Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on Parade
Rage Against the Machine introduced my 13 year old self to the idea of encapsulating politics in art. Most serious art, that most insufferable of phrases, contains a political element, but rarely so nakedly and on the surface as with RAtM. I already knew that music could contain a message. I was even willing to accept that “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” played a significant role in the civil rights movement (because I had seen movie montages) even if I wasn’t clear on the mechanism by which it worked.
But Rage left none of the politics to chance and instead wielded a duel ended sledgehammer of political fury and bludgeoning hard rock and hip-hop. Problematically, I couldn’t tell you exactly what their politics were. Only that they really felt it. Also, think about a duel ended sledgehammer and how well that would not work.
“Bulls on Parade” arrived with an explosive guitar intro and a chaotic video that mixed concert footage with historical protests that served to heighten the “WTF?!” factor for me. Never before had I heard anything like it in the MTV Buzz Bin (if you remember that, it’s ok to feel old). Zach de la Rocha’s line “They don’t gotta burn the books, they just remove ’em now” always stuck with me, like the wisdom of a man who had thought about things. I didn’t even have a half-baked political agenda at the time, but I found value in Rage Against the Machine’s anger over grunge’s general disaffection. Whatever was happening here felt pretty important in 1996.
I don’t know enough about playing the guitar to say that Tom Morello is a great guitarist. I do know enough to say that he teased some devastatingly cool noises out of his instrument and made the sound popular and distinctive. You know when Tom Morello plays guitar. Morello is the Hideo Nomo of guitarists – an unconventional delivery that redefined how to be successful in a craft.