Rage Against the Machine Saturday Night Live Incident


Immediately there are problems. We planned on playing "Bulls On Parade" and "Bullet in the Head," but there's "objectionable" language in each of those songs. We assumed that Saturday Night Live would be fully prepared to bleep it out. However, that was not enough for them because Steve Forbes, the billionaire, ex-Presidential candidate was hosting the show and had friends and family in the studio. SNL insisted on muting the language during the performance within the studio itself, because they claimed they had to run a "tighter" show due to Forbes' appearance.

During rehearsal, our crew hung two American flags upside down on the grilles of the bass and guitar amplifiers. No big deal. We thought that is was appropriate, especially in the election year, to demonstrate that, in our opinion, American democracy is inverted when your only choice is between wealthy representatives of the privileged classes. We weren't tearing up pictures of the Pope (as Sinead O'Connor did), just a couple of upside-down flags. We already had to endure some of the Steve Forbes skits in which he incessantly promoted his flat tax. As the Republican Convention draws near, he just wanted to keep that on the agenda, and the show was on April 15th--Tax Day.

So anyway, they start throwing a little pissy fit when they see the flags. At this point they're completely up-front; they say we can't have the flags on-stage because it will "offend our corporate sponsors. They have to come down. Steve Forbes is on the show." And we're like, that's absolutely ridiculous, they promised us eight minutes to play what we play and do what we do and this is what we do. We argue and hassle about it and have a little conference among ourselves. It's about 5 p.m. and we say, "Okay, we'll take the flags down. *WINK*"


The dress rehearsal for the show goes off without a hitch. The flags are not there; we're waiting for the actual performance, the live performance that night. At this point there's plenty of time in the show for both of our songs.

During the dress rehearsal, we played both songs and came out at the end. They show you exactly where you stand; Steve Forbes stands at the front, you flank him on the side. He's looking straight ahead and we're glaring away. I thought, I'm just going to break the ice here, and I complimented him on a particular joke during the opening monologue. He responded like any good candidate does--he smiled that crooked grin. People were laughing their heads off at my "ice-breaker."

As an aside, it should come as no surprise that General Electric, which owns NBC, would find the second song we were going to play that night, "Bullet In The Head," objectionable. It's a song which is in part about the media manipulation of public opinion during the Gulf War, and GE was a major manufacturer of war planes that were used to commit war crimes in the Gulf, specifically the bombing of hydroelectric dams, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians.


Show time. We're standing on-stage thirty seconds before we're to begin performing "Bulls On Parade." Steve Forbes is waiting to introduce us: 25 seconds, 20 seconds.... Our roadies unfurl the upside-down flags. There's a panic among the SNL stagehands who rush to the stage to get the flags down. They're yelling, "Take the flags down!" The countdown is 15, 14, 13.... A melee ensues on-stage where our crew is grappling with their crew over the duct tape on the flags. They're successful in removing the flags as the time ticks down to five, four, three, two seconds. Steve Forbes introduces us. We play "Bulls On Parade."

As soon as we're offstage, the show's producer, Marcie Klein, Calvin Klein's daughter, informs our tour manager that we have to leave the building. There will be no second song, no cozy wave "goodnight" at the end, no hugging Steve Forbes. It's just, "Get out of the building right now." Tim Bob is so incensed that he takes one of the torn-down U.S. flags, shreds it up, charges into Steve Forbes' dressing room and hurls it at his entourage. The backstage area floods with Secret Service people because Steve Forbes, in addition to being a great comedic actor, is also a billionaire and ex-Presidential candidate. Some of us are escorted from the building and others manage to hide out long enough to meet up with our friends afterwards


That's not the end of the incident. Later outside of the NBC studios I was approached by several members of the cast and crew--to protect them from retribution by the network, they'll remain nameless--who expressed their solidarity with us and felt really embarrassed about what NBC and SNL had done, and thought that it was shameful.

The time that we were to play the second song was only, like ten minutes after the first song. They were shrieking at our manager Brigitte Wright and our A&R guy Michael Goldstone: "Get them outta here! There's no fuckin' way they're gonna play another song!" If the real reason was, as they falsely claimed in the press release, that the show ran too long, then why weren't we there at the end waving good-bye? Because we had been kicked out of the building! That just sort of heaps shame upon shame on Saturday Night Live, to lie about it after the fact like that.

Compared with some of the things we'd considered doing during our promised eight minutes on-stage, hanging two flags upside-down looked pretty pale. They should be writing us thank-you notes for only doing that.

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