In addition to Clint Eastwood, Rage Against the Machine was thrust into the Presidential election news recently when Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan identified himself as a big RAtM fan. Rage guitar player Tom Morello got wind of this and penned an op-ed for Rolling Stone where he basically goes on about how Paul Ryan is a big stupid jerk, especially for liking music whose message is intended to be anti-Paul Ryan.
However what Morello misses is that music, like any art, can be appreciated on any number of different levels and is susceptible to a variety of different interpretations. I grew up listening to Rage Against the Machine not for the ideas that inspire their music, but for the energy and passion that animated it. Taking a step back to consider the messages Morello says the band stands for, I’m sure I can get on board with some of those ideas. Others, not so much, but like I said, the message isn’t necessarily the reason why Rage Against the Machine is in my playlist.
Beyond that, just looking at Rage’s self-titled debut album, there’s certainly room for interpretation that would be friendly to the modern-day Republican party. “Take the Power Back” includes putdowns to European ideas and the way they are taught in schools. “Know Your Enemy” concludes with a list of enemies of Rage Against the Machine, including assimilation and “the elite”. The entire album is laced with anti-government sentiment, even if most of that is with relation to use of force against the citizenry. At the very least, this could plausibly be interpreted in a manner that Tom Morello and company didn’t exactly intend (without being “Born in the U.S.A.”-wrong).
Perhaps the greatest irony is that Morello himself has become part of the corporate machine that he would rage against. Rage Against the Machine put all four of their albums out on Epic Records, a Sony subsidiary. Sony has advanced legislation that would only further their interests at the expense of technology development and intellectual property law, generally. It’s probably not too hard to find a lot of other bad things they’ve done either.
Backed with the support of a major label, Morello has sold millions of records and amassed a fortune estimated to be in the neighborhood of $60 million. He’s a major player in the music industry and has the cachet to get published in Rolling Stone at the drop of a hat. None of this is to diminish the work that the band has done or the music they’ve made, which has been excellent. But Morello and co. have certainly reaped many benefits from their place in the machine.
For the most part, this doesn’t bother me, but Rage Against the Machine’s pioneering rap-metal sound also paved the way for the likes of Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and Linkin Park, and that makes me want to rage against the machine. Or rage against Rage Against the Machine. Or maybe both.
Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine