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:

The Pol­i­tics & Phi­los­o­phy of the Bauhaus Design Move­ment: A Short Intro­duc­tion

Hear a 4 Hour Playlist of Great Protest Songs: Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Bob Mar­ley, Pub­lic Ene­my, Bil­ly Bragg & More

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 (34)
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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?

  • Brutus Beefcake says:

    I’ve always been a RATM fan and always will till the day I die… or until RATM sell out to THE MACHINE which I hope they nev­er will…

  • Kristie says:

    I am so so dis­ap­point­ed in rage ! I can see clear­ly now what there band is tru­ly about!! I was dumb and didn’t see that they rep­re­sent social­ism ! That is a big wake up.… that’s there game.. I will trash every thing I own that rep­re­sents this band.. wow I see them at Wood­stock 99 hmm­m­m­m­mm yes now the truth is out!! There words exact­ly.….… Fuck you we aren’t going to do what you told us.….. Get out of OUR coun­try for good live in com­mu­nism is obvi­ous­ly what you want…

  • Patrick says:

    You got one part right. You are dumb. You can read, write, or lis­ten. And you can’t think for your­self.

    The truth was there for any­one to see, and for 28 years you were to blind to notice.

    You have no brain, you have to be told what to do, to think.

    RAtM was talk­ing about peo­ple like YOU this whole time, lmao.

  • ben talos says:

    I used to love RATM but now they are part of that machine pro­mot­ing divi­sion and hate, which is actu­al­ly the main goal of the machine a the moment.

  • Joey Herrera says:

    Late to this arti­cle but I was real­ly influ­enced by RATM in my teenage years. They are the rea­son I hate both the repub­li­can par­ty and the demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty, cor­po­rate greed and police.
    It’s sad to see Tom blow­ing the democ­rats.
    If you think their lyrics were fond of red or blue you weren’t lis­ten­ing.
    Why haven’t we got­ten health­care for the peo­ple yet? The democ­rats aren’t push­ing for it is why. AOC is a fraud she was sup­posed to push the Dems to the left and get us health­care. Now she calls Pelosi “Mama Bear”. Great, “now’s not the time” to push for a vote on health­care but it is the time to push for tril­lions for infra­struc­ture?
    We rank some­where around 13th in the world in infra­struc­ture, I think peo­ple hav­ing health­care is a lit­tle more impor­tant.
    So sick of every­one’s blind loy­al­ty to “their” side.
    I’m here to say f**k your side unless you are on the side of the peo­ple, and that side sure as hell isn’t the democ­rats or the repub­li­cans. Quit fight­ing with each oth­er and wake up. Let’s make these bas­tards who have health­care for life serve and lis­ten to us like they’re sup­posed to.
    They know you’ll nev­er crit­i­cize their side because you’re to busy hat­ing the oth­er side. Stop wor­ry­ing about how messy your neigh­bors house is when you need to clean yours. They’re both owned by the same cor­po­ra­tions.
    I don’t give a s**t if you don’t agree with me because just like you and your blind sup­port for peo­ple who don’t care about you, I can­not be swayed.
    Destroy the 2 par­ty sys­tem, it no longer serves us.

  • Shasti Williams says:

    Old hippie/New fan…been out­raged­foral­most a milineum!you are tight! N right…luv U!

  • Caroline says:

    Takes a Trump sup­port­er to make an igno­rant ‘obser­va­tion’ like that. Maybe he does­n’t want to hear it because it speaks direct­ly to his big­otry and all the evil heart­less polit­i­cal pun­dits whom he wor­ships who love keep­ing all their favorite so-called ‘unde­sir­ables’ oppressed. RATM has amaz­ing mes­sages in their music that EVERYONE and every gen­er­a­tion NEEDS to hear. I don’t even care for that genre of music but I feel rage is THEE BEST rock band in the game BECAUSE OF their anti-estab­lish­ment mes­sages.

  • D says:

    Besties what did y’all think the “machine” was I just always assumed it was Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ism

  • gofuqyoself says:

    what are you even talk­ing about? you’re just lis­ten­ing non­sen­si­cal nick­names. the far right are fas­cists. objec­tive­ly. you don’t need to like the dems. but in this day and age, it’s either amer­i­ca and REAL patri­o­tism or the end of democ­ra­cy and fas­cism until we crum­ble. if every­one actu­al­ly did some research, or like, just THOUGHT before they spoke we wouldn’t be in this sit­u­a­tion. do bet­ter.

  • Alan Smithee says:

    As opposed to the indoc­tri­nat­ing cur­rent col­lege stu­dents who protest to feel part of a group. Bunch of lem­mings

  • may says:

    Tom’s stance has refused to slide to the right with the rest of the spec­trum. His stance has been clear to me since 7th grade. lol

  • may says:

    Tom’s refused to slide to the right with the rest of the spec­trum. His stance has been clear to me since 7th grade. lol

  • Richard Pickel says:

    Don’t know how you imag­ined that AOC was much of any­thing but Hillary 2.0. Right down to wear­ing large eye­glass­es try­ing to appear to be wicked smart. D is dif­fer­ent than R, though. But the peo­ple try­ing to rape you will always be more ded­i­cat­ed to their job than the peo­ple try­ing to stop you from being raped will be ded­i­cat­ed to theirs.

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