Monday, June 25, 2007

Be Patient....

I'm speaking at a student journalist conference this morning. I don't know how encouraging I can be about the profession and--most important for the members of the audience--career prospects for young people entering the industry. (My advise: learn Chinese and study biotech or engineering.) So no postings until later today.


Hajji said...

Tom Morello, on Tour and on Message
Folk-Rock's Nightwatchman Plays True to His Roots

By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 25, 2007; Page C01

Tom Morello has spent the last 15 years playing in sold-out arenas as the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, yet here he was on Saturday night, playing to a sold-out coffeehouse crowd of 200 with just a guitar, harmonica and his voice.

His bands have sold more than 30 million records, so it's not that he needs a cut of the iced-coffee sales at Jammin' Java in Vienna, where he was performing as his acoustic folk-rock alter ego, the Nightwatchman, promoting his album "One Man Revolution."

His message is no mystery: It's evident in the black baseball cap that says "Industrial Workers of the World"; the phrase "Whatever it takes" that's scrawled on the soundboard of his guitar; and the crowd sporting T-shirts that say "Against All Authority" or "Support the Resistance" or "Iraq Veterans Against the War."

Morello rejects labels, largely because he's so far left on the political spectrum that labels cease to apply. A term like "revolutionary socialism" or "radical anti-establishment" gives a general idea for those unfamiliar with Rage Against the Machine.

"The whole idea of this was to be the black Woody Guthrie," Morello says of his new musical incarnation. "I started doing the Nightwatchman songs and music because it was important to me to have something really pure. To make music for wholly the right reasons."

The Nightwatchman, by design, is not for mass appeal. The songs are written to rally people on picket lines and at protests. "One criticism that could credibly be leveled against the record is that it's preaching to the converted," Morello said backstage before the show. "Well, the converted need a kick. . . . Those of us that know better are not doing enough."

Morello, 43, is touring the country in front of small, fired-up crowds because he's not satisfied that President Bush's approval ratings are low enough or that enough people want out of the Iraq war.

"Aside from [Rep. Dennis] Kucinich, and he's still several shades to the right of me, I don't think anybody has courageously stepped up and said what needs to be said. We have a war criminal sitting in the White House. That's not hyperbole."

Onstage, when the Nightwatchman sang, "I pray that God himself will come and drown the president if the levees break again," the Jammin' Java crowd's attitude was chilling. People were praying.

There were no screaming guitar solos that characterized Rage Against the Machine (although Morello does play an acoustic version of the Rage song "Guerrilla Radio" in his set), and this absence has been perhaps the biggest obstacle for his old fan base.

Among the Jammin' Java crowd on Saturday was Ryan Harvey, himself a musician. A member of a Baltimore folk-rock collective who could safely be described as part of the underground, he was never a big Rage fan. "I know a lot of people who were radicalized by Rage," Harvey says, "but in the '90s, I was already there."

To much of the underground, Rage Against the Machine was too commercial (the band's label was part of Sony, after all), but the Nightwatchman is in part a response to that. "He means it, and people can sense it," Harvey says. "If you don't mean it, you don't last too long with the grass roots."

So when Harvey suggested to Morello that Iraq Veterans Against the War should be a part of the show, he jumped at the opportunity. Saturday was the start of an IVAW bus tour that will visit East Coast military bases. Before Morello's set, a group of IVAW members took the stage. Liam Madden, a former Marine who organized the tour, spoke: "Today was the first day of that tour, and we had four new members join today. You can either follow our lead, you can blaze your own path, but we need your help."

The announcement of four new IVAW members fired up the crowd as much as any opening set could have.

Morello's not just angry about Iraq. Before each song he explained his inspiration for it, ranging from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to economic injustice to the Sago Mine Disaster, which made Morello realize that "energy is literally mixed with the blood of the working class."

He tells the crowd a story from two weeks ago, when police in Rostock, Germany, confronted thousands of demonstrators at the G8 economic summit with tear gas and water cannons. But it was worth it, he explains: "Somebody needs to represent the millions of Americans who are opposed to the eight wealthy leaders of the eight wealthiest countries getting together behind a three-story-tall barbed-wire fence to decide our fate."

Morello conceived the Nightwatchman after Rage Against the Machine broke up in 2000. Morello, along with Rage bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, joined with former-Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell as the new band Audioslave.

But Cornell's roots were in the grunge music of Seattle, and Audioslave never adopted the aggressive politics of Rage. (Although to call the band apolitical wouldn't be quite right either; it sold more than a million DVDs of its 2005 concert in Cuba.)

Morello loved the music, and he stayed involved with the issues he cared about through the Axis of Justice, a nonprofit founded with System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian that supports grass-roots activism (a big cause this year is rebuilding the homes of musicians in New Orleans). But for Morello, that was not enough.

"I felt like I was not doing enough in my vocation to fight back," he says. "I didn't choose to be a guitar player; that chose me. I'm cursed with being a guitar player.

"But once that curse has been cast, I need to, in order to look at myself in the mirror, need to find a way through my art and my vocation to fight the power."

Morello has always been fired up. His first political song as a high-schooler was "Salvadoran Death Squad Blues"; his Harvard application essay was "An Anarchist Manifesto About Libertyville, Ill." (his home town); and his senior thesis there was about student activism against apartheid in South Africa.

On Thanksgiving Day 2003, Morello was hosting a talent show at a homeless shelter in Los Angeles when a 19-year-old with an acoustic guitar started to sing. Whatever he may have lacked in actual skill he made up for with conviction.

Morello had never sung in his life, but the performance got him thinking: "Sure I can play some fancy guitar solos, but I have a few ideas in my head, too. If this guy on this stage in this very humble setting can really run it up the flagpole, what's keeping me from doing the same?"

On tour with Audioslave, he would look for open-mike nights, sign up anonymously, and play folk music for crowds that often did not recognize him. As he became more comfortable in the Nightwatchman alter ego, he started playing at union rallies and demonstrations.

In 2004, the day after the presidential election, Morello decided he would make a Nightwatchman record and later, during a break from touring with Audioslave, had time "to reassess my priorities," he recalls. "And I decided that I was only going to be involved in music that expressed my worldview. That left me open to a Rage Against the Machine reunion; that left me open to making a Nightwatchman record."

The hard rocking of Rage and Audioslave was gone, but the activism in his music was back. "As [historian] Howard Zinn says, 'You can't be neutral on a moving train.' "

The guitar and the activism are compulsions that Morello says he could never quit or separate. He has achieved success and fortune that few can imagine, but he could never be content merely surrounded by platinum records, some Grammy Awards and the Rolling Stone issue that declared him the 26th greatest guitar player of all time.

"There's something akin to grace in the combination of music and meaning," Morello mused before Saturday's show. "Tonight I'm going to go out there and play every song like it's the last song I'm ever going to play and try to see if it feels like grace."


I was fortunate to see "The Nightwatchman" twice already. First at a radio station "listener appreciation" show in Louisville. Last week he opened for Ben Harper in Asheville. My sister (a HUGE fan) and I got to spend some time with Morello before the show.

Gracious, sincere, and genuine are only scratching the surface as we chatted about his G-8 performance (and daring escape!)and the simmering state of general unrest peakin in isolated, yet progressive places like Asheville, NC.

Morello even made a point of putting some ticketless people whom he'd never met before on his guest list for the SOLD OUT show! After his heartfelt set that reached the cynical core of this son of Harlan County, KY coal-miners, he showed up in the rear to meet and greet, to autograph and photograph for as long as people approached.

Later, Morello joined Harper's "Innocent Criminals" for a show-stopping, verse-trading version of Dylan's "Masters of War". His blistering solos during the song elicited the loudest cheers of the whole night.

Catch him if you can!



Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

-Bob Dylan

capt said...

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