Thoughts on Looking Up at the Sky and Seeing the Planet Rage

By Redwing

Revolutionary Worker #1084, December 24, 2000, posted at

A great revolutionary band is like a large planet. It has a strong gravity field--a pull of attraction for the young and rebellious. It is a place to go to breathe the atmosphere of resistance, to move like you're dancing on the grave of the enemy, a place where you know you will be challenged in some major way, a place for fuel and inspiration for all the battles of life in this outmoded, barbaric excuse for a society.

And so it is with Rage Against the Machine. Rage is a large planet in the cultural skies--and the climate is resistance. And that is something the people do not want to lose. When a band like Rage breaks up, or loses a key member, it leaves a very big hole. So the news that poet, songwriter, singer Zack de la Rocha was leaving the band hit hard in the fall of the year 2000.

Knowing that I was righteously upset by this, friends have been sending me letters from the internet. People have been pouring their hearts out--distressed that a "failure of the decision making process" could have led to the break-up of such an important band for the people. In the MEChAs and on the streets of Los Angeles where proletarian youth from Mexico consider Rage their own, there is intense anguish at the loss of such a bright star for their generation--and intense hope that Rage will reunite.

And being very stubborn, as comrades know, I have decided not to accept the finality of this situation. But, then, I am one of the crazy ones who think it's realistic to make revolution in a country like the U.S.A.--so the possibility of a revolutionary band reuniting doesn't seem like an impossible goal to me. Being old enough to remember that big empty space when The Clash broke up and the loss of Peter Tosh--I really don't want my people to go through it again.


The dynamics that go into creating a phenom like Rage Against the Machine are rare in this society--to have a band so radical and so popular, able to withstand industry pressure and continue to break new ground artistically and politically. And the chance for the people to have a band like this does not come along very often. For the artists, it is a constant struggle to keep things in perspective, and I think they need help to really understand how important they are to the people--and in what ways.

The unique artistic mix and voice of Rage has continued to inspire and develop. And the chemistry of these four will not be easy to replace.

Rage emerged at a time when several bands came on the scene with hard rock that combined intelligence and integrity. From the outset, Rage was the most radical. They were unique in bringing together the cultures of the alienated youth--from the hardcore scene to the hip hop generation. And they developed a groundbreaking new fusion of hard rock and rap--with radical content and an electric contrast of personalities--that propelled the band to new heights of popularity from album to album.

Rage offers many intriguing combinations. The form of their music has a very broad appeal to a section of youth who might not otherwise gravitate toward this radical content. Moved by the defiant spirit of the band, this audience has proven deeply loyal whether or not they agree with all the politics of the band. Rage has reached out to bring the hard rock fans together with rap and hip hop fans, touring with groups like Wu Tang Clan and Cypress Hill. Increasingly, Rage's audience is changing--combining Chicano and Mexicano working class kids with white rock fans and the radical youth of all different nationalities, including a growing section of militant young women. As a new generation of youth is confronting the system, many are gravitating toward Rage.

Meanwhile, the band's popularity, high artistic quality, and social content have captured the imagination and support of allies in the music industry. And, this whole mix (and a bit of luck) has carved out room for the band to put out the most controversial politics and get their records out to millions. While the powers that be have not yet been able to stop them, there has been intense pressure from the police, and the culture police, who would love to see this band fall.

And along the way, something happened: this band began to embody the hopes of millions of youth for a better world. Not every fine revolutionary artist can achieve planetary status (i.e., this level of notoriety and popularity), but those who do manage to go into orbit have a special responsibility to the masses not to give up that position without a hell of a fight.


Rage has played a big part in creating a favorable climate for a new generation of resisters and revolutionary minded youth. And the fact that the band has struggled to stay together, despite well publicized differences and difficulties, has been part of the inspiration.

From the revolution in Peru to the peasant uprising in Mexico from the fight to free Leonard Peltier to the janitors' strike from the struggle against sweatshops to the battle against police brutality, from their debut album Rage Against the Machine to Evil Empire to Battle of Los Angeles to the latest Renegades: Rage has taken a stand with the oppressed. The urgent fight to stop the execution of Mumia is a prime example: the firmness of Rage as a group on this front has set a really important standard and made a huge social impact--including among sections of the youth who might not have even confronted the question at all if it had not been for Rage. And this type of impact is something very precious to the people.

All across the U.S., in Mexico, Europe and elsewhere on the planet, youth who are fighting against this people-destroying system of imperialism see Rage as their own--including a whole section of youth who really have nothing to lose. And, it really means a lot to the basic people to have artists like this, creating big public opinion for revolution and standing with the working people of the world. Now more than ever, as resistance advances at the grassroots, this band is needed.


I know that there are many difficult burdens being in a band like Rage. But as the Chinese writer Lu Hsun once said, being a revolutionary artist is like being an ox for the people. From reading interviews with the band, it's clear that there have been many vexing contradictions in keeping Rage together. To stick to your principles in the shark-filled waters of the recording industry; to perform in huge arenas and maintain your contact with the basic people; to persevere in the face of critics who are 24-7 trying to diminish your impact, charging you with selling out or claiming the audience is only there for the beats, blah, blah, blah; and to sort out a real revolutionary path for relating to the grassroots: this is hard stuff.

Ironically, hardest of all is dealing with the creative and political differences among the artists themselves that flare up in the work. So finding a path to stay together that keeps the political and artistic work moving forward is a really important part of the battle. How to make the biggest possible social impact and keep really deep connections to the lives and struggle of the people in the music; how to identify common interests for the people and find a way to struggle over differences--these are the questions that every revolutionary artist is going to have to confront.

And while it may seem like a "relief" to be free of some of these difficulties, sooner or later it will sink in that this "relief" comes from the idea that something better can be done some other, less burdensome way. But in art, as in politics, real freedom is about grasping what is necessary in order to do something great for the people. And the people need Rage to be Rage.

What is amazing is that, with all the difficulties, Rage has managed to walk the tightrope of staying true and being hugely influential--giving great heart to millions of rebellious and revolutionary minded youth. Imagine what they could do if they could figure out how to handle the contradictions and how to reunite. And, given their history of breaking new ground, they might just come out of it, reunited in a better place, able to make even more of a contribution --in an even better position to withstand the attacks of the system--by relying on the very force that has enabled them to get as far as they have, the masses who are inspired by their music.

So, as we head into 2001, I hope these artists--who all have so much heart for the people--do everything they can to find a path to keep the planet Rage orbiting with Zack in the house. And I hope they find a way to tap into the huge reservoir of love and support among the people and the revolutionaries that can help them meet the challenge.

Or, as one fan put it, "This sucks. We need Rage."

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