Rage Against the Machine is focused angry rock. It is the sort of music that comes from a place of outrage at society and hypocrisy and indifference and bigotry. And it came out when I was just getting to that place myself. After all, they came out with their self-titled debut right after I turned an angry 15 years old.
For a kid who grew up heavily into Motown, my immediate attachment to Rage was probably a little weird. I mean, I did listen to rock. I owned the complete discography of the Talking Heads, and really loved how the Pixies had deconstructed a lot of the glam elements of ‘80s rock. I just had never really felt too much in common with bands that were particularly pissed off. I was nerdy and gangly and didn’t have too much of a care in the world.
But at around 14 things changed. I started really feeling kind of nerdy and gangly and made fun of the way just about everyone feels in high school. I took to reading more about the world, the darker the better. The world was “unfair” in my opinion and everyone had lied to me about it being a “good” world. I wanted to put my fist through plaster walls and scream at authority figures. Then I heard Rage.
I remember the first time I ever heard them - it was the song “Freedom.” I watched the video on MTV (HA!) and was immediately hooked. Who were these angry screaming bastards? Who was Leonard Peltier? Why do I feel a little better knowing someone is as angry (probably ANGRIER) as me? How do I hear more?
So I took off to the internet! Just kidding, that wasn’t much of a thing yet. No, I took off to a local BBS - “Bulletin Board System” - and hit the forums to see if anyone else had heard this. A BBS, for those of you who quite possibly weren’t born yet, was like a website with a forum and community. But each BBS had to be dialed on your modem separately. That also meant that only one person could use the BBS at a time. Awesome.
And everyone kind of hated Rage Against the Machine.
“It’s too loud!”
“What are they complaining about?”
“It isn’t Rush.”
But I liked it. I liked it a lot. I went out as soon as I could get a ride to Al-Bum’s in Newburyport and bought Rage Against the Machine. I took it home, popped the cassette into my stereo, and sat on the floor with my headphones on so I could turn the volume way up.
The first song on the album is “Bombtrack” with Tom Morello’s awesome rising guitar riff at the beginning. Once it got to the chorus of “burn, burn, yes ya gonna burn” followed by Zach de la Rocha’s guttural scream I was fully invested in the album.
Nothing had ever sounded so angry or right to me. That the melody was driving, hard, but also a little funky made me even more stoked. By the end of the track I am sure I was thumping around my bedroom getting the headphone cord wrapped around my legs.
Track 2 – “Killing in the Name” with its super-menacing creeping opener. It SOUNDS like something bad is about to happen. Zach yell/whispers “Killing in the Name Of” and the rhythm gets funky and seductive. But this song, even more so than “Freedom” and “Bombtrack,” caught me with the lyrics. Condemning security agencies with “some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses.” This song said a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t even think you were ALLOWED to say. By the time Zach starts yelling “F*** you I won’t do what you tell me,” I was pounding my fists and stomping my feet and promptly shattered the cassette case with a poorly aimed Doc Marten. I was awkward and nerdy and gangly and I never felt so empowered.
I can’t forget it because it is so hugely tied to that time in my life. The beginning of the part where I actually started to grow up. They started in ’92 which was my first year in high school, and put out their last album in 2000 when I would have graduated from college. They were the perfect bookend to that point of my life.
Now if you’ll pardon me I am going to go listen to the album again from beginning to end, with my big chunky headphones on and a can of soda. I’m going to get all into it again, and then I’m going to ask my wife if it’s ok if I put my fist through a plaster wall… as long as I promise to fix it afterwards.