By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Angry, urgent music for angry, urgent times. But unlike lesser rap-rock bands who have come up in the years since Rage's 1992 debut (the one with the 1963 photo of a monk burning himself to death to protest an anti-Buddhist movement in Vietnam—an art direction decision that was alone a signal that here was a band worth keeping an eye on), Rage actually have something meaningful to say. Kid Rock? "Put my balls in your mouth!" is about as deep as he gets. Korn's Jon Davis apparently still can't get over his bad childhood, so long as he can make money selling it back to you (Korn "aren't really screaming about anything. It's just this fabrication," says de la Rocha in the latest issue of George). Limp Bizkit are just stupid, one of the most ego-driven, self-centered piles of aural poop ever (turn to page 50, where we psychoanalyze vocalist Fred Durst). At this year's KROQ Weenie Roast, Durst nearly incited a riot when he called out for everyone in the crowd to come down to the stage. "Fuck security!" he screamed into his mic. (I watched a woman in a wheelchair get knocked over by some doofus, which, conveniently, reminded me of a Rage lyric: "They say, jump; you say, how high?") Meanwhile, Wes Borland, Bizkit's guitarist, came out wearing blackface; obviously, history wasn't the boy's best subject.
While the anger that these three project seems neatly packaged for their largely pent-up teenage-boy audience in order to move as much "product" as possible—and hey, it works! Cha-ching!—Rage's anger has always been rooted in real causes. De la Rocha was warming his hands over a burning American flag in the first song on the band's first album. And while Rage's music is almost always good (except when it's great), what's maybe most intriguing is this: at a time when real Leftist ideals—"radical" stuff like justice, affordable housing, feeding the hungry, human rights, a living wage—have all but disappeared from mainstream debate, Rage is the only band talking about them, certainly the only one with such a huge forum.
It's scandalous but true: the only mainstream media outlet from which you'll regularly hear about the plight of people like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, movements such as the Zapatistas, and causes like exploited garment workers is this one, an LA rap-rock band.
Such is the subversive point of "Guerrilla Radio," the first single from The Battle of Los Angeles: you hear a Rage tune around the dial, and you can be sure that the opinions expressed therein are solely those of the artists (who's Rage endorsing in the 2000 election? "More for Gore or the son of a drug lord/None of the above fuck it cut the cord"—turn that shit up!). While the Democrats have found life cushier in the center, that pretty much leaves Rage as the most popular Leftist-progressive radicals in America. And while their passion can sometimes overtake common sense ("So long as the rope is tight around Mumia's neck/Let there be no rich white life we bound to respect," de la Rocha sings on "Voice of the Voiceless"—ummm, would that include Commerford, the band's Anglo bass player?), they're impossible to ignore, a vital info source in much the way that Chuck D labeled his Public Enemy the black man's CNN. While Korn want to sell you Adidas and Puma, Rage would rather drop knowledge about garment workers chained to their sewing machines in Third World countries—which is what they do in the "Guerrilla Radio" video.
Rage is big enough now that the straight media actually want to hear what's on their mind—when it suits their interests, natch. There they were two weeks ago on MTV, with de la Rocha talking up the Mexican students' strike and the government that's trying to take away the students' 60-year-old right to a free education. Then a Backstreet Boys video came on, and you were now returned to your normal programming.
Still, the strike hasn't likely passed through Tom Brokaw's glossy lips. But it ain't like he'd go into depth, anyway —Rage says more in a phrase like "Ain't it funny how the factory doors close/ Round the time that the school doors close/Round the time that the doors of the jail cells/Open up to greet you like the reaper" than a TV anchorman could say in an entire half-hour.The Battle of Los Angeles. A rather provocative title, and, says Rage guitar god Morello, "We wouldn't have it any other way."
"It's intentionally ambiguous," he continues, "but part of it speaks to the fact that there's an ongoing battle of LA boiling just underneath the surface. There's a tremendous amount of tension in the city, as evidenced in the wake of the Rodney King verdicts, and it's still bubbling close to the surface. We're just one court verdict away from the whole place blowing up all over again. And it's something you notice here every day on the streets. On the Sunset Strip, for example, there are Bentleys and Rolls Royces driving by, and there are people at the same time who are so hungry that they're almost ready to attack you for spare change. And also in our music, you can hear the tension of the city:the aggression, the smog, the hip-hop, the desperation and the hope that's all part of LA."