Commentary: RATM's Political Legacy
Oct. 20 -- Like many rock fans, I was (at the risk of sounding cliché) shocked and saddened this week when Zack De La Rocha announced he was leaving Rage Against The Machine. But it wasn’t the musical loss that troubled me.
Yes, I’ll miss hearing Rage’s brilliant blend of rap and metal from the band that invented it — and the band that still surpasses all imitators. But I expect that in the long run I’ll miss Rage more as activists than as musicians. Because Rage Against The Machine were the last, and for the past decade the only, true activists in rock ’n’ roll.
That statement is likely to offend some, who will no doubt run off a list of other rock stars who care about political causes. But the truth is that there is absolutely no one in the industry who has had the courage or the commitment to do even once what Rage has done on a daily basis throughout their career.
Ivy League-educated, the band members have consistently taken risks to challenge their working-class audience to confront truly difficult issues.
Tiptoeing Through PoliticsMost musical “activism” falls into one of two categories. The first consists of pledging support for a cause that no sane person could possibly oppose. U2’s Bono exemplified this early in his career when he sang for an end to war. Today artists play Rock The Vote benefits, encouraging voter registration. It would be hard to find someone in favor of war, or opposed to voting.
But the real issues — the disputes that lead to armed conflicts and the voter apathy that keeps young people from the polls — are difficult to solve. And there aren’t any musicians offering suggestions on how to solve them. Because taking a stand there would almost certainly cost record sales among people who disagree with you.
A slightly more courageous approach involves musicians who take a stand on an issue that, while controversial in some circles, isn’t very risky among rock fans. Playing a Rock For Choice benefit or appearing in a PETA anti-fur ad would fall into this category. The problem here isn’t that the cause isn’t noble — it’s simply that the musicians are preaching to the choir, avoiding both the risk of offending anyone and the chance to change anyone’s opinion.