Two days ago on Toto Day, I said I thought it was smooth sailing for at least a little while from here, but I'm feeling a little self-conscious about this one because of something Lilly said to me recently. Apropos of nothing she said she could stand never to hear Rage Against the Machine again. I was hoping we, as a society, had gotten over this.
Rage Against the Machine started out so well! That first, self-titled album was absolutely incredible. It was released in 1992 when I was a freshman in high school and I think the first single "Freedom" hit alternative radio and MTV that summer. I immediately ran out and got it, listened to it CONstantly. For more than a year. I could still put it on today and love it almost as much.
I loved the anger and the indignation. I feel like I'm always talking about political music on these posts, even though it's not really my typical fare. In this case, it was so fresh to me, not yet knowing about Bad Religion or Dead Kennedys or any of the usual suspects. The concept of using music to identify social ills and then get really mad while singing about them seemed so fresh! They taught me about Leonard Peltier! They got me all mad at the police! A white teenage girl growing up in Hawaii! Mad at the police! They were really important to the development of my generation's political consciousness, for better or worse. I don't know why they popped into the mainstream the way they did. Anyone have an answer?
So it's weird, right, that I think their best song came off their second album, which I didn't even really like? The two were released four years apart. That's way too much time. I've said many times that I have a history of getting bored/moving on from bands who maybe deserve a little more of my attention. This might be an example of that but to be completely fair to me, perhaps it isn't?? I don't think Evil Empire is nearly as good. I ordered it from Columbia House on a whim and it didn't take. Got rid of it when strapped for cash shortly thereafter. That was a great thing about Columbia House--turning a profit on used CD trade-ins. What a racket.
I did like "Bulls on Parade" fairly well then and I love it now. Goddamn, that bassline should have its own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit. The way the song starts with the bass upfront then steps back for most of the song and at the very end with the BULLS ON PARADE!! it's back just as it was in the beginning? YES!! The Wikipedia page makes a big thing of the guitar solo and the scratchy wah-wah sound and that's well and good but doesn't come close to defining the song for me. Here's another factoid that I picked up today: this song hit number 1 in Finland.
Here is an inexhaustive list of totally legitimate atrocities committed by Rage Against the Machine, which resulted in most good people feeling like they'd crossed over into joke-territory:
1992: Words printed in the liner notes for their self-titled debut album: "no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record." OK, grandpa. This seemed reasonable in 1992, but didn't age very well.
Sometime between 1996 and 2000: It became really uncool to be at all political. Like, nationally. Apathy was 100% in. This wasn't Rage Against the Machine's fault completely, but maybe it's a little their fault.
February 2000: Making an appearance at an Alan Keyes campaign rally during which Keyes jumped into the mosh pit as part of some Michael Moore-related stunt. Then Gary Bauer called them "The Machine Rages On" and THEN they used that sample in a song. Which I guess I understand but it's a move that lacks dignity. What a mess. I don't think they knew what to do with themselves at this point. Where to go from here.
September 2000: Rage Against the Machine appears at the MTV Video Music Awards and the bassist climbed the stage scaffolding, reportedly to "protest" Limp Bizkit beating them out for best rock video or something. There are so many layers that make me angry here, I don't even feel like going into detail. I think the shark truly jumped here.
I think in recent years we as a society have softened on Rage Against the Machine. The whole thing is really too bad. I guess the lesson here is that truly revolutionary music has no place in an obtusely capitalist music industry. This used to be common sense, but then Kurt died and we all eased up on the whole Sellout concept.
Two quick anecdotes. Quick not because they aren't good, but quick because I've shared them before. Rage Against the Machine came to Hawaii sometime between 1992-1994ish and I was REALLY excited to see them. We'd planned to go and were all set and then I mentioned to my parents that I'd planned to go. My parents were skittish, unpredictable wild horses when I was a teenager. They seemed cool with everything one minute and then they'd just DECIDE to care about my health and safety the next. Sadly, my announcement that I was going to take my 14 year old body to a BAR BY THE AIRPORT triggered that native protectionism in them and they wouldn't let me leave the house. And then my parents told Cybil's parents and they wouldn't let her go either. Our friend Astra managed to go anyway. Cybil and I were SO mad, we told Astra we'd gone anyway, that we were hanging out in the back with a bunch of cute guys and did a bunch of drugs. I think she believed us.
I carried this secret with me for years until three or four years ago when I attended a Halloween cover show at the Pinch (RIP) and a band fronted by a very young woman did an INCREDIBLE Rage Against the Machine cover set. Oh, it was perfect! The energy was insane and I was 14 again. Pete too. It was so good, it almost made up for missing them those many years ago, so I came clean on Facebook and Cybil yelled at me.