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"Anger is a gift": Rage Against The Machine

2008-06-03 09:50
Rage Against the Machine
At least I was around for the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Apartheid: Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”. Friends, Nirvana, The Springbok Nude Girls. The 80s were played out, the 90s happened, but I wasn’t ready to be a part of it. I was too young to be a slacker, rebel or even just a grunge kid. Then in 1999, just before the dawn of my generation’s “moment”, an echo from 1992 inked an X tattoo on my ass.

My roommate Charlie had gotten his hands on a subversive little recording, self-titled Rage Against The Machine. My geography homework didn’t get done that night. The music wasn’t Oasis and it wasn’t Alanis, but unlike anything I’d ever heard.

Rage Against The Machine was a political band for people who hated politics. Without it, the infamous disaffection of Gen X kids was mostly directed at parents or, oddly, themselves. It was prime-time for self-loathers and party bands, for Nirvana and The Bloodhound Gang. What made Rage different was its ties to the best values of rap (before Snoop Dogg sold them for bling) that called out “The Man” on perpetual injustice and namechecked political heroes you wouldn’t find in sanctioned history books. They dangled government conspiracies in front of a generation’s open eyes, infuriating legions of slackers and so-whats who didn’t exactly like the big wigs to begin with.

Rap metal would go on to become a bit of a limp bizkit, but Tom Morello’s guitar riffs made the genre-clash sound absolutely inevitable at a time when ripped jeans were the height of fashion. With bassist Tim Commerford he managed to sound threatening and funky at the same time, a clever musical cocktail that won them the rarest prize for a band with real ideology: relevance.
If Tom Morello held the gun, Zack de la Rocha’s rhymes were the bullet. Latino skin was still a rapping novelty, but even the most cynical hip hoppers couldn’t resist a well placed “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. Vanilla Ice’s second coming would not be as a Mexican. De La Rocha’s lyrics were four minute histories of wrongdoing, catalogues of clandestine military intervention and state-sponsored assassination. Coming from anyone else, the words would have collapsed from the weight of sheer paranoia. Coming from Zack, the accusations became a truth, a hostile force that painted the hands of older, richer society in the guiltiest shade of red.

Classic albums have an admirable aversion to losers. Like Leonidas picking his 300 warriors, no gimpy hunchbacks can make the cut. With watery doe-eyes I do swear that every song on Rage Against The Machine is a winner. Every one. Well, perhaps “Settle for Nothing” is a bit of a peg-legged dwarf, but it has a lot of spirit, arrgh. Still, the quality on show is gut punching, popping off rebel anthems like “Killing In The Name”, “Wake Up” and “Bomb Track” one after the other, like some rap metal Beretta. “Bam! Here’s the plan / Motherfuck Uncle Sam,” barks Zack, the words of a general to his secret forces.

I wish Generation Y had its own firebrands, our own banners for our still developing political conscience. They are out there, undoubtedly, but obvious they’re not. It’s fair to say that The Black Eyed Peas abdicated that role when they followed up their rally cry of “Where is the love?” with “Let’s get retarded”. Our love for lazy dabblers in has-been genres like The Strokes is unlikely to produce original solutions to the revolutionary deficit. When retro catches up to itself, “nostalgia for now” will fail because we’ve been so busy wearing old scarves that we forgot to knit new ones.

Yeah, I brag online about my bad day to three hundred people I don’t know. But I’m proud to say that Rage Against The Machine is still the most “Generation X” thing about me. And until the post-millennium delivers something that makes me want to donate cash to Basque separatists, that tattoo on my ass will keep telling me to take my Facebook and shove it.

- Niel Bekker

I was born in 1984, two years too late to be a member of Generation X. Instead, I am a Millennial multi-tasker, a wide-eyed optimist who digs liberal capitalism and lives an uninhibited digital life. I’m into Barack Obama. Ditto lolcats. But it was a close thing. Two years separate me from the group that never belonged, and never wanted to: Generation X.


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