The New York Times
The Pop Life: Raging at the Media


One of the highlights of last month's three-day Woodstock '99 festival in Rome, N.Y., was a performance by Rage Against the Machine, the politically minded Southern California rap and hard-rock band. The New York Times asked the group's guitarist, Tom Morello, to write about his reaction to the festival and its aftermath: four reports of rape to police and a post-festival melee during which some audience members set fires, looted trucks and leapt through the flames until hundreds of New York State Police troopers arrived.

Morello writes: "Hey man, leave the kids alone. I've had enough of the frenzied demonization of young people surrounding Woodstock '99.

"Yes, there were fires and the kids danced around them in pagan glee. Yes, parts of the stage and scaffolding were torn down with great enthusiasm. But was this just senseless violence or were these acts of sweet revenge against concert organizers who gouged the kids throughout the weekend with grossly overpriced water, beer and food?

"Maybe the crass commercialism of the event and the greedy exploitation of these youngsters caught up with the vendors and promoters. Or maybe it was just a good old-fashioned healthy riot. One with a killer soundtrack. And while some of the concertgoers were naked or painted or covered in tinfoil, perhaps they were just rejoicing in not having to wear their annoying school uniform for three days.

"Media coverage of the event and the accompanying political grandstanding have been grossly hypocritical. Indignant editorials and television broadcasts raving over the 'horrific violence' and 'terrifying blazes' were rampant. But, when U.S. Tomahawk missiles lit a children's hospital outside of Belgrade on fire, killing many inside, it was not chewed over to this extent. More incredulous attention was paid to kids' setting fires at Woodstock.

"The truly inexcusable crime committed at Woodstock is the reported sexual assaults. During our set we didn't see anything of the kind taking place and would have stopped the show immediately if we had. Rage Against the Machine has a great deal of respect for its audience and demands that they respect one another. We use our music not only to entertain, but to galvanize and inspire our fans to fight back against abuse and injustice wherever they rear their ugly heads -- in the home, in the school, at work or in society at large. And while most of the other bands at Woodstock '99 have a more escapist bent, they certainly shouldn't be blamed for this thuggish behavior. More members of the New York City Police Department have participated in, watched and laughed at a broomstick rape than anyone onstage at Woodstock.

"Yes, Woodstock was filled with predators: the degenerate idiots who assaulted those women, the greedy promoters who wrung every cent out of thirsty concertgoers, and last but not least, the predator media that turned a blind eye to real violence and scapegoated the quarter of a million music fans at Woodstock '99, the vast majority of whom had the time of their lives.

"Perhaps we'll have to wait until these vandals and pyromaniacs grow up to become the C.E.O.'s of media conglomerates, like their predecessors at the original Woodstock who enshrined and mythologized that event, to see where this concert fits into our history."