Love the Machine You're With

Does Rage stir the revolution--or provide the soundtrack for the next white riot?

The Tom Frank in you, perhaps unfamiliar with de la Rocha's activist tours of duty in Chiapas, might take his images from "La Raza Livin' in La La" as little more than pyrotechnically enhanced Gap ads for the UNITE cap Morello wears in promo shots. And salvos like "We're calm like a bomb/Ignite!" can float menacingly above an arena-size floor-war, especially in the post-Gropestock slugfests that are likely to meet Rage as they take their Battle on the road (no Twin Cities dates at press time). This Machine thrills fascists at the same moment they might start converting them, and that often leaves me cold.

I wish I could get excited about Rage Against the Machine, the same way I wish I'd been old enough to get excited about the Clash two decades ago. Sure, the latter had their skinhead contingent, but there was no claiming the band without squaring off with the dumb jock within. Now the discourse of dissent is too fluid, and I'm afraid Rage can slip too easily into enemy hands.

Propaganda of the Dude:  (left to right) Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk,  Zack de la Rocha, Tim Rob, and Tom Morello
Propaganda of the Dude: (left to right) Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk, Zack de la Rocha, Tim Rob, and Tom Morello

In other words, if I wanna get lifted by Rage, there's the Guitar, but when I wanna have my pleasure grounded, I go to the Web site, where the Kids argue about Mumia and religion and complain about the fact that ratm.com has links to MTV and drop lines like "I'm very disappointed that Rage will not be in the Northwest during the WTO demonstrations, a.k.a. 'The Battle of Seattle.'" Maybe it's just noise--for every smart posting there's a "Dude, the new GNR song rocks!" But read about 50 of them and you can imagine you're privy to the platform-making dialogue of a kind of mainstream-rock fan we haven't seen in close to a decade. She's a sensitive, angry, and self-critical kid who believes rock 'n' roll should reinvest itself in the Sixties/Clash/PE radical spirit it has as much right to as Pat Buchanan, Sprite, or the Baffler ever did, even if it hasn't acted accordingly of late. Or maybe she just wants to burn stuff; it's too soon to know.

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