Easy Listening It Ain't

I hate to sound superficial, but the bands I’m instantly infatuated with often disappoint me soonest. I tend to hammer a favorite song until it gets stale, and then trade the disc in for two bucks toward a new one I can’t get "free" from BMG.

Conversely, good music (like truth) can be hard to listen to at first. Nobody listens to Dylan because of his lovely singing voice, and for me, Rage Against the Machine was another band that took some warming up to.

With my solid Mennonite upbringing, I was initially put off by all of the shouting—i.e. rap—and generous profanity, mostly F-bombs hurled at the status quo. Eventually, though, I came to discover that these aren’t just potty-mouthed punks barfing out the usual urban angst. They are revolutionary—musically and lyrically—with a powerful fusion of hip-hop and hard rock driven by Tom Morella’s cutting-edge guitar technique, which mimics but eschews turntables, computer sampling, and genetic modification. Lyricist and vocalist Zack de la Rocha is, as his lyrics say, "tha anti-myth rhythm rock shocker," ricocheting between poetry, protest chant, and political rant.

I’ve come to listen to Rage the same way everyone should listen to Malcolm X—the young, angry Malcolm X. Once I get over the shock of being called a white devil, I’m challenged by the truth in his perspective—one rarely heard on the news or in the pews.

Released on election day 1999, Rage’s third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, offers just such a compelling perspective. "Testify" condemns the war on Iraq ("Mass graves for the pump"), "Maria" speaks for sweatshop workers, "Voice of the Voiceless" demands justice for "my brother Mumia," "Guerrilla Radio" attacks the corporate media, and "War Within a Breath" continues themes of Zapatista solidarity from their previous album, Evil Empire.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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