Rage Against Irrelevancy

I love Rage Against the Machine as much as anybody with a dick and a brain. Like Zeppelin and Public Enemy, Rage are a band you like with your head because they're smart and stand for something ("there's a lady that's sure all that glitters is gold"/"she watch channel zero"—Dylan with better hair, Noam Chomsky's a Raiders fan is all I'm sayin'). But really, you love Rage the way you love Van Halen—because they rock.

On disc, though, Rage pretty much made the same album three times, and when they ran out of ideas, they squeezed out a bad covers record of riffs they'd jam at soundcheck with Zach de la Rocha spitting other people's lyrics. It was kind of a weird culmination of their opening for House of Pain days in '92, when Zach would bust out Norton's Anthology and recite Ginsberg while the band played doodly jazz blurbs—the antithesis of the Rage rock-pocalypse of the perfect crack-high riff and OxyContin pummel.

See, like God, if Rage didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent them—if only to reconcile people's twin loves of Zeppelinesque riffs and hip-hop's lyrics of fury. Zach, with his Bob Marley-Che Guevara look, is a perfect frontman. And God bless Harvard's Tom Morello for taking experimental guitar back from the no-wave noise assholes and making it lyrical again, like a DJ reworking vinyl one wikky at a time. Gimmicky, sure, but do you really give a damn that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Unbelievable" even has a guitar solo? Neither does Tom.

But Rage's enduring importance? Morello's been the political gadfly, doing the whole Woody Guthrie agit-folk thing with his Nightwatchmen. And the band? Well, on a Lollapalooza tour they stood naked, not rocking out with their cocks out with their mouths taped and "PMRC" written on their chests. Almost a decade later, bassist Timmy C decided to monkey up a sculpture onstage at an MTV Music Awards, a move about as meaningful as writing "shit" on the wall. Rage's finest moment was arguably the boom-boomp-boom-boomping at the end of The Matrix, as Keanu does his Mighty Mouse move. Made the hair on the back of my flavor-saver stand up.

Upcoming Events

So what's Rage doing at Coachella, eclipsed as they are by lighter shades of pale like Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem? Well, kind of like Metallica on Lollapalooza that one sad year, Rage are a reminder of the good old days. And with Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain and even Happy Mondays on the bill, this is the year alt-rock has come full circle and acknowledged its own alt-classic rock. Sha Na Na played Woodstock—a nostalgic reminder of rock's macho roots in an era when it was challenging itself to find more delicate articulation, even at 4 a.m. in front of brown acid casualties. This time, Morello may play the National Anthem, but Zach's the new Bowzer. Yip-yip-yip-yup!

Rage Against the Machine headline Coachella. Sun., 10:40 p.m.

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