Where This Meets That
It may come as a shock to some of you, but I love this band. Especially nearing election time.
No, I don’t agree with all of their politics. Nor do I love the profanity that saturates their songwriting. I do, however, love the raw energy and passion that boils throughout their musical catalog.
Guitarist Tom Morello and vocalist Zack de la Rocha founded Rage Against the Machine in 1991 Los Angeles, fusing elements of heavy metal, funk, and rap to create a unique sound that quickly earned it a platform in the musical mainstream, despite its harsh critiques of the mainstream American establishment.
Morello’s groovy, innovative guitar work gives Rage a uniquely listenable edge among the metal rap genre, and his Harvard degree gives the band’s “soapbox” a level of structural reinforcement. De la Rocha, meanwhile, is the voice of Rage, ranging vocals from intimate whispers to raucous howls, all driven by a visceral enmity toward the world’s power structures, especially those of the first world.
When the band Radiohead released its sixth album, Hail to the Thief, in 2003, they demured on admitting the obvious, that it was a slam against the American establishment, the Bush administration in particular. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke told Spin Magazine, “. . . if I discuss the details of [how my political beliefs affected the songwriting on Hail . . .] in Spin magazine, I will get death threats. And I’m frankly not willing to get death threats, because I value my life and my family’s safety. And that sort of sucks, I realize, but I know what is going on out there.”
Now, I’m a big Radiohead fan, too, and I fully appreciate anyone’s aversion to receiving death threats, but serving up a production like that then backing away seems a bit wishy washy – even negligent – to me. If you’re going to use your fame to make political charges, then I think you should at least be ready to stand behind them.
In the 1995 film Braveheart, Robert the Bruce’s father tells his conflicted son, “Uncompromising men are easy to admire,” and, creatively speaking, I find it hard not to admire Rage Against the Machine. To my knowledge, they’ve never compromised their politics in any palpable way.
They’ve never backed away from any of their charges, never “sold out”. When accused of hypocrisy by releasing anti-corporate music under a corporate label, Morello responded, “When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels. Would Noam Chomsky object to his works being sold at Barnes & Noble? No, because that’s where people buy their books. We’re not interested in preaching to just the converted. It’s great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it’s also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart.”
When they were together, Rage Against the Machine regularly staged political rallies while donating proceeds from their music and performances to various charities. Their music was consistently a way to promote their platform, not vice versa. In an industry rife with publicity stunts and contrived social agendas calculated to craft a certain image for an artist, Rage was the real thing.
And I expect I’ll be listening to them a good bit as November draws near!