On The Record: Rage Against The Machine, Now More Than Ever (Their Fans, Maybe Not)
If I learned anything this past weekend at Lollapalooza, it was this: Rage Against the MachineRage Against the Machine are still great, still fiery, still drill-team tight. They haven't let time, George W. or AudioslaveAudioslave change any of that.
Not surprisingly, their fans haven't changed either. Most of them are still morons.
Yes, it was 1999 all over again Saturday night in Chicago, and I mean that not just in the smash-and-dash, Woodstockian sense of the phrase. Here was Zack de la Rocha, focused and fierce, launching missives against the bullheaded Windy City police and the spy towers they had erected throughout Grant Park. Here was Tom Morello, summoning those squeals from deep within his guitar — a feat that is still impressive no matter how many times you've seen him do it now — and running circles 'round the stage. Here was Commerford and Wilk, pounding and precise as ever — making the Machine go. Here were Rage being Rage: mighty and massive.
And, of course, here were their fans, great angry throngs of shirtless men in their early 20s, most of them toddlers when Rage's self-titled debut blew up in 1993. They broke down perimeter fences, spilled onto the grounds, injured security personnel, crushed some girls against barricades and pushed others down stairs. They created a panic, they stormed the stage, and — perhaps most tellingly of all — when De la Rocha stopped RATM's set three times to beg them to relax ... they didn't listen.
And that's always been the rub with Rage and their fans: They hear the words coming out of De la Rocha's mouth, they just choose not to listen to them. They're more interested in cracking a few skulls than they are in learning about the Shining Path movement. They probably don't consider the power of a sentiment like "rollin' down Rodeo with a shotgun" while they're faux-rapping along with it, and when De la Rocha screams, "F--- you. I won't do what you tell me," they think he's talking about the security guard standing between them.
And that's a shame, but it's just the way it is. At the end of the day, kids don't want a civics lesson; they want to blow off some steam, drink a few beers, take their shirts off and get a tan. There's a reason Noam Chomsky doesn't headline the summer-fest circuit.
I'm fairly certain De la Rocha realizes this, and I bet it makes him rather sad. It's probably what he was referring to in the October 2000 statement that announced his departure from the band, saying, in part:
"Rage ... is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal."
And yet, in the seven years between that statement and Rage's reunion show at Coachella 2007, there seemed to be plenty going on that could've rekindled both of those ideals. We needed Rage, wanted to hear what they had to say about, oh, I don't know, a stolen election or an illegal war or the occupation of an entire nation. But De la Rocha remained silent, invisible. Probably because he knew what our reaction would be.
But then Morello announced that Rage were re-forming at Coachella to "combat right-wing purgatory," and De la Rocha paraphrased Chomsky onstage, comparing the Bush administration to war criminals who "should be hung, tried and shot," and things started to get interesting. Fox News got all worked up into a tizzy by De la Rocha's comments (not surprisingly, they also paraphrased them and suggested he wanted to assassinate the president), and the frontman hit back with even more incendiary barbs at Rock the Bells, and you could get the sense that maybe, just maybe, he had the ear of the nation. And then, well ... then nothing else happened. This ain't the '60s: Musicians don't have clout, and kids don't care. The news cycle moved on. Fox found something else to hyperventilate about. And that's when De la Rocha was probably like, "Man, f--- this."
So now, we get events like Saturday night at Lollapalooza. It was still very much a Rage show, only minus much of the proselytizing — why bother, if no one's going to listen or care? — and with violence and bodily harm to spare. It was an unspeakably ugly scene — girls crying, skinny kids being pulled limp over the barricade at the front of the stage — and one that could've turned out much worse (luckily, no one was seriously injured by the crush of the crowd).
And I'm not sure how Rage felt about the Lollapalooza situation. To the best of my knowledge, they haven't addressed it. They probably never will, mostly because they don't have to (after all, nothing that happened was their fault), but I'm sure, by now, they've grown accustomed to their message being all but ignored by the meatheaded masses.
Or maybe it's me who's missing something. Perhaps the chaos on Saturday night is just part of the revolution — that the kids who got smashed against the barricade or the hired security that got hurt were just casualties in the ongoing war ("Those who die," De la Rocha will remind us, "are justified"). And maybe the only way to start something is with some violence. Maybe music is a weapon and anger is a gift. Maybe I am part of the problem and not the solution. But I sort of doubt it.
After all, the dudes doing the damage at Lollapalooza weren't revolutionaries, they were drunk frat guys. Jocks. Steakheads. They were angry, for sure, though I'm not really sure why — or at whom. They didn't seem to be the kinds of people who have much to be angry about, actually. And as I watched them stream out of the Lollapalooza gates, shirtless, some bloody, yelling and kicking half-full cups of beer at people, it occurred to me that these so-called Rage fans actually had more in common with the people in power, the shadowy corporate figureheads, and the George W. Bushes of the world than they do with anyone else. They're all bullies: cruel and powerful and unconcerned with the plight of the little people.
The kind of people who have pent-up aggression, and rather than release it constructively, they just wanna hear loud, aggressive rock music and pound someone in the face. Or invade Iraq. This is not exactly normal behavior. And I'd hope De la Rocha doesn't want people like this in his Grand Revolutionary Army.
And again, nothing I've written is meant to be a slight against RATM, and I hope it's not taken as such. I think their ideals and goals are noble ones, and I'm willing to bet we share most of the same beliefs (hey, I voted for Nader — twice), plus, I think they're a great band. It's their lunkheaded fans I've had enough of.
Because if you want to make change, there are better ways of doing it than injuring people, creating chaos and kicking stale beer all over dads and kids. Vote in local elections, volunteer, write your congressman, march and protest and use your outrage for good, not dumb-assery. And I bet De la Rocha would agree with me about that — and this: When you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.
I think John Lennon said something like that once. Or maybe it was G. Love during his Sunday afternoon set. You know, whatever.
Questions? Concerns? Raging against my machine? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.