• Opinion | Tom Morello: The skies parted and my future was decided - The New York Times

    By Tom Morello

    Mr. Morello has spent over three decades melding music and political activism as a power guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the acoustic chords of the Nightwatchman and in protests around the country.

    Songs provided by Spotify

    I didn’t choose to be a guitar player. It chose me.

    It was on an ordinary afternoon in the spring of ’83, my freshman year at Harvard, that I trudged down to a small basement rehearsal room between some vending machines and a foosball table. With the neon lights blazing overhead I was crunching power chords and wailing pedestrian solos when I unexpectedly slipped into a higher gear and felt a moment of transcendent improvisational bliss. The skies parted and my future was decided.

    I had received a calling. I had no choice in the matter. My other interests retreated. I would be a guitarist.

    Now, my great-uncle Carlo did play violin for 40 years in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and my grandfather was a talented pianist, but here I was, clad in spandex, with the prison notebooks of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in one hand and a Gibson Explorer in the other, just another radical leftist heavy-metal dreamer in an honors major at an Ivy League school.

    I started seriously playing late, at 17 years old. I had heard of only one guitarist who made records who began playing at such an advanced age. That was Robert Johnson, and he had to sell his soul to the devil to get good!

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    My Catholic upbringing precluded that option, and so there was only one way to fulfill my calling. Practice my ass off. First it was two hours a day, every day, without fail, noodling away in an empty campus stairwell. Then four hours, then six, then eight! Every day. Without fail. Fever of 102, exam in the morning. Eight hours. Not seven hours and 56 minutes.

    Two hours technique, two hours music theory, two hours learning songs, two hours freestyle jamming along with my favorite metal songs.

    I’ve often reflected on this maniacal, perhaps somewhat unhealthy, practice regimen. Perhaps in a world in which I felt I had control over very little in the way of romance and race relations, the guitar provided a clarity of purpose where my will, which was not lacking, would be the sole determiner of success or failure. And no one was going to stop me.

    Once saddled with this calling, though, I had to figure out how to use the damn thing to great purpose.

    I loved metal but it was silly. I loved punk but they couldn’t play their instruments very well. I loved the fledgling genre of hip-hop but those artists rarely used guitars.

    And was it possible to combine revolutionary politics with screaming electric guitar? Was it possible to make my guitar a divining rod for truth? An Excalibur of righteous fury? Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to find out in Harvard Yard.

    So after graduation I packed my bags and moved to Hollywood. I brought my practice regimen with me, tirelessly running through scales and amassing technique. But to what end? I was technically proficient but sounded like every other million-notes-per-minute wannabe on the Sunset Strip.

    My playing transformed with Rage Against the Machine when I began to identify as the D.J. in the band. With the rise of hip-hop, music pundits at the time were saying that the guitar was obsolete, because D.J.’s could make any sound a guitar could make with samples. I took it upon myself to try to make D.J.’s obsolete by making any sound they could make with my bare hands. After all, the electric guitar is a relatively new instrument. It’s just wood and wire that can be manipulated in a variety of nontraditional ways. By deconstructing the possibilities of that wood and wire, I took the first tentative steps to be an artist. Simply being a musician requires technique. Being an artist requires ideas. Now my eight hours a day were spent practicing the eccentricities in my playing. Make a mistake? Repeat it 16 times and make it the cornerstone of the song.

    The toggle switch, the tuning pegs, the power jack, every inch of the guitar became fair game for creating sound and texture. And more and more I became inspired by sounds, and ideas, outside of rock ’n roll: police helicopters, animal noises, sci-fi films. I began to find my own voice on the instrument and began forging a sonic vocabulary that was uniquely my own. The guitar was squealing, beeping, mooing! My playing was one part R2-D2, one part Old McDonald’s Farm. You can hear it when you listen to “On the Shore of Eternity” from my new album.
    “On the Shore of Eternity” by Tom Morello feat. Sama’ Abdulhadi

    I found inspiration even farther afield. The standup of Richard Pryor, the bravado of Muhammad Ali, the moxie of Evel Knievel and Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont Stakes victory were on my mood board as I tried to create a new way to look at the instrument.

    I know, that Secretariat thing sounds crazy, but Secretariat was not just a great racehorse; there are plenty of those. That 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes defied physics and biology. It was a supernatural performance that upended the sport and left everyone shaking their heads and marveling, “What the hell just happened?”

    That’s what I was aiming for in my guitar playing. The blinders were off. I was for the first time hearing riffs and sounds come out of my guitar that I never heard coming out of anybody’s guitar. The sonic horizon was wide open, and on tracks like “Suburban Guerilla” from my “Commandante” album I could soar.
    “Suburban Guerilla” by Tom Morello

    I wish I had a dime for every time some jackass complained about me, a musician, mouthing off about a political opinion. As if strapping on a guitar somehow triggers a First Amendment exemption. But I realized that even with my mouth shut, I might still be able to stir up a good deal of trouble.

    Music can be revolutionary even without lyrics. In the atonal glissando of John Coltrane, the cacophonic funk of Public Enemy, Hendrix feedback frenzy, the rhythm is the rebel.

    If an instrument can be utterly transformed by creativity and will, might society be utterly transformed by creativity and will as well? It’s worth finding out.

    #Tom_Morello #Guitare #Musique #Politique

  • Opinion | Tom Morello: Shadows of the Klan, the Ghost of Hendrix, and Fans Who Think I’m White - The New York Times

    By Tom Morello

    Mr. Morello has spent over three decades melding music and political activism as a power guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the acoustic chords of the Nightwatchman and in protests around the country.

    Songs provided by Spotify

    In 1965, I literally integrated the town of Libertyville, Ill., at least according to the real estate agent who helped my mom and me find our first apartment.

    My Irish-Italian mom had excellent teaching credentials, but the school boards in Northern Illinois made clear that while as a single mother she was welcome to teach in their town, we would have to live elsewhere because we were an interracial family.

    I was the interracial part, as my dad is from Kenya. Libertyville, however, was willing to give my mom a shot, with the caveat that the residents of the apartment complex across the street from the school approved. Our helpful real estate agent assured the neighbors that this was no ordinary 1-year-old “Negro” child entering their building, but rather an exotic East African princeling. This false tale haunted me throughout my youth, but it gave my mom and me a toehold among the locals.

    The ruse worked until I was old enough to date their daughters, and then every Midwestern dad in sight could have cared less if I was the King of Zambia, there was no way he was going to let me cross the welcome mat on Homecoming Night.

    The issue of race was omnipresent throughout my youth. My grounding in activism began not from reading Chomsky or Zinn but from mixing it up on the playground at age 5. In day care there was this much older kid who every day would attack me and call me all the names you might imagine one might call the only Black kid in town. So I’d go home looking sad, and one day, my mom asked, “What’s wrong?”

    “Well, there’s this kid at day care N-wording me. Hits me a lot.”

    “Well,” she said, “I’ll tell you what we are going to do. There’s this guy named Malcolm X, and he says whenever racism rears its head, you are the one who has to stop it.”

    I said, “Mom … I’m 5!” And she said, “Well, this is what you are going to do tomorrow.”

    She took my little brown hand and curled it into a little brown fist and kind of swung it through the air like a punch. And repeated, “This is what you are going to do tomorrow.”

    She then made me memorize some salty epithet as my battle cry. I didn’t know what any of the words meant. It was something like “deadbeat honkie.”

    So the next day I went into day care and this huge kid is on me and is triple N-wording me and attacking me. But that day, for the first time, I started to fight back to the best of my ability, shouting, “Take that, you … heat bat donkey!”

    I got pummeled. But it caused a big scrum in the day care and resulted in me standing by the side of the sink with smug satisfaction, watching the racist bully get his mouth washed out with soap.

    At the end of the day, I thought, perhaps there is something to be said for having the courage to stand up to racism.

    When I was 13, we found a noose in our garage. Apparently the K.K.K. was active in Libertyville in the ’70s and ’80s. The occasional cross was burned on a lawn. Racist slogans were scrawled on my mom’s blackboard. (I sang about some of this in my song “One Man Revolution”.)
    “One Man Revolution” by Tom Morello: the Nightwatchman

    At 15, I faced an especially menacing confrontation in the parking lot of Brown’s Chicken on Milwaukee Avenue, when two dudes swung a noose at me, opened the trunk of their car and invited me to get inside.

    At the time I was very much swayed by the nonviolent philosophy of Gandhi and Dr. King. After relating these incidents a few years later to a friend, he asked, “If the Klan were coming up your driveway with another noose tonight, would you rather turn the other cheek, or would you rather me and my friends were in the bushes with baseball bats?”

    Much of my career has been spent wrestling with and writing about that question, and questions of race in general.

    When I began performing, I was plagued by what I call the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was the only African American rock guitar touchstone at the time, and so as much as I wanted to rip Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads riffs, at every single gig I ever played, some jackass would yell, “Play ‘Foxy Lady’! Play ‘Purple Haze,’ bro!” I mean, why can’t I shred “Eruption” or even “Hotel California,” for goodness sake!

    It’s crazy, though, that while my skin tone has always been the same, I’ve miraculously changed colors over the years. Growing up, everyone in Libertyville was crystal clear that I was Black. Kids touched my curly hair, marveled over the color of my gums and palms, openly questioned whether I was their intellectual equal. Cops occasionally cuffed me for walking down the sidewalk, and we’ve already discussed my rocky relationship with the local K.K.K.

    So, you see, I was Black.

    Then, later on, I played in a famous band whose music had many of the markers typically associated with white hard rock music. We appeared in magazines and on radio stations generally reserved for white artists. My speech and vocabulary in interviews were not stereotypically “urban.”

    So, behold, there is a segment of my audience that freaks out whenever I refer to being Black. To them, I must be white. Music that sounds like that must be made by people who look like them. This cognitive dissonance has haunted me throughout my career. There’s this mental discomfort triggered when their belief (“I’m a fan of Tom! Tom is white!”) clashes with the evidence (“Tom says he’s Black!”). These people don’t sleep well at night. And while I sincerely appreciate the good-hearted fans who chime in with, “I don’t see you as any color, Tom. I’m colorblind. I just enjoy the music” — thank you, but this is America, and you’re missing the whole damn point. And so over the course of 20 albums and three decades I’ve walked the tightrope of rock and race.

    And Libertyville? It’s still there. A few years ago I was asked to be the grand marshal of the Libertyville Days Parade, the highest honor afforded a past or current resident. I agreed as kind of a lark. There I was, sitting in the convertible with my family, rolling down Milwaukee Avenue, laughing. Flags waving. Kids chasing candy in the street. Fun.

    Then we drove past the Brown’s Chicken parking lot. And it all came flooding back. No dudes swinging a noose at me with an open trunk this time, though. Just residents in lawn chairs … cheering. “We’re proud of ya, Tommy! Rock on, Tommy! Don’t always agree with ya, but I loved ya in Guitar Hero, Tommy!”

    One fella had the candor to snicker, “Hey, Tommy, just shut up and play guitar!”

    Shut up and play guitar? Oh, I’m gonna play my guitar, all right. But when I pick up that guitar, now you’re going to hear what I have to say. As Damian Marley and I sing in “The Achilles List,” “ghost stories of social injustice shall be heard.”

    #Tom_Morello #Racisme #KKK #Color_blindness

  • Opinion | Tom Morello : How I Taught My Son to Shred Like Crazy and Change the World - The New York Times

    Suite des colonnes de Tom Morello pour le New York Times.

    La vidéo des enfants musiciens (dont la batteuse géniale Nandi Bushell) est super impressionnante.

    By Tom Morello

    Mr. Morello has spent over three decades melding music and political activism as a power guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the acoustic chords of the Nightwatchman and in protests around the country.

    At 13, I got a $50 Kay electric guitar and gleefully marched down to Rigoni Music on Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, Ill., with a Kiss and Led Zeppelin songbook under each arm.

    I plunked down my $5 in front of their guitar instructor and said, “Teach me ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Detroit Rock City.’”

    He said: “Hold on there, son. This is a guitar lesson and today we’re going to learn to tune the guitar.”

    I thought that seemed like a big waste of time and money, but, willing to pay my dues, I sat in my bedroom for the next week, bored out of my mind, wrenching my guitar’s tuning pegs back and forth.

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    Back the next week, I plunked down another fin and demanded to learn my Kiss and Led Zeppelin songs.

    “You’re nowhere near ready to do that,” he told me. “Today we’re going to learn the C major scale.”

    Well that was the end of that. Disgusted, I went home, put the guitar in a closet and didn’t touch it again for four years. It wasn’t until I discovered punk rock, with its do-it-yourself, no-lessons-required ethos that I found the fun in guitar playing, setting me on a trajectory that I’m still on today.

    Years later, as a struggling musician in Hollywood, I taught guitar to make ends meet, and remembered those two crummy lessons that I had when I was 13. I vowed to never make a student feel the way that I had felt.

    Absolute beginners would come in and I’d help them learn whatever song they wanted to play, or I would insist that they “write” a song — before knowing a note, before knowing a chord, just making sounds in a pattern. A couple of times through and, boom! You’re a songwriter, in the same tent as McCartney and Dylan. Let your fingers dance among the Tetris pile of possibilities of notes and chords and you’re on your way.

    My two young sons had no interest in following in their father’s footsteps to become a musician. There’s plenty of instruments around the house, but they took a hard pass and gravitated toward their own passions.

    Then came the lockdown and the prospect of endless days at home, each one like the one before, with spotty Zoom schoolwork, little opportunity to connect with peers and plenty of opportunities for kids and parents to drive each other crazy.

    My youngest son, Roman, 9 at the time, is a bit of a classic rock fan, and one day I timidly asked him if he’d like to learn the first three notes to “Stairway to Heaven.” He assented, figuring it wouldn’t be too much effort and he could always just go right back to playing Among Us on his computer.

    Well, he learned those first three notes, and it sounded just like the song. Encouraged, he came back the next day, three more notes. Over the course of the next couple of months, we worked our way through the entire song. By building on these small successes, he began to take pride in his ability to master a Led Zeppelin standard as a brand-new player. We moved on, and a couple of songs later, he was really digging it and showing a kind of natural aptitude that I never really found in myself.

    But every once in a while, I would slip into the voice of my old awful guitar teacher, trying to hammer home some point about music theory or fingering on the instrument. His reaction was immediate. He would put the guitar down, threatening not to pick it up again. So I said: “All right, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to run before we walk. All we’re going to do from here on in is improvisational soloing.”

    [Read more about this project from Jane Coaston and Kathleen Kingsbury here.]

    I showed him a pattern or two. And since that day, I basically am the rhythm guitarist in the family, as Roman Morello shreds like crazy, across different genres, with fire and passion. The way he is able to let loose and just have uninhibited joy on the instrument, no obsessive tuning or C major scale required, makes his dad very proud.

    Another young musician who’s shown the world her passion and talent is the British-Zulu phenom Nandi Bushell, who may very well be the future of rock’n’roll.

    She gained global Instagram fame for her amazing multi-instrumentalist covers of rock classics. She dueled with Dave Grohl in a drum off for the ages and came out on top.

    I was so impressed with her talent, moxie and effervescent spirit that I sent her one of my signature “Soul Power” Fender guitars. We became Insta friends and when she asked if I’d like to write a song with her, I said, “That sounds fantastic, but I’ve got a 9-year-old in my house who might be better than I am. Why don’t you two kids write a song together?”

    They did. Writing virtually across the Atlantic Ocean, Roman came up with a few power riffs and Nandi played drums, bass and sang on the track.

    Like me, they are stirred not just by the power of the music, but the need to change the world.

    The song they created is “The Children Will Rise Up,” an anthem proclaiming that only the courage and fortitude of their generation can stop the impending environmental catastrophe facing humanity. We wrangled Jack Black and Greta Thunberg for the video and it’s an absolute mosh pit-inducing banger with a stratospheric solo that might just make that Rigoni Music guitar instructor repent.

    #Tom_Morello #Musique #Education #Ecologie #Climat #Enfants

  • Opinion | Tom Morello on the Music of Power and Justice - The New York Times

    Je suis un fan de RATM, de la droiture de leur musique/combats (en particulier le soutien sans faille à Mumia Abu-Jamal). Un très beau texte sur le lien entre le chant et le syndicalisme révolutionnaire, derrière la figure légendaire de Joe Hill. Très émouvant.

    By Tom Morello

    Mr. Morello has spent over three decades melding music and political activism as a power guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the acoustic chords of the Nightwatchman and in protests around the country.

    Songs provided by Spotify

    Harmonizing and hell-raising, rhythm and rebellion, poetry and politics, singing and striking. The Industrial Workers of the World — the shock troops of the early-20th-century labor movement — virtually invented the protest song for the modern age.

    The I.W.W. was formed in 1905, advocating a militant revolutionary unionism, a cocktail of socialist, syndicalist and anarchist labor theory put into practice. It was always known as a singing union, and its songs were written by hobos and the homeless, itinerant workers and immigrants. I.W.W. songs — like “The Preacher and the Slave” and “Solidarity Forever” — looked an unjust world square in the eye, sliced it apart with satire, dismantled it with rage and then, with mighty sing-along choruses, raised the roofs of union halls and holding cells, “from San Diego up to Maine, in every mine and mill.”

    The goal of the Industrial Workers of the World — or Wobblies, as members were widely known — was revolution, not just winning strikes. Unlike other unions of the time, it accepted all workers as members: Black people, women, unskilled laborers, sex workers, immigrants of every race and creed. It sought to forge “one big union” of the entire global working class and used direct action, sabotage and the power of song in class war against the ruling class. Its reputation as a kick-ass union fueled by kick-ass songs remains the stuff of legend.
    “Solidarity Forever” by Tom Morello: the Nightwatchman

    Its songs, some more than 100 years old, addressed the same issues facing us today: poverty, police brutality, immigrant rights, economic and racial inequality, militarism, threats to civil liberties, union busting. “Casey Jones (The Union Scab),” “We Have Fed You All a Thousand Years,” “Bread and Roses,” “Ain’t Done Nothin’ if You Ain’t Been Called a Red” — often set to familiar tunes and popular hymns of the day, these songs united workers from diverse backgrounds under the banner of solidarity. What’s the antidote for divide and conquer? Work together, fight together, sing together.

    Defiant and hopeful, these songs have an unapologetic mission: to fan the flames of discontent by lifting the spirits of those fighting for a more just and humane planet. The I.W.W. aimed to “create a new society within the shell of the old,” and I hope you can hear that new world echoing here, where song meets struggle.

    The Wobbly songwriters also laid the sonic and ideological groundwork for those who followed: Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Utah Phillips, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Nina Simone, Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, Public Enemy, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. Without them, there’d be no “This Land Is Your Land,” no “We Shall Overcome,” no “Masters of War,” no “London Calling,” no “Killing in the Name.”

    Much of my career has been one long audition to become a part of that legacy. I’m a union man and an unapologetic musical rabble-rouser. I’ve been a member of the Local 47 musicians’ union in Los Angeles for 32 years, and I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World — it lives on! My mom was a union high school teacher, and the Morellos were hardworking coal miners in central Illinois. The cause of workers’ rights is in my blood.

    [Read more about this project from Jane Coaston and Kathleen Kingsbury here.]

    I’ve been greatly influenced by many of the songs and songwriters who carried that red union card. Playing acoustic protest music under my folk singer Nightwatchman moniker, I’ve written and sung dozens of tunes that owe a significant debt to this union’s remarkable musical history. My song “Hold the Line,” from my new album, is an example of how I’ve tried to carry forward that legacy.
    “Hold the Line” by Tom Morello (feat. grandson)

    My guide has been Joe Hill, who epitomized the I.W.W.’s anarcho poet warrior. He is my favorite musician of all time, even though there are no known recordings of him playing or singing. He was a tireless crusader for justice through his music, and his jams are a fine starting point for aspiring rebels. Hill was an I.W.W. organizer and a true musical and political revolutionary. He walked it like he sang it. That’s why the mine owners and the other bosses out West, and the politicians who did their dirty work, were afraid of him. And in the end, that’s why in 1915 he was executed in Utah on a trumped-up murder charge.

    “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over,” Hill famously said. His songs (“There Is Power in a Union,” “We Will Sing One Song,” “Joe Hill’s Last Will”) are sung today and will be tomorrow.

    I’ve traveled far to pay my respects to the heroes of the I.W.W. I’ve placed flowers on Mother Jones’s grave in Mount Olive, Ill. I’ve hummed “The Internationale” at the resting place of Big Bill Haywood’s ashes in the Kremlin wall. And while on tour in Sweden, I made the hundred-mile trek from Stockholm to Gavle, Hill’s birthplace.

    I sat by a little tree in the backyard that blooms where his ashes were spread, and I sang “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” written in the 1930s by Earl Robinson from a poem written by Alfred Hayes in the years after Hill’s death. The tiny room in the building where he and his family lived now serves as a union headquarters and museum. Fascists bombed the place 20 years ago. After all these years, they’re still afraid of Hill; they’re still afraid of his songs.

    And they should be.

    “‘The copper bosses killed you, Joe. They shot you, Joe,’ says I. ‘Takes more than guns to kill a man,’ says Joe. ‘I didn’t die.’”
    “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” by Tom Morello: the Nightwatchman

    The songs live on wherever working people stand up for their rights, dreaming and scheming and struggling for something better than what was handed to them. These tunes are still sung on picket lines, at the barricades and through the tear gas haze of Group of 8 protests. They’re even more relevant now as workers throughout the country — like those at Kellogg’s, Nabisco and John Deere — are striking and taking to the picket line.

    The I.W.W.’s mighty music of equality, justice and freedom is a reminder of struggles won and lost, as well as the battle hymns of struggles to come.

    So get out there and start creating that new world. Maybe learn some of these world-changing jams. Then write some of your own.

    #Musique #Syndicalisme #Tom_Morello #RATM #Neomilitantisme

  • Ryan Harvey, Ani DiFranco & Tom Morello : Old Man Trump
    Youtube, le 18 juillet 2016

    Poème écrit par le jeune Woody Guthrie alors locataire de Fred Trump (le père de Donald) dont il dénonce ici le racisme. En 2016, Ryan Harvey le met en musique pendant la campagne électorale, et chante cette chanson avec Ani Di Franco et Tom Morello (de Rage Against the Machine) pour une campagne de Droit Au Logement (mais #Freddie_Gray est aussi mentionné dans le clip)

    #Musique #Musique_et_politique #Woody_Guthrie #Fred_Trump #Donald_Trump #Ryan_Harvey #Ani_DiFranco #Tom_Morello

  • Tom Morello, le guitar hero de Rage Against the Machine, et auteur d’un titre (Multi Viral, avec Calle 13 et Kamily Jubran) qui parle de la Palestine, interrogé dans le Huffington Post à propos de l’éventualité de jouer en israel, explique qu’il a entendu l’appel de BDS et qu’il ne sera pas le briseur de cet appel ("to cross the pickett line" signifie être un « briseur de grève »).

    #BDS #Palestine #Boycott_culturel #Tom_Morello #Rage_against_the_machine #musique