Politics have been anything but usual the past year with the ongoing activities and incessant media coverage of the 2016 campaign trail particularly drawing the ire of guitarist and activist Tom Morello.
PROPHETS OF RAGE
When: 7 p.m., September 3
Where: Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, 19100 South Ridgeland, Tinley Park
“I was getting so pissed off that the media kept referring to both the Trump and Sanders campaigns as ‘raging against the machine,’” he says of his famous band’s namesake. “I was like, no you’re not going to co-opt that. We’re gonna show you what it really means to Rage Against the Machine.”
So, over the past few months, Morello met in hiding with bandmates Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford as well as friends (and early influencers) B-Real from Cypress Hill and Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy to form the politically-charged supergroup Prophets of Rage. Though notably missing is Rage vocalist Zack De La Rocha, Morello says the new group has the singer’s blessing to go forth and conquer.
“We’re on our own mission, our own campaign,” says Morello just days before kicking off the ‘Make America Rage Again Tour,’ including a stop at Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre this weekend. The band has already been noted for its “unity, passion, anger and inspiration” by outlets like L.A. Weekly. “We’re presenting a point of view that stands in stark contrast to the racist, misogynist, war crime–advocating Donald Trump, and the totally beholden-to-Wall-Street Hillary Clinton, and providing a cultural write-in candidate with a very simple message: The world isn’t going to change itself; that’s up to you.”
Though the band has echoed that sentiment on some original material (the inaugural “The Party’s Over” EP was released August 26), much of the content of each show has drawn from a combined prolific catalogue. That includes the Public Enemy song from which Prophets of Rage gets its name as well as towering soapboxes “Fight the Power” and “Shut ‘Em Down.” In particular, the setlist is heavy on Rage Against the Machine classics including “Guerilla Radio,” “Testify,” and “Killing in the Name,” all protest songs that first gained popularity during the previous Clinton era.
“These songs are more relevant than ever in my view,” admits Morello. “It’s important that the [Rage] catalogue not remain dormant when it’s needed most with all the issues confronting the nation, from economic inequality to endless wars in the Middle East to police brutality. …And that’s really why we came together. We wanted to not just sing about being the People’s Band, but really acting like it.”
Not only has the band committed significant proceeds from each gig to various local charities (including Chicago Coalition for the Homeless), but the first three shows of the tour have been pit stops at ground zeroes like L.A.’s Skid Row, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and California’s NORCO Penitentiary, the last of which was inadvertently shut down by officials at the last minute, forcing the band to play a rogue set outside the walls. “We will not be stopped and we will not be silenced,” says Morello.
Police presence has been seen at some of the early stops on the tour, also stirred by the very physical response of the crowds that harkens back to the heyday of Rage Against the Machine (including the now infamous barricade collapse at a 2008 Lollapalooza appearance).
“There’s nothing like watching people lose their [expletive] minds to our music,” says Morello. “I think that people have been waiting for a band to finally speak up, you know. Besides Kendrick Lamar, Vic Mensa and a Beyoncé video notwithstanding, music [lately] has been bereft of content with a capital C.”
Morello says his own political awakening happened as a child growing up in the suburbs of Chicago: “I was the only black kid in an all-white town. I literally integrated the town of Libertyville, according to the real estate agent.” He recalls going door to door in the apartment complex, asking prospective neighbors if they were okay with an interracial family in the building; and later, finding a noose in the family’s garage when he was 13 years old.
Though his mother was a history teacher, he says, “I didn’t have to open a book to learn that there were things not right with the world.” At 16, he tried to join Spear of the Nation, the military wing of the African National Congress in South Africa fighting against the apartheid. And as an adult, he spent two years working as a scheduling secretary for United States Senator Alan Cranston. But a career in politics never stuck. “I got to see how the political sausage was made from inside the factory. It’s horrible. It’s totally corrupt,” he professes, saying music chose him instead.
Though Prophets of Rage wraps up their tour in October and, as of now, has no concrete plans after the election, expect them to stick around. “There will still be grave injustices facing our country and the planet, and there will still be resistance to those injustices,” says Morello, “and we will be part of that resistance.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance writer.