions of writing politically charged music or making people think in social terms, events within the band have made them grow exponentially in terms of spreading their views on society. Criss Oliva’s death has made them think twice about their own behavior and has even affected fans’ behavior as well. The war in Sarajevo has altered fans’ ideas on war and that it is mostly fought either for profit or no reason at all. However, the recent war on terrorism has changed the band’s views a little, as there is no escaping it. Though it was started for senseless means, we must rid the world of warmongers.

Some of the members of Savatage, including Caffery, have shown they are trying to take action this holiday season by playing in a band called Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Their goal is to lighten everyone’s holiday spirit by touring the United States playing original Christmas music. They have even been seen on The Conan O’Brien Show, Late Night with Jay Leno, the ABC Family Channel, and QVC. Their two holiday themed CDs, which are both concept albums, have new meaning for fans and non-fans alike.

Savatage – “Of Rage and War” (Gutter Ballet, 1989)
You got Libya, you got Russians
You got civilian planes crashing into the oceans
Airports full of terrorists, Nazi skins anarchists

Better listen to me you son of a bitch
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch
You have no Goddamn right to do the things you do
The world would be a better place if we got rid of you
Of rage and war

Every country’s got the bomb the scientists are working on
Chemical weapons to melt the flesh with no source of defense
Shoot me I’ll shoot you, like there’s nothing better to do
Who’s the loser in the end

Better listen to me you son of a bitch
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch
You have no Goddamn right to do the things you do
The world would be a better place if we got rid of you
Of rage and war

War broods in foreign lands, missiles launch upon command
Islam Lebanon what the hell is going on
Ambassadors who say they try, negotiating suicide
Are they prepared to face the end?
Of rage and war

Savatage – “I Am” (Dead Winter Dead, 1995)

I see a little man and he’s wondering
If over his little plot he might be king
And if he finds his present world a little boring

There’s no land that is so small
That it cannot divide, so come on draw the line
And you just pick your side, ignoring anyone who gives a warning

For I am the answer you seek
The dream in your sleep you never wanted to awaken
I have the plan that won’t fail, the crime without trail
And all I really need right now is you

I see a little man thinking that he might need more
And so his eyes are drifting to the house next door
And he wonders if his neighbors might be leaving

So he makes a little offer that they’ll understand
There’s no point in letting things get out of hand
For no one wants to see their widows grieving

For I am the answer you seek
The dream in your sleep you never wanted to awaken
I have the plan that won’t fail, the crime without trail
And all I really need right now is you

For I am the word without deeds
The lie that exceeds, for lies are always most impatient
I am the guide for the lost who never asks cost
And all I really need right now is you

I see a little man sitting and he’s wondering
All I really need right now is you
All I really need right now is you
All I really need right now is you

Savatage – “Doesn’t Matter Anyway” (Dead Winter Dead, 1995)

It don’t matter what you said
In the mind of someone you are now dead
And what makes it bad is that they’re living next door
So you’ll need some weapons, that’s what I’m here for

Seems you got us a war

AK-47, Tom Cat, F-11
Hardly ever used, tell me what am I bid
You on the back wall, this is it last call
Better buy ’em now or you’ll wish that you did

You’ll wish that you did

I know you know
In this world you gotta pay
It’s all for sale What’s your side
You couldn’t say

It doesn’t matter anyway

Claymore land mines, anti-personal kind
Good for making borders and they’re easy to hide
Buried once in the ground, only one way they’re found
Another fine product we deliver with pride

We’ll make a deal on the side

M-Ones, Ammo too
Stinger Missile got a few
Better get ’em now while we have ’em in store
Good for a last stand, straight out of Afghanistan
If you never use ’em, you can save ’em
Till your next civil war

‘Cause that’s what they’re for

I know you know
In this world you gotta pay
It’s all for sale, what’s your side
You couldn’t say

It doesn’t matter anyway

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