Legendary guitarist Tom Morello has advocated for a better world for some time, but unfortunately, the process of selling records has proved easier than selling his message. With his new supergroup Prophets of Rage, featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, Morello continues his pursuit of social improvement.
“The world is not going to change itself”, he states. “That’s up to you”. He has a simpler response than expected to the question of what fans can do to make a difference. “What you can do is realise that you are an agent of history. History is not something that has happened, history is something that you make”.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy Morello’s superior guitar skill without sharing his opinions, but it does mean that you might find the new Prophets of Rage record an uncomfortable listening experience. Morello confirms that it’s not unnerving for him to know that there are people he criticises on his albums that are fans of his music, because he is, at the end of the day, a musician.
“We’re a rock and roll band”, he comments. “Our first job is to play music that kicks your ass regardless of your political persuasion. Whether you’re right wing, agnostic or anti-fascist, the idea is to play music that is compelling. My experience is that a lot of people who weren’t tuned into political injustices or perhaps had an opposing point of view have been turned on to a new set of ideas via the music. In some cases, it saves people’s lives. I can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone who has become an attorney for homeless people, or who is a radical organiser, in part because they’ve been affected by some of the music I’ve been involved in”.
While he claims that his message takes place in the mosh pit first and foremost, there are more blatant issues that he points out as priorities for our planet’s continued well-being. They include ecological and economic injustices taking place worldwide.
“The impending ecological disaster is certainly one that should be at the forefront of our minds”, Morello notes. “But economic inequality has always been an issue that I think is of crucial importance because it is not something that’s ordained by God. It’s something that is created by man. Poverty really is a crime, and there are criminals that are perpetrating that crime. The fact that I live in a country where some people have billions and billions of dollars and other people are living under the 110 Freeway is just not conscionable”.
Despite his introduction of political disruption through the power of music to generations of fans, Morello does acknowledge the role of younger artists in carrying the torch. Mainstream examples impress him as much as niche, as he comments on the recent Logic performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that promoted mental health awareness and increased calls to America’s Suicide Hotline.
“That’s an effective and impressive way to use your time on stage, combining art with empathy”, he observes. “Kudos to Logic”. He adds that there are “always artists from folk to hip hop to punk rock who have an opinion about the affairs of the world. And bad presidents make for great music, so you’re definitely going to see more of that”. He praises “young bands, or young rappers, singer songwriters, whoever, who have that kind of fire in their belly to take the thing that they love to do and to wield it as a weapon to help make the world a more sane place”.
Even in a more open age, there are still challenges that face Morello’s promotion of his message, which was evidenced by the recent censorship of the Prophets of Rage video for ‘Radical Eyes’.
“If somebody is censoring something that you’re doing, that you believe in, you’re probably doing the right thing”, he laughs. “We took it as a bit of a badge of honour that we had pissed off enough people that they [YouTube] would wanna take it down…there was a huge kind of uprising in the YouTube community that was so outraged that they took it down that YouTube put it back up without any changes to the video”.
The reason it was removed in the first place was graphic content, as the video encompasses a montage of footage representing America’s political circumstances, down to a cameo of footage of alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos. When questioned on the conflict associated with promoting freedom of speech where it enables the dissemination of discriminatory views, Morello has a firm standpoint.
“Racists should be able to say any racist, idiot bullshit, they have the right to say it. But we have the right to shout them down”. He elaborates that “what freedom of speech means is that the government will pass no laws that will abridge your freedom of speech. Now that doesn’t mean that if a racist is ranting at an African-American child on a street corner, that I can’t come up to that racist and say ‘go to hell’. That’s me expressing my freedom of speech”.
Luckily for Australians, Morello confirms that the Prophets of Rage tour is likely to come here, so if you’re keen to become part of the movement you can also become part of the audience. But that’s not the only thing. “It’s what we do or fail to do during our time that will determine whether our planet becomes an unliveable, miserable place”, Morello comments. So if you’re interested in avoiding that outcome, heed his warning: “the only deciding factor is you and what you do with your time here”.