Tom Morello sings activist songs for the common man



By Steve Newton

When it comes to politically motivated rockers, you won’t find many more motivated than Tom Morello. Whether blasting out the intense guitar work that propels Rage Against the Machine’s anticorporate rap-metal agenda or taking on the Woody Guthrie–inspired folk-balladeer persona of his solo project, the Nightwatchman, the 47-year-old musician is unyielding in his activism.

So it’s no surprise that when Morello calls the Straight from his home in L.A., he’s quick to weigh in on the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstrations garnering headlines worldwide. He’s been arrested four times for civil disobedience himself, but still plans on showing up in the Big Apple with his acoustic guitar and “strumming for the masses” at noon today (October 13).

“It’s a unique kind of spontaneous protest,” he says of the gatherings, which started on September 17. “That’s part of the United States’ participation in this global unrest among the poor and working-class who have just had enough of these banks being bailed out while people on Main Street are suffering. And the thing I like about Occupy Wall Street is that its goals are very broadly defined, and as long as you’re in the bottom 99 percent, you’re welcome.”

Morello’s steadfast concern for the plight of the common man is well-represented on his new album, World Wide Rebel Songs, which also sees him targeting the war in Iraq (“Stray Bullets”) and Mexican drug cartels (“The Dogs of Tijuana”). The disc opens with “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine”, a brazen call to arms that Morello describes as “the first Nightwatchman love song”.

It’s actually an ode to his new Gibson steel-string acoustic guitar, which he named Black Spartacus. (The other part of the title comes from former Clash member Mick Jones, who used to refer to his guitar as a “heart-attack machine”.)

With all the Tea Party–generated insanity and sociopolitical upheaval happening in the States right now, you can bet that Morello and comrade in arms Black Spartacus will not waver in their struggle against injustice and oppression. So is it a great time to be an activist down there or what?

“Well,” ponders Morello, “I think if you’re so inclined, it’s always a great time to be an activist. You know, until we live in some egalitarian utopia I think there’s always a hammer to be swung. But while it may be a great time to be an activist, it’s also a very scary time to be a human being living in the United States, from the impending environmental disaster to the growing gulf between rich and poor. I mean, there’s certainly a lot to sing about.

“And what I try to do with my music is steel the backbone of people who are standing up for their rights—whether they’re in their homes, in their schools, in their community, or in the world at large. You know, the people who own and run this world don’t deserve to—they do so in the name of profit and they do so at the peril of the planet and at the expense of human rights.

“And it’s just not right.”

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