Bushido and Tanka: The Pen and the Sword of Silverhand’s Samurai
Last month, CD Projekt Red, developer of the hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077, added another cut to its handful of in-game musical tracks. With the addition of “Black Dog,” that makes five tracks released in total to hype up fans ahead of the game’s impending launch. Written and recorded in collaboration with Swedish punk outfit Refused, these singles bring the gut-punching poetry of Cyberpunk legend Johnny Silverhand, and the electrifying music of his band Samurai, vividly to life.
The character of Johnny Silverhand, along with those of his bandmates, trace their roots back to the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop roleplaying game. With five tracks available to date, and more likely on their way, longtime and newly minted fans can now blast the storied lore of the Cyberpunk world through their stereos. Many of the hit songs dropped so far are referenced by name in the Cyberpunk 2020 core rulebook, drawing a direct link between Cyberpunk 2077 and its forerunning tabletop RPG.
Make no mistake, the music of Samurai, as animated by Refused, is no soulless fanservice. The evocative--and definitely provocative--lyrics bring out the texture of the world players have lost themselves (and their characters) in for 32 years and counting. To see this immersive world with the grit it demands, Silverhand’s verses deserve a closer look.
Before we pick our way through the lyrical onslaught that is Samurai, though, an introduction of their frontman, and the world his band tours, is in order.
There are plenty of sources for boning up on Cyberpunk lore, the Cyberpunk 2020 core rulebook being your best bet, so I’ll spare you the full history lesson. Johnny Silverhand was born in the ranks of the US military during the Central American Conflict. Born there because Johnny Silverhand is a stage name, but one that really stuck. The man who would become Johnny lost his arm, along with his respect for his country’s corrupt government, while taking part in the brutality that a fast-fading United States meted out against its southern neighbors.
Once Johnny got back Stateside, he was sure to let everyone know about it, in the most in-your-face way he knew how: rock. His new comrades in arms, Samurai, used their music to poke their katanas in the eye of the US government and its sycophants.
Johnny retrained the crosshairs of his harmonic offensive shortly after he started seeing 31337 (“elite” in old-school hacker speak) and alluring netrunner Alt Cunningham. Whether it was her idea of Johnny’s, his music began to echo Alt’s anti-corporate aims.
That’s when it got personal. Alt’s programming prowess caught the attention of Japanese arms and mercenary conglomerate Arasaka, leading them to acquire not just her programs but her very intellect. Ironically enough, they used one to nab the other: by adapting Alt’s mind preservation program into the fearsome Soulkiller virus, Arasaka copied Alt’s, well, soul (at least as well as software is able to do something like that) into their mainframe and destroyed the original.
So let’s just say this left Johnny with a grudge against megacorps in general, and Arasaka in particular. I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff, so I won’t go on, but that pretty much sums up the parts of Johnny’s life that show up in his art.
But there’s a reason why Johnny is so central to Cyberpunk that his music gets the literal rockstar treatment. It’s more than just noise to drown out the sound of gunfire and your thoughts to yourself about how miserable your life is. Between him, his searing lyrics, and his metal hand sticking it to the Man, Johnny is a concentrated distillation of the “punk” half of Cyberpunk.
This is a world where psychopathic corporations wield the real power, felt with every chip installed and every byte sent. Governments are too impotent to stop them, but not so much that they can’t make your life harder just to feel self-important. What keeps you down is bigger than you and everyone who wants a piece of it. The arrogance of the powers that be sure takes a lot of guts...
And that’s exactly where you suckerpunch them.
Rockerboys like Johnny, and netrunners like Alt, are the stubborn nails that refuse to be hammered. They’re the lead of the breed that can smell a corporation’s weakness, and pluck up the nerve to take a shot at it. Their audacious chrome and neon radiance is the glimmer of hope in a dark future. That’s the essence of Cyberpunk: to not go quietly when you know you can bring the noise. And bring the noise Johnny’s music does.
But we’re only just booting up. To really see Johnny’s lyrical code execute, we need to run it through the debugger, so stick around for the next dispatch.