Let’s deal with the stone-cold facts right off the top.
When you need a soundtrack for smashing the flatscreen TV or destroying the IKEA white-pine wine rack, there are few songs more cathartic than Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade”.
Need headphone music for that bike commute where you ignore all stop signs, red lights, and crosswalks occupied by octogenarians, small dogs, and tiny children? There’s nothing better than cuing up “Killing in the Name” and screaming along to “Fuck you/I won’t do what you tell me.”
Want a workout while vaccuuming your 360-square-foot East Vancouver garden-level suite on Sundays? Rage Against the Machine has you taken care of with its cover of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Renegades of Funk”. It doesn’t matter how unfunky you are, you’ll be moving like James Brown on free Angel Dust night the second singer Zack de la Rocha warns “No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop us now.”
Given how goddamn great RATM is on the above songs, all of which come from pretty much perfect albums, taking a shot at the Los Angeles–spawned four-piece somehow doesn’t feel right. But screw it.
Dear Members of Rage Against the Machine: Where have you been, and why the fuck are you waiting until now to pad your Freedom 55 bank accounts? There’s been a war going on stateside for the past four years, and you’ve been working on solo records and “supergroups”.
The reason for bringing this up is last week’s announcement that Rage Against the Machine will reform for a series of shows—including Coachella—in 2020. The timing of those shows isn’t an accident. Next year a certain Day-Glo–orange racist, classist, and sexist oligarch will take a run at a second term in office in the USA Odds are there are enough angry white men, Stepford wives, Tiki-torch-carrying KKK chapters, and enraged NRA assholes in the country to carry him back into the White House. That’s when he’ll really start doubling down on cleansing the States of Muslims, “bad hombres”, and anyone not accessorizing their red MAGA hats with a giant shit-eating grin.
And that makes one wonder why de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk, and bassist Tim Commerford have only now decided that the time is right for fighting in the streets again.
Once upon a time, there was arguably no band more suited to mobilizing young voters in the United States of America.
Remember when Rage Against the Machine shut down the New York Stock Exchange while defying a direct order from then NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2000? Or when they took to the stage in Philadelphia with their wieners flopping in the wind during a Lollapalooza tour stop in 1993 as a protest against the Tipper Gore–led pro-music-censorship group Parents Music Resource Center?
Or when the group used 1996’s Evil Empire and singles like “Bulls on Parade” to draw attention to the way that America was building a then metaphorical wall between itself and Mexico? Need a refresher? In an interview around the album’s release, de la Rocha proved something of a prophet with observations like: “It seems as if soon as the wall in Germany fell, that the U.S. government was busy building another one between the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Since 1986, as a result of a lot of the hate talk and hysteria, that the government of the United States has been speaking, 1,500 bodies have been found on the border; we wrote this song [“Bulls on Parade”] in response to it.”
All this would have been great had Rage Against the Machine not imploded in 2000, and then turned into the alternative-rock version of a legacy act, reuniting for sporadic dates between 2007 and 2011 but releasing no new material.
In fairness, finding things to get pissed about during the Barack Obama years was something of a challenge, but the writing should have been on the wall four years ago when Donald Trump started taking to the airwaves to blame Mexicans for everything from rape stats to drug-addiction rates to birthday-party piñata accidents.
Instead, it took four years for Rage Against the Machine to do something about it.
The band’s last album of original material, The Battle of Los Angeles, was released 20 years ago. That means the kids who were in the mosh pit back when the band was doing its best to make a difference are now pushing 40, and hopefully aware enough to know that nothing changes unless they vote. At which point they’ll discover that, once again, there’s no point voting in the U.S. until the entire population of Florida dies.
The positive side of Rage Against the Machine’s decision to get back together? “Bulls on Parade”, “Killing in the Name”, and “Renegades of Funk” all still sound pretty fucking lethal today.
And the way things are looking, a whole bunch of people are going to need a soundtrack for smashing everything they own when Trump’s re-elected next November—not to mention for getting you motivated when it’s time to vacuum up the mess.
For that alone, it’s good to have Rage Against the Machine back in action. Some bands are better than others when it comes to having an outlet for one’s moral outrage—even if they’ve clearly missed the deadline.