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Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

What??!

In Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism on August 21, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Truly incredible, from Harper’s Weekly,

A 1994 interview with Dick Cheney regarding the first Gulf war was released to the web. Asked whether U.S. forces should have invaded Baghdad in an attempt to oust Saddam Hussein, Cheney said, “No . . . we would have been all alone . . . It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place?” Cheney described Iraq as a “quagmire,” predicting sectarian conflict and the pointless loss of American lives. “How many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, uh, not very many, and I think we got it right.”

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Vietnow

In Children and Youth, Direct action, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, US Politics on August 2, 2007 at 11:57 pm

I bought an advance pre-sale ticket almost 3 months beforehand, and at the cost of $105 dollars, I felt it a bargain (one of the few times Ticketmaster had ever given me this experience). The line-up for Rock the Bells – Pharohe Monch, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jedi Mind Tricks, Public Enemy, the Roots and Wu-Tang amongst others – was in itself an impressive menu, and they all put on great performances. However impressive their sets were, though, there was an undeniable feeling that the entire festival was little more than a 9-hour waiting game for the headliner, Rage Against the Machine. The mosh pits started opening up during Cypress Hill’s set, a good two hours before Zack and the rest were slated to come on. After the sun finally set and Wu-Tang left the stage, the chants for “Rage” began echoing throughout the crowd. Cheers rang out when the stage crew began hoisting the enormous red star back-drop behind the stage during sound check. It began to hit everyone then, I think, that this was real, and in a few minutes we’d be able to see them for the first time in seven years. The anticipation was palpable, everyone impatiently willing the lights to drop.

They opened with Testify and everything exploded. The crowd became a seething, incoherent mass of destruction; bodies careening into, around and through each other in a frenzy of insatiable angst. The next 15 or 20 minutes were spent simply fighting for my life as the band followed up with punishing renditions of Bulls On Parade and People of the Sun. I saw a few people who had gotten hurt, went to the first aid tent and came back to the floor – bandages and all – to continue throwing down. A few unfortunate crowd surfers tumbled off supportive hands and onto the concrete floor a few feet below, while others rolled and kicked their way across the horizon. There was hardly time to catch your breath between songs and the little air there was available felt like it had already been in someone else’s lungs, feeble relief against the sweltering heat. Leaning over with my hands on my knees, dripping sweat by the pound, I realized I had missed this almost as much as the music. Despite the hurtling chaos, there was still that pick-you-up-if-I-knock-you-down camaraderie that you can’t really find anywhere else.

Between the incessant shoving and jumping, though, I was able to catch glimpses of the band: the erratic jerking motions of Tom Morello, guitar strapped high against his chest; Brad Wilk striking the cymbals from 3 feet above; Tim Commoford’s completely inked out shoulders. And then there was Zack. His dreads had flared out into more of an afro since I’d last seen, but everything else was just as mesmerizing as I remembered. During the verses, he stalked like a tiger from one side of the stage to the other with that measured, rhythmic gait, spitting each lyric with eyes piercing the far reaches of the crowd. When time came to open the flood gates, he was out in front with that amazing energy. After spending the past few years in relative anonymity, it was good to see the man out and about, finally back where he belonged.

Once everyone calmed down, though, I could tell the sound was a little off. The mix on the enormous sound system was uneven at times, detracting a little from the experience and it felt like the signal they heard had problems, too. The band wasn’t as tight or together as I thought they’d be. I learned to play electric bass on many of their songs, and my inner nerd cried out at missed riffs and drum fills. Their tempo also seemed slow for a portion of the set, but still, it was well worth the money to hear them live again. Songs I hadn’t heard in far too long – Vietnow, Down Rodeo, Township Rebellion, Wake Up – all finding their legs in a new decade. The subterranean growl of Commoford’s bass and authoritative, aggressive drumming from Wilk formed the foundation for the samplified and other-worldly noises only Morello can conjure up; and many times his solos simultaneous slashed and soared over the crowd. Zack’s machine-gun lyrics cut as deep as ever, and his amazing scream hasn’t lost an inch of force. Like all good showmen, they saved some of their strongest efforts for the encore, a medley of Freeedom and Bullett in the Head that sounded just as fresh, and maybe more important, than it did when I first heard these songs. When all pistons were firing, the band was truly impressive.

The high point of the performance, for me at least, came during Guerilla Radio. After Morello’s solo, the band dropped out and along with Zack, the capacity crowd of 80,000 rose up and screamed “It has to start some place, it has to start some time. What better place than here, what better time than now?”. The people, it seems, are still hungry for something better. Whether angst or politics, they spoke to that part of us that yearned for change and autonomy by any means necessary. There hasn’t really been any another act that can move people with such a sense of urgency towards direct action, or at least one that supports and represents those who do, and that is something that has been sorely lacking over the past few years. The re-emergence of not only the music, but of this voice is what gave their reunion such importance.

But their ideology is also a source of great frustration for me as a dedicated fan. There wouldn’t be a Rage show without a diatribe from Zack, and this one even made it into the New York Times:

On Saturday night Mr. De La Rocha responded. He attacked the “fascist” Fox News pundits for “claiming that we said that the president should be assassinated.” As the crowd shouted its approval, he continued, “No: he should be brought to trial as a war criminal and hung and shot. That’s what we said.” Despite the insistence on due process, this still isn’t a position any mainstream politician would endorse. But that’s precisely the point: At a time when unimpeachable causes and pragmatic endorsements are the norm, it’s nice to be reminded that rock stars can get political without sounding like politicians.

Though it is great to finally hear these words being spoken with the blunt aggression that befits the band, the fact of the matter is that they come at a time when Bush’s approval ratings are in the 20s, he’s leaving office on his own in a little more than a year, and the Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed of the man back in 2003. It felt like Rage was a few years too late for the train. They spent their careers preaching against evils like jingoism, the military industrial complex, corporate greed, exploitation of immigrants and the poor, using every album, every show as a scathing indictment of our government and the capitalist system at large. But these were completely useless in the 90’s. A decade of peace, prosperity and inaction across all facets of our country, where the biggest scandal of our day was a blow-job, was not a climate where this kind of message can gain traction. As soon as they broke up in 2000, though, the shit hit the fan: Bush steals the election, 9/11, the War, Katrina the list can go on and on. And where the hell were they?

 

Zack was busy working on a solo album that will never see the light of day, it’s even rumored that a track he did with Trent Reznor was so bad that Trent wouldn’t allow it to be released. The rest of the band was tied up in the half-baked super group, Audioslave, forsaking any political leanings in order to support Chris Cornell’s tan and perfectly groomed facial hair. How, in the face of everything going on in this country and around the world, could they have stayed apart? Imagine if they had been at any of the anti-war protests leading up to the invasion, or in New York during the RNC convention in ‘04 like they were at the Democratic one in 2000. Granted, they might not have made a monumental impact, but they were meant for these times. They represented themselves as people who stand up and tell these opportunistic fascists to go fuck themselves, to demand justice and inspire others to action. But when the opportunity came to do so , they could not find a way to resolve their differences. I’ve played in plenty of bands and am no stranger to the personal issues that break them apart. I must ask, though, how does it take this long to respond in the face of such disastrous times?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I would pay another $1,000 to see them again without thinking twice and I’m not alone in hoping that this is the wake-up call we’ve been waiting for and the tour leads to a new album in 2008 (just in time for one of the most interesting elections in our history). But they do have to answer these questions if they decide to make another run, or at least grow enough artistically and politically to justify such an absence. Other bands can get back together, do tours, make shitty albums, a ton of cash and be forgiven by their fans. But goddamnit, Rage Against the Machine stands for something, for me at least, and I’m gonna hold them to a higher standard. Though their philosophies might be considered anarchist, radical and inflamatory by most, it is – at least – much more substance than most rock bands are able to present these days. They were revolutionary in thought and aesthetic when they went triple platinum with their first album and over the course of their career, they did huge tours and donated part of the profits to activist organizations. The thought of something like this happening at such a critical time, that they might influence another generation the same way they influenced me, it makes me want them back even more. But they must be careful to not ruin what they’ve already built. After 9/11, Clear Channel banned a great deal of songs from the radio that they deemed contained “questionable lyrics”, putting together a list that was forwarded to most stations around the county. Rage Against the Machine was the only band that had every song they released put on that list. How does anyone top that?