I don’t know what I was so ashamed of.
For some reason I couldn’t spit out the words, “I… I really love Rage Against the Machine.”
The dreadlocked cliche glared at me from behind the table. I thought it was with contempt, “Yeah, they’re cool. They have a good message.”
The cliche caught me by surprise. For weeks all I had heard was how any band on a major label is a complete sell-out, anyone who drinks corporate beer is a tool to be used by the system, anyone who eats meat…blah…blah…blah.
I glared back with an anti-hypocritical hatred, “Um, I thought you hated corporate shills?”
He laughed, this was the first and only time I ever saw him do so, “Rage Against the Machine are the exception. They can be excused.”
Sitting there that day in the late 20th Century, behind the high school style table at my lame-arse voluntary job at Barricade Books in Brunswick, I learned something. What’s the point of having an important message to deliver if only a handful of people are going to hear it? Sellouts or not, Rage Against the Machine transcend all. They educate the disillusioned masses. This, is for the greater good.
Twenty years ago this month Rage Against the Machine released their second album, the epic Evil Empire. And a more spiteful, yet wholly politically accurate album, you will not hear. With charged agitations such as “Vietnow” “Year of tha Boomerang” “People of the Sun” “Down Rodeo” and the devastating “Bulls on Parade,” Evil Empire instantly cemented itself in the annals of music history as one of the most important political albums ever released; if for the only reason of its accessibility to the masses.
Anarcho-punk acts Crass, Conflict and the Subhumans are all great and all deliver important lessons, but due to their DIY stubborness and harsh angular music, only a handful of listeners are able to appreciate their tunes.
Rage Against the Machine are different. Somehow they manage to combine musical nous with spit-fuelled lyrics against all things establishment, all the while pleasing their record label (Epic) and keeping full creative control. A feat that by today’s standards is almost impossible. Evil Empire is the last great political album and in reality, the last great album of the 1990s before nu-metal and grunge lite took over; and aren’t we all ashamed of ourselves now.
I have heard many criticisms over the years against Rage Against the Machine. Zach De La Rocha’s voice is too whiny, Tom Morello is a one trick pony. That may be so, but if your only trick was juggling five running chainsaws with your eyes closed while wearing a flaming tie, why would you want any other tricks in the repertoire.
I was lucky enough to see Rage Against the Machine in Melbourne in 1996 at the Palace in St. Kilda. Chicago noiseters The Jesus Lizard were in support. A stellar line-up. To be truthful, The Jesus Lizard blew anyone off the stage that night with their legendary live show, then again, even Nirvana had to play second live fiddle to them back in the day.
In the end it didn’t matter who blew who off the stage, both bands are completely different and both bands are totally great because that night was important. Many young kids were in attendance and I’m hoping most went away happy and much more politically informed than when they came in. As well as a great performance, Zach and Tom delivered many emotional speeches and instead of a merchandise desk there were tables full of political information.
In a dumbed-down world, that’s even stupider now than 20 years ago, Rage Against the Machine are still important and still to this very day, relevant. Just look at the ridiculous circus going on in the States at the moment.
Do me, yourself and everyone else on the planet a favour, put Evil Empire on today, but don’t sit back. Stand up. Be counted and if you’re reading this in the good ol’ U.S of A, for Christ’s sake, vote Bernie Sanders.