I know it’s really long, but this is really important, to me, and I think for people to hear. Please, if you can, bear with me, and hear me out.
i wanted to put this up because it’s important to me, not really that I think it’s a good picture.
This is my Rise Against ticket. it’s been in my wallet since the day I got it, and even though I have no money, or cards of important people, or anything of value, nothing will ever be as important as the lesson I learned the day I got it. A good 5 years back now, I went and saw them live. Previously, I had been homeless for 6 weeks that summer, kicked out by my fiancee who was cheating on me. The only CD I took with me, selling the rest for money for food, was Rise Against’s “The Sufferer and the Witness”. I listened to it every goddamn day, and as with a lot of music, each and every song began to mean something important with me. There were nights I drove miles with my gas light on, crying and singing these songs at the top of my lungs, overwhelmed and hurt and upset, taking comfort in the music. I ended up in Illinois staying with a friend, with a few other friends for a while, and for my birthday, though it’s in November, and this was June, my group all pooled together a little bit of money, and bought me a ticket to go with them to this concert, as we rode in the bed of a pick up truck to Saint Louis.
When we got there, we were early, having to drive for a while, and not minding waiting in line in order to get a good spot. The manager came out, and asked who was here to see Rise Against. We all raised our hands, and the manager grabbed ten people to go meet the band. I watched as all my friends got picked, and I was not one of them. They started to follow the manager, and one of my friends tapped him on the shoulder.
“Um… ‘scuse me. Can he come too? It would… sort of be really important to him.”
The manager said that there were only ten people allowed, and headed back towards the door. She just… stared, and told me to go, that she would stay.
We went in, and there they were, standing and waiting for us. I walked up to Tim, the lead singer, and shook his hand, my heart going a million miles a minute. He has one green eye, and one blue, for those of you who were unaware, making him extra inspiring. I was one of the first in line, and I was nervous as fuck as I introduced myself.
“Hey… I’m Tim, too… and um. I just wanted to tell you that your music means more to me than I can honestly describe. This summer, I was homeless, and your music was the only CD I had to listen to…”
The manager tapped me on the shoulder, and told me to move along, people were waiting. Then Tim did something I never thought I’d see a famous person do. He raised an eyebrow at the manager, and said quietly
“Well then, let them wait. Can’t you see he’s is telling me something?”
I sorta just… stared. It was crazy. I continued my story, telling him about how I had listened to them, and how in particular, their song “Voices Off Camera” meant something real to me, written from the point of view of someone homeless, who feels like a burden to everyone, unable to do anything right. All he needs a place to stay, and tomorrow he’ll be gone. I told him a lot, and almost started crying, and the entire time, he looked me in the eye, and genuinely listened. After a moment, I finished, and he smiled, I think a little taken aback, and reached his arm out. He gave me a sort of side hug, and tapped the side of his head with his finger.
“As long as you believe that you can do anything you set your mind to, and you’re willing to work for it, everything will always be alright. Life is a fight. Don’t get overwhelmed by it, just adapt to combat each challenge that comes along.”
I’ll never forget that he said that. It was one of those moments where my way of thinking, and acting, and doing, changed forever, and I didn’t even realize it. I talked to the rest of the band, personable, and interested in what I was saying, and they said it was time to go get ready. Tim came over to me again, sticking out his hand.
“We do this for the people who listen. The ones to who the music matters, and who take something real, and true out of everything we do, and to who our songs are so much more than music. We do this shit for you. Do you have something I could sign for you?”
I handed him my ticket stub, the only thing I owned that day, besides my clothes I had carried with me when I was homeless, and he signed the back of it, handing it back to me without a word. With that, he smiled, and turned around, walking back towards backstage in this silly little dive bar. I couldn’t even breathe.
The show started and after all the other bands came on, Rise Against came out. I flipped my shit. We were right in the front, and I clung to that barrier for dear life, set on being right there in front of them as they played. Every single song meant something, and I jumped and screamed and sang every word at a fever pitch, at the top of my lungs. They played for a solid hour and a half, looked perfect, sounded perfect, was perfect. After so long, I knew the show would be ending, and Tim addressed the audience.
“I think we have time for one more…” He looked up at the bar. “Fuck it, I don’t care. We’re playing this song.”He looked back, and nodded to the band, and they started playing.
It was my song. I swear to God that I’m trying not to cry as I type this and remember. That song EXPLODED out of the speakers, the guitar solo at the beginning beginning abruptly, and not two notes made it out before I burst into tears as I stared up at that stage. I have never sang a single piece of music half as heartfelt and truly as I sang that song, then. I jumped and screamed and cried and watched the band play and felt so completely lost in that moment I forgot there were other people there. Something I will never forget in my entire life happened.
Tim looked over during the guitar bridge and saw me. I knew he did as soon as it happened, that he recognized me, and that he had done this FOR me. He walked across the stage, put his foot up on the monitor, and reached out. He grabbed my arm, pulled me as close to him as the barrier would allow, and sang the last verse with me, right there, his forehead on mine and his hand on the back of my head.
the heart is something you can’t control
we either choose to follow or be left on our own
so we’re leaving here on a less-traveled road
as the desperate cries grow louder
I know we’re getting close, getting close
and so I hit the ground and I’m still running
but I need a place to stay tonight
I swear I’ll be gone in the morning
I just need somewhere warm to close my eyes
I sang those lines with my entire fucking being. It lasted forever. There really arent even words to describe how I felt. Every time I’ve tried to explain it, I feel I’ve failed so hard to capture all the emotion and beauty in it that I just can’t.
That verse ended, and he shoved me roughly away, moved back to the middle of the stage, sang the chorus one last time as he looked out at the crowd, and the music stopped. He looked out at everyone, and spoke loudly into the mic.
“Listen up! All you kids out there who have ever felt like shit, ever felt worthless or abandoned or alone, you listen to me right now. Keep that fucking chin up, keep that fucking guard up, protect yourself, and you swing as hard as you fucking can at this life. They are going to try and take the things you love, your dreams, your hopes, your entire life from you, but they CAN NOT TAKE your fucking will to survive. And as long as you know they can’t beat you, they can’t hurt you or keep you down, you will always be the one who comes out on top, and you will be happy. And that is the most important thing you will ever have. They CAN’T beat us, because WE WON’T LET THEM.”
He threw his middle finger to us, and the entire crowd screamed and cheered and put our middle fingers in the air, and he turned on stage, and pointed his finger at me, looked me right in the eyes, and turned it upright, giving me the finger and grinning. I gave it right back, tears straming down my face again.
“Goodnight, Saint Louis!”
He turned back to the crowd, threw his finger again, and turned around and walked off stage. And I just stood there, crying and feeling the happiest I had ever felt in my entire life. The bravest, the most powerful and real.
When you feel like you can’t do things, that it’s too hard or you’re too scared or the world is too big, don’t you ever fucking forget that your will to be what everyone says you can’t, or won’t, or could never be, is all you need to prove them wrong. All you could ever need is right there inside you, and no one, big or small or one person or a million, could, can, or will ever be able to take that from you.
Throw your middle finger to the world, and let the pursuit of happiness be all you’ll ever need.