The Road to Rage
Rage Against the Machine is hardly the first rock n’ roll band with a partisan ax to grind - or play. Below are four bands whose passionate politicking paved the way.
By David Bender. Transcribed by David de Sola.
Public Enemy Fronted by the thoughtful Chuck D, Public Enemy has always defied easy categorizing. Rap purists call the group too melodic, while the hip hop community can’t get past the aggressive sampling and staccato street sounds that permeate much of Public Enemy’s music. Yet Chuck D, who once angrily titled a PE record It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, is a surprisingly mainstream activist. He has been honored by Rock The Vote for his commitment to voter registration, and he has even appeared as a special correspondent on Fox News, which is hardly considered a hotbed of liberalism. Rage admits to having been heavily influenced by Public Enemy, and there’s a long-standing mutual admiration society between these two highly political bands.
U2 You couldn’t invent a more impressive political resume than the one that U2 has written for itself during the last 15 years. In the’80s, its political activism – including an unforgettable breakthrough performance at Live Aid and a triumphant American tour on behalf of Amnesty International – was unparalleled. Most recently, lead singer Bono has been campaigning on behalf of debt relief for developing countries. In 1997, Rage Against the Machine was the opening act on U2’s garish but hugely successful PopMart tour. "We just went on tour with U2," guitarist Tom Morello said after it was over. "We made $400,000, and we gave it all away. We donated 100 percent of our profits to various activist organizations." Not even U2 could match that.
The Clash If the members of Rage Against the Machine had been born 20 years earlier – and in England – they might have been the Clash. Instead Rage grew up listening to such songs as "White Riot" and "London Calling," and drawing early inspiration from the furious political messages of this hugely influential proto-punk British band. "Living in a small suburb in Illinois," Tom Morello once told a reporter, "I knew I was being lied to by Tom Brokaw and Ronald Reagan and George Bush. And the Clash was spelling it out with Sandinista…in very clear detail. They helped confirm [my] suspicions and made me feel less like a paranoid conspiracy theorist than I might have otherwise."
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Although rock’s original supergroup last toured while Richard Nixon occupied the White House, CSNY’s signature anthems – "Ohio," "Long Time Gone," and "Chicago" – still evoke powerful images of ‘60s idealism tempered by ‘70s realism. Since 1974, however, the band members have rarely performed together as CSNY, reuniting only for major benefits such as Live Aid, Farm Aid, and Neil Young’s annual Bridge School concerts in San Francisco. With its long-awaited new CD, Looking Forward, recently released and an arena tour scheduled for early next year, CSNY is likely to raise political consciousness for a new generation of fans.