Tom Morello Responds to Angry Fans Who Suddenly Realize That Rage Against the Machine’s Music Is Political: “What Music of Mine DIDN’T Contain Political BS?”

I, Dancing Bear,” a song by an obscure folk artist who goes by the name Birdengine, begins thus:

There are some things that I just do not care to know

It’s a lovely little tune, if maudlin and macabre are your thing, a song one might almost call anti-political. It is the art of solipsism, denial, an inwardness that dances over the abyss of pure self, navel gazing for its own sake. It is Kafka-esque, pathetic, and hysterical. I love it.

My appreciation for this weird, outsider New Romanticism does not entail a belief that art and culture should be “apolitical,” whatever that is.

Or that artists, writers, musicians, actors, athletes, or whomever should shut up about politics and stick to what they do best, talk about themselves.

The idea that artists should avoid politics seems so pervasive that fans of some of the most blatantly political, radical artists have never noticed the politics, because, I guess, they just couldn’t be there.

One such fan just got dunked on, as they say, a whole bunch on Twitter when he raged against Tom Morello for the “political bs.”

That’s Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, whose debut 1992 album informed us that the police and the Klan work hand in hand, and that cops are the “chosen whites” for state-sanctioned murder. That Rage Against the Machine, who raged against the same Machine on every album: "Bam, here’s the plan; Motherfuck Uncle Sam."

The poor sod was burned so badly he deleted his account, but the laughs at his expense kept coming. Even Morello responded.

Why? Because the disgruntled former fan is not just one lone crank who didn’t get it. Many people over the years have expressed outrage at finding out there's so much politics in their culture, even in a band like Rage that could not have been less subtle. Many, like former lever-puller of the Machine, Paul Ryan, seem to have cynically missed the point and turned them into workout music. Morello's had to point this out a lot. (Ditto Springsteen.)

This uncritical consumption of culture without a thought about icky political issues is maybe one reason we have a separate political class, paid handsomely to do the dirty work while the rest of us go shopping. It's a recipe for mass ignorance and fascism.

You might think me crazy if I told you that the CIA is partly responsible for our expectation that art and culture should be apolitical. The Agency did, after all, follow the lead of the New Critics, who excluded all outside political and social considerations from art (so they said).

Influential literary editors and writing program directors on the Agency payroll made sure to fall in line, promoting a certain kind of writing that focused on the individual and elevated psychological conflict over social concerns. This influence, writes The Chronicle of Higher Education, "flattened literature" and set the boundaries for what was culturally acceptable. (Still, CIA-funded journals like The Paris Review published dozens of "political" writers like Richard Wright, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and James Baldwin.)

Then there’s the whole business of Hollywood film as a source of Pentagon-funded propaganda, sold as innocuous, apolitical entertainment….

When it comes to journalism, an ideal of objectivity, like Emerson’s innocent, disembodied transparent eye, became a standard only in the 20th century, ostensibly to weed out political bias. But that ideal serves the interests of power more often than not. If media represents existing power relationships without questioning their legitimacy, it can claim objectivity and balance; if it challenges power, it becomes too “political.”

The adjective is weaponized against art and culture that makes certain people who have power uncomfortable. Saying "I don't like political bs in my culture" is saying "I don't care to know the politics are there."

If, after decades of pumping “Killing in the Name,” you finally noticed them, then all that’s happened is you’ve finally noticed. Culture has always included the political, whether those politics are shaped by monarchs or state agencies or shouted in rap metal songs (just ask Ice-T) and fought over on Twitter. Maybe now it’s just getting harder to look away.

Related Content:

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Love the Art, Hate the Artist: How to Approach the Art of Disgraced Artists

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Comments (21)
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  • Jef Tobias says:

    That one tweet that kills your twitter account. I’m glad I didn’t have twitter when I was young and stupid. I don’t have it now because I’m old and wise enough to know how stupid I can be.

  • Randy says:

    When you suddenly realise nobody listens to your lyrics

  • Ziggy says:

    You obviously do not have a clue about RATM or their real fans.

  • Shmode says:

    Solid article.

  • Dave Baraskewich says:

    I am a 65 year old who is a big fan of Rage. The first time I heard their music I heard what they were trying to get across. The lyrics express what most people feel but are afraid to say it. Go back and listen to the 60’s-70’s music, the time of Vietnam. You will hear songs and lyrics that express the same points of view but in a different era. The Machine is getting more and more out of control, look at what or who most countries have for leaders. Dictatorial leaders are on the rise under the guise as to one who is the best for their country. I could go on,but one has to stop somewhere. Rage…. Keep Raging.

  • David Kelly says:

    Who are these “dictatorial leaders??”. For me, they are: Nancy “Psycho” Pelosi, Chuckie “Upchuck” Schumer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Cuomo, Hillary “Liar” Clinton, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, Joe “Touchy Feely” Biden, etc etc!

  • Ada says:

    The funniest post I’ve seen related to this:
    “what machine you thought they be raging against… The dishwasher??

  • BlueStateZek says:

    Great, Rage on against tyranny. But if Morello thinks mobs of spoiled brats looting Target’s electronic aisle is the answer, then he’s in for a big surprise. #therussianrevolution

  • Ron K. says:

    I’ve always known that Rage, Tom and Zack, et al, have very, very shitty political opinions and they look for and often find corruption and racism where there is NONE….
    But, I’ve always liked their music despite that fact. The beats, the rhythm, Tom’s ability to make a guitar sound like scratching and sampling…..ALL would be just as great without the radical anti-American theme of the lyrics. It’s entirely possible to love the delivery but hate the message!

  • Margaret says:

    The best message here. Trump 2020.

  • Walker says:

    Yup, 2020. 20 years for obstruction and 20 years for bribery, lying, deliberately overcharging tax payers, etc… Imp45

  • Jake Caldwell says:

    Trump’s number 1 voting demographic…non-college educated white people. Enough said.

  • Adolfo Perez says:

    It’s sad that a lot of people have blinders on their eyes and crap in their ears, oblivious to what’s really going on. But yet want to talk down on someone who’s trying to open the eye’s of those that are hearing the music. But not listening to the message. Keep on RAGING.

  • Plutocracywatch says:

    The mainstream media polarization of the left and the right in our bogus two party system, is on purpose to devide us. D.K. you really haven’t been paying attention. Republican, Democrat it doesn’t matter who gets in, your rights are chiseled away at or stripped forever. Trump talks a good game but we have been duped. If Trump rolls out the military in downtown America you will stand and cheer. Wake up before it’s too late.

  • Nosho Kosugi says:

    I loved rage when they first came out in the early 90’s and they were relevant to the underground culture of the time. They pushed the envelope as far as lyrics and sounds go and I haven’t heard a band like them since. As a teenager their lyrics spoke to me and I could relate to the angst they portrayed. I learned a lot by looking up the meanings behind what they were saying, and in a way they changed my life by making me take an active role in just trying to make sense of politics.
    Cut to now, some 20yrs later, and its not quite the same story. Politics, and culture in general today has changed, especially among the youth, it is nothing but a marketers wet dream…almost thanks to bands like rage. There was never really a big youth demographic that aimed politics and/or political music like rage did when they 1st came out. And over the years, each generation of kids that came after has been indoctrinated and conditioned by corporate conglomerates who have turned things like protesting for a cause into a billion dollar commercial campaign where they pretend to be “woke” in order to sell crap to kids.
    And with rage making a “comeback”, and the mainstream media paying alot more attention to them this time because now it suits their marketing agenda, I think they should’ve just stayed away and kept the last shred of authenticity they still had. Instead I see things like them charging outrageous prices for shows, which they say most of it goes to “charities” or whatever, but even if they did, the only people who are able to afford to go will be the rich white upper class people they’ve been so wholeheartedly “raging against” all these years.
    So sorry Tom and the rest of the guys, but this is one fan who, always knew your politics and at one time raged right along there with you as a kid, but now wish you’d just go away and not participate in this so called “uprising”, mostly because its being led on by the machine itself, that I thought you were against?
    But then again, rage has always been hypocrites when it comes to these things, its just more obvious and pathetic than ever before. I mean the whole “anti-capitalist” thing just doesn’t have that bite to it anymore coming from 4 dudes who made millions off of it. You just know when things like Amazon are “sponsers” for these “protests” and rage(before covid) was set to play at places like “Citibank” arena, that their original fire they once had has been thoroughly extinguished. Sad times…

  • Kema Lindsey says:

    The lyrics are the main reason I love RATM. The band’s name is a real good reason to expect that their music is not K-Pop. The ignorance of this country is amazing.
    Rage until I die!

  • RepublichimpshateAmerica says:

    Nope. It is you that is anti American. Only a white supremacist says people find racism where there is none. I bet you believe those NYPD pig thugs who lied about being poisoned. Incorrect, you are the one who hates America. If you are too dumb too understand the lyrics you don’t deserve top listen to RATM. You have to be really stupid to love the music but hate the message.

  • RepublichimpshateAmerica says:

    Anyone who supports the orange chimp at this point is a danger to the country.

  • RepublichimpshateAmerica says:

    There is no polorziton. In a real country Democrats would fit more in left with center right conservitives.

  • Christopher Steeber says:

    You really are a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?

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