I was fortunate enough to see Rage Against the Machine in New York City in 2007 with some of my best friends. It was one of those all-time experiences in the thralls of live music. Just total insanity in the pit. The rest of the bill included Wu-Tang, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy for god’s sake. I loved that show.
It’s good and hopeful that the band is getting back together for some more shows next year. I’m more leery these days about selling this sort of message on a stage like Coachella, but what doesn’t glow with the transactional sheen of commerce anymore? Capitalism has trammeled onward, accelerating its pace madly since the first iteration of Rage Against the Machine in the 1990s. What’s lost in the modern concert-going machinery is made up, I think, in the process of awakening that comes with bands like Rage.
What I learned from their poetry in those early days was what I brought into my career in journalism. I wrote my college entrance essay for Ohio University about Rage Against the Machine and George Carlin, twin influences of political iconoclasm and razor-sharp intellectual wit. In 2006, these were the main things I was processing in myself as I prepared for something approximating adulthood in a complicated world. I used “the voice of the voiceless” as a mantra that guided me through the student press and then into 10 years (and counting) as a professional journalist.
There’s a valid concern in how Rage was taken up in its peak years as angry-white-guy music. Anything aggressive and middle-fingery tends to get tossed around in a sea of misdirected emotions, and, probably, the message gets diluted in the mosh. It’s less a problem with the band’s delivery than with the lack of critical thought among that very audience base: the jacked-up, insecure braggadocios of the world moving through the day from one egotistical non-sequitur to the next. There’s some cultural cachet from listening to Rage Against the Machine; there always was.
It’s good and hopeful that they’re getting back together, yes, but I wonder where they’ll fit into a more flattened society. The inequality they lambasted in their music in the 1990s has only increased and further fractured the America we live in. But the way we talk about that inequality has changed, too, becoming more earnest and probing through the use of social media and the rise of identity-based politicalspeak. Earnestness is not always a good thing, I don’t think, but it’s here.
I’m curious what, if any, sort of reaction the band’s shows in 2020 will get. Will it feel like they never went away? Will it be frustrating? Does radical organizing need a new soundtrack, or will the old one be OK?