Thursday, March 17, 2005

Interview with Tom Morello by David Jenison

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Meanstreet Magazine
JANUARY 2005VOL 15.07

Tom Morello
By David Jenison

While California claims many of the nation’s top musicians, few command the level of respect given to L.A.-based guitarist Tom Morello. His best-known bands, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, will go down in history for their impact on contemporary music and pop culture. Morello, a Harvard grad, likewise stands out for his well-crafted social message and activism. For example, at the height of Rage’s popularity, the guitarist was arrested for protesting “sweatshop” working conditions here in Los Angeles.

Aside from finishing up a new Audioslave album (likely due before summer), Morello spent a good deal of last year developing Axis of Justice, a non-profit organization he formed with Serj Tankian (System of a Down) to affect social change through music. The duo’s efforts were most recently captured in the all-star live disc Axis of Justice: Concert Series Volume I, but Morello still has a lot more to say.

A long time ago you said you’re neither Democrat nor Republican because it doesn’t matter which rich white man rules over us. Taking into account the current situation, any change in your position?

“No, I totally agree with that statement. I honestly think that, while there are shades of difference, it doesn’t matter which multi-millionaire gets elected. It’s still up to the people to fight for issues like peace, workers’ rights, human rights, women’s rights and a cleaner environment. While there are clearly additional challenges posed by another four years of Bush rule, it also provides an opportunity for the country to clearly polarize and make up their minds about what’s right and wrong.”

You think the polarization of the electorate can actually be a positive?

“It’s absolutely a positive thing. It’s a total myth that we are a united country. Clearly there are huge sections of the country that are intolerant, ignorant, racist, pro-war and homophobic. While a lot of it is the right wing propaganda machine, it still provides a sharper juxtaposition for everybody to make a choice. Are you in favor of this unethical war that’s dipped up to its ears in torture, blood and oil, or are you afraid of billionaires ordering the globe as they see fit at the expense of the rest of us?”

Do you think there’s a chance the neo-cons in the Pentagon actually thought there were WMDs?

“Heaven’s no, but I think it was irrelevant to them. It was a smoke-and-mirrors game in the same way that I don’t believe they care whether gays get married. It’s a tool to get what they want. They wanted to go to war, they needed an excuse to do it and weapons of mass destruction, maybe they’re there, maybe not, whatever. Once the aircraft carriers launch, it’s too late.”

Do you think the media’s failed to hold these people accountable?

“Absolutely, and some of it’s intentional. The media is not some great, independent deliverer of truth and objective event. The media outlets are controlled by a few super rich corporations that are not apolitical in their philosophies. How in the world do you allow a president to literally get away with murder? They impeached the previous president because he shimmied around the facts about a blowjob, and no one ever died of a blowjob. ” One hopes not. “ Well, maybe someone does on some website, but I haven’t seen that yet.”

Why do the poor and working class support right wing policies that seem to push them further into poverty and war?

“The number one and two issues for Bush supporters were morality and terrorism. To me, sending poor people to die in a rich man’s war while some of them torture and shoot unarmed wounded prisoners sounds like the kind of immorality you want to vote against. The [Republicans] were really, really successful in motivating the religious right and making gay marriage a huge issue. The number one issue facing a country at war for unethical reasons and with an economy going down the toilet is the fear of gay people getting married? I have to take my hat off to them.”

What makes the right so effective?

“They’re very good at uniting because the Republicans and their leader really believe in something. [The President] really is against the gays, and he really is for war no matter what. Those type of strong opinions, no matter how wrongheaded, carry a lot of weight compared to the constant mincing and compromising done by the Democratic Party.”

Obviously you are against the Iraqi war, but what about Afghanistan?

“I’m not sure what gives a country a moral mandate to attack another and throw out its government. If you use the criteria that it’s a country harboring a super criminal, then when our country was harboring Marcos or the Shah of Iran, does that mean the Philippines or Iran had the right to bomb and invade us? Yes, if you’re using an objective yardstick.”

There’s a huge genocide happening in Sudan. Would you use might to stop that tragedy?

“That’s one of the great ironies. Here you have a real tragedy, a real human rights disaster going on, but there’s no oil at stake. The Sudanese’s different ethnic populations can annihilate one another while the Bush administration sits around with its thumb up its ass counting the millions it’s making from rebuilding contracts in Iraq. It speaks to the underlying motivations for the whole Iraqi war. It had nothing to do with freeing people or making their lives better, which is what the Sudanese need right now. Unfortunately, there’s none of our oil under their sand.”What parts of your childhood contributed to your social awareness today?“Part of it was clearly racism. I literally integrated the town of Libertyville, Illinois by becoming the first person of color to reside within its borders. The playground conflicts were a great political awakening at age five. It was like, ‘Wait a second, he’s against me!’ I also grew up in a home where my mom was very involved in the civil rights movement, and my father was a Kenyan revolutionary. I had different politics in my home than in the narrow-minded conservative suburb in which I grew up. So once I got into the age when you would discuss such things, like in high school, my understanding of how the world was ordered was very different than the beliefs that were being voiced upon me.”

What are ways in which people can affect local change?

“We recently established the L.A. chapter of Axis of Justice. One of the things we’re doing is combating hunger with a program to feed the homeless that we do each Sunday with Food Not Bombs. In addition to informing, educating, and organizing, we’re physically helping the people who are on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. We’re also addressing labor issues as workers continue to be squeezed on health care and other issues by the big Wal-Mart type companies. We have to support those struggles. For a constant update on the news and information that you might not be hearing on the Fox Network, go to”

What’s happening with Audioslave?

“We are in the midst of finishing our second record. It’s produced by Rick Rubin and sounds fantastic. It’s ferociously rocking. Before we made our first record, we’d never played a show together. This record is really a band coming together and discovering its own identity and unique chemistry through touring for a year and a half. It’s just about done. The intention is that it will come out in the first half of [2005]. It sounds great, and it’s awesome. I can’t wait for other people to hear it.”

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