We could debate from dusk till dawn just how far to the right this country has moved in the '90s, but it would be exceptionally hard to argue that the activist rap/rock band Rage Against the Machine has moved at all.
Rage Against the What you ask, happily ignorant of what passes for popular music today. You will do well to learn more about this band, its message, and its impact on the young.
Rage hit the scene in 1992 and since then has sold more than 5 million records in the U.S. alone. It has always carried a left-wing political message and today remains far, far left of center, as its new release, "The Battle of Los Angeles" - which debuted in the top spot on the Billboard chart - indicates.
So do remarks in the press by group members, e.g., "We are unapologetically revolutionary in our music and in our intent," as guitarist Tom Morello tells George magazine. How revolutionary? Morello has spoken favorably of Peru's murderous Shining Path guerrillas; at Woodstock '99, bassist Tim Commerford set ablaze an American flag, later stating in Rolling Stone, "My burning the flag is as much glorifying as desecrating it."
Rage professes to be against "the Machine," of course, and for the oppressed masses. As for how those masses might improve their condition, well, voting won't help much, as the single, "Guerrilla Radio," suggests: "Tha polls close like a casket/On truth devoured/.Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?/Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?/.More for Gore or the son of a drug lord/None of the above, f-- it, cut the cord."
No, the answer is revolution: "I hijacked the frequencies/Blockin' the beltway/Move on DC/.Lights out guerrilla radio/Turn that s-- up/It has to start somewhere/It has to start sometime/What better place than here/What better time than now."
The themes of "Guerrilla Radio" are found in other "Battle" tracks. The oil industry is flayed in "Testify" ("The pipeline is gushing/While here we lie in tombs/.Mass graves for the pump and the price is set") while armed uprising is lauded in "New Millennium Homes" ("Violence is in all hands/Embrace it if need be/Livin' been warfare/I press it on CD/A fire in tha master's house is set").
Elsewhere, a nasty anti-police rant surfaces in "Mic Check" ("Who got tha power/.Tha pig who's free to murder one Shucklak [sic]/Or survivors who make a move and murder one back?") and in "Voice of the Voiceless," a tribute to Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal ("Tha powerful got nervous/'Cause he refused to be their servant/'Cause he spit truth/That shook heads/.My panther, my brother, we are at war until you're free"). Rage's members support not only Abu-Jamal but also FBI-agent-killer Leonard Peltier, thereby proving that they can be noxiously radical at both the municipal and federal level.
Amazingly, it seems that Rage would be even more militant if they thought it would be effective. The George story notes that "the Marxist vocabulary of elites and cabals, which the band members use freely in conversation, rarely appears in their songs"; in the same article, Morello complains that "words like 'socialism' and 'Marxism' have been so demonized that it's difficult to have intelligent discussion about what they mean."
In fact, Rage's real heavy-duty politicking comes when the music's over. Included in the "Battle" album package are the names and Web addresses of more than a dozen organizations, most of them on the leftist fringe. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), for example, is so radical it sees a right-wing bias in the news media, and Refuse and Resist! was founded in 1987 to combat the issue agenda of Ronald Reagan, which, it declared, "ha[d] a distinctly fascist aura and raise[d] the specter of a police state."
Rage's endorsement of Refuse and Resist! shows the limitations of its commitment to the oppressed and "voiceless," given that R&R! is proudly pro-abortion. The "Reproductive Freedom" section of the organization's Web site is headlined "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" and, a few years back, R&R! conceived and began celebrating the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, the goal of which is to "change the climate...from one where abortion providers are vilified and attacked to one where they are honored and upheld as the heroes they are."
Then again, why wouldn't Rage stand behind something that grotesque and perverse when not even the clergy are safe from their venom? "Ashes in the Fall" goes, in part, "It's the priests that f-- you/As they whisper holy things."
Rage Against the Machine should inspire rage in all persons of goodwill, especially when you think of the millions of children buying - literally - its message.