Reviews | Presentation of the newsletter of Tom Morello
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As I was in quarantine with my family after the murder of George Floyd last year, I remembered this move letter of recommendation that the New York Times Magazine published on Rage Against the Machine in 2018. Jonah Weiner wrote about his appreciation for the band and how works of art can consume us and define periods of our lives in important ways. Visionary literary or musical works become time capsules or soundtracks of our lives that you can revisit and remember. I was wondering what the soundtrack would be for the times we live in now.
I couldn’t get the Jonah song out of my mind. I started exploring RATM music and became a student of Tom Morello. Throughout my research, what I found was more than just a guitarist and musician; he was a visionary and thinker with unique experience and deep insights into culture and politics. I was convinced that he would be a fascinating person to hear as we reflect on the needs of our society in the future.
And I was not alone in this case. After launching my dream of having it written for Times Opinion, I learned that my colleague Jane Coaston has been a fan for years. She writes, below, an introduction to him to help you understand the significant presence he has had in pop culture, music, and protest movements over the past three decades.
Tom’s residency with Times Opinion begins tomorrow and will run for the next 12 weeks, offering a series of tests who will examine his music, as well as the music of others, offering insight into the ideas and arguments that shape the world today. You will hear his arguments and, often, his songs. We are happy to give you the opportunity to read, listen, engage, and hopefully share widely.
And now here is Jane:
When I was a freshman in high school in 2001, Tom Morello was one of the most important people in my life (although he luckily didn’t know it).
As the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Morello’s funk riffs surrounded me through a Catholic school in suburban Ohio. But although well known, Rage Against the Machine is only one facet of Morello’s musical, cultural and political journey over the past three decades. He formed a musical collaboration and a deep friendship with Bruce Springsteen and protested outside of more political conventions than I could count, and his 9 year old son, another guitarist, takes up the political torch that Morello took to his mother. Now it’ll take you on the journey, complete with a newsletter for New York Times subscribers.
Morello is passionate about poetry and dissent, and sees both in the work of the musicians who have inspired him both musically and politically. He has been deeply involved in protest movements for decades, from a garment workers union protest against sweatshop conditions in 1997 to protests outside the Democratic National Convention in 2000 with Rage Against the Machine on acoustic guitar. during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, getting arrested several times. He had been inspired by musicians like Joe Hill, the early 20th century union organizer who wrote songs that have been sung at union rallies for generations, like “There Is Power in a Union”, before moving on. be executed on a trumped-up murder charge. in 1915. Morello was fascinated by the role music played on the picket lines and in protests yesterday and today.
As Hill once said, “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is memorized and repeated over and over. And Morello’s songs and work also became hymns of protest.
He wants to think deeply about music and race, attaching many of his thoughts to how music helped speak the unsaid about American racism and grow as a lonely black child in Libertyville, in. Illinois, while still managing to surprise (and shock) audiences at metal festivals when they discovered her non-white racial origin.
He is intrigued by how the acoustic guitar and even songs without lyrics can stir up passions. This is revealed by his experience of pulling an “inverted Dylan”, when, after making a name for himself as an electric guitar hero, he began playing acoustic guitar as Nightwatchman, a character he he calls “the Black Robin Hood of the 21st century”. He has thought deeply about how musicians can and have fought for what he calls “the soul of a genre” and how these fights can shape and reshape an entire world of music.
What makes a musician an artist? How did interest in music become a calling for Morello during his undergraduate studies at Harvard University in the mid-1980s? How has the guitar been a divination wand in the music of the past, and what will the guitar look like and what will it look like in the music of the future? These are all topics Tom has reviewed, and I’m excited to read his thoughts on them in the coming weeks.
I’m a different person than I was in 2001, and so is he. But just as his work shaped the politics and personality that I have today, the music, culture and context in which he has lived and worked over the past decades shaped him.
You can subscribe to his newsletter here.