Raging Against the Political Machine in Denver

I'm still in Colorado, a pretty exciting place to be right now. With all the fuss surrounding the Democratic National Convention, the city of Denver has done an admirable job of highlighting its arts scene. There was a New York Times piece about the city's public sculptures, PHAMALy, a handicapped theater company , performed for free for conventioneers and the public, and last night, Red Rocks Amphitheatre hosted an adult contemporary enviro-love note to Obama featuring Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews.

But on Wednesday, the Denver Coliseum will host a related, and--at least to my tastes--far more exciting event: the Tent State Music Festival to End the War. Joining the festivities are, among others, Denver's Flobots and Wayne Kramer, but headlining are '90s revolution-rockers Rage Against the Machine, and that's where things get interesting.  

Apparently, Rage has a real gripe with the current administration. Yesterday's Denver Post published an editorial by the band's members, which was distributed through Amnesty International. It seems the U.S. government has been using the band's music as part of its sleep deprivation and sensory overload torture campaign. The band says:

As artists and as human beings, it sickens us to know that the U.S. government has been using our music to torment detainees. We are especially appalled by the discovery that there is very little that we, as artists, can do to stop the military and the CIA from turning our music into a weapon. Our songs -- which include human rights themes such as freedom, our beautiful world, and the voice of the voiceless -- are meant to be cries against injustice, not accomplices to dehumanizing and extrajudicial acts.

Hopefully, the secret prisoners in question don't understand English all that well, because if they did, songs like "Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name of" would probably serve more as inspiration for an overthrow of the U.S. government than deterrent. The clear irony here is that a band whose music is so blatantly anti-authoritarian is being used in the most authoritarian circumstance imaginable. And, as singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, et al, point out, they've made music to inspire people, not oppress them.

Even more frustrating, the musicians themselves have no recourse in this case. Though Jackson Browne, Abba, John Mellancamp, and even Frankie Valli were able to stop John McCain from using their music during his campaign, Rage is limited to, well, raging against the machine. Though last month Guardian blogger Sean Michaels suggested the military ought to pay royalty fees to the artists on its playlist, I imagine such an arrangement would be throughly repellent to the boys in the band.

I can't embed their Michael Moore-directed video for "Sleep Now in the Fire," but you can still click and enjoy it.  

August 25, 2008 9:42 AM | | Comments (5)


The time has come oh Drama Queen,
to talk of many things.
Why theatre blogs obsess with guilt
and whether politicians have strings...

Let's take candid glance my friend,
at plays writtten long ago,
before the evil pen of gain,
set the stage aglow.

Now everyone will read for homework tonight..

"Rossum's Universal Robots"

1.: Yes, the Post said the editorial came from Amnesty Int'l.
2.: I believe I said that if played to an English speaking prisoner in, say, Guantanamo, as a method of torture, yeah, RATM could definitely serve as inspiration for their cause. After all, as much as I love the band, if I were inclined toward Al Qaeda and fed a steady diet of Americans singing about the evils of capitalism, I might enjoy not only the irony of my captors' choice, but also their vote of confidence in my mission. And let me be clear here, I have no problem with RATM's subversive message, it's the perversion of that message that sucks.
3: I'm going to guess that you didn't read the editorial in its entirety (sure, I'm assuming again, but hey, I don't mind being called an ass a couple of times a day--keeps me on point.) since you didn't know about the Amnesty connection, but it sure sounds like RATM wants the government to stop using its songs to torture detainees, not to pay them for that use.
4: Where's the link to your blog? Bring it, and I'll happily go toe-to-toe. Maybe you can teach me something.

Thanks for the heads up. Don't know what happened there. As soon as I saw your e-mail, I thought, "Oh no, MC5." Let that be one more vote in favor of copy editors.

"Flaming Lips' Wayne Kramer"??? Uhm you might want to double-check that one!

So let me get this straight: the Denver Post published an editorial that was distributed to them by Amnesty International? After all, that's what your piece says.
Also, don't you think it's a wee bit hyperbolic to say that RATM's songs could inspire the overthrow of the US government? If that were true, don't you think some of the band's many millions of English-speaking fans would have tried by now?
Finally, how do you know receiving royalties for RATM music played to torture detainees would be "repellent to the boys in the band"? Maybe they would take the money and donate it to an organization like Amnesty International... so they could distribute more Op-Ed pieces to the Denver Post? Never assume, lest you make an ASS of U and ME.
Let's be frank, Ms. Rosenfield: you're a terrible writer. How did you get this high-profile blog?

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