Chances are, if you’re a Chicagoan and you hate crowds / don’t have to work / have no major feelings about international security and military organizations, you’ve already gotten the hell out of town (we hear Milwaukee’s nice this time of year). Between the Cubs-White Sox cross-town baseball series and the NATO Summit / related protests, the city is packed, its citizens more intense about everything than usual and parts of it are pretty much on lockdown.
But with any political and social justice event will come influential musicians who have long operated in this space. In Chicago’s case, it’s Rage Against the Machine guitarist (and Libertyville, Illinois native), who brought a free concert of his acoustic side project, The NIghtwatchman, to the stage for a National Nurses United rally. Morello will also be the headlining act tomorrow at the Metro, performing a set as part of “This Land Is Our Land,” a celebration of the life and music of folk legend Woody Guthrie on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Former Mekons drummer Jon Langford and local spoken word icon Kevin Coval will also be performing.
And if Tom Morello singing Woody Guthrie doesn’t really sound like your scene, that’s cool, Bonnie Raitt is in town, too.
It only took about fifteen minutes tops – five blocks south of Bryant Park – before the “illegal” Occupy Wall Street and “Guitarmy” march to Union Square broke through the tight NYPD formation corralling protestors to the sidewalk along 5th Avenue in New York City. Across the country 135 cities planned similar May Day related action.
The formation had been meant to keep the swelling ranks of protesters to the sidewalk. Cries of, “c’mon, we’ve got the numbers, let’s take the streets!” pierced through the sound of whistles, chants and drums, as small groups of enthusiastic occupiers broke through and encouraged their comrades to follow them into the middle of the broad avenue as generations of rabble-rousers have.
The cops fought back with shoves, shouts and even a few baton thrusts, but they couldn’t stem the tide and by the time the march crossed 33rd Street, 5th Avenue belonged to the protesters. Jay Manzetti, a self-described AFL-CIO member from “Occupy Long Island” who had been talking-up breaking the NYPD cordon since before the march started was one of the first to bust through. “Fuck yeah, I want the whole fucking city taken!” he cheered.
Smack in the middle of this chaos, wearing a cap marking his membership in the stately old I.W.W (Industrial Workers of the World) and coolly strumming an acoustic guitar, Tom Morello—frontman of socially-conscious headbangers, Rage Against the Machine, and longtime OWS supporter—chanted: “this occupation is not leaving,” and, “these are our streets.”
As he readied to run through a quick rehearsal with his “new band” of what he described in a slight exaggeration as “10,000 guitarists,” a short while earlier, Morello shared his ideas on the respective significance of International Workers’ Day—a May 1st holiday for progressives and organized labor since the late 1800s—during the current economic crisis and OWS.
Morello, a Harvard graduate descending from an impressive transcontinental leftist pedigree, speaks with a perspective markedly more global—and critical of U.S. foreign policy—both economic and military, than the average OWS denizen, who mostly worries about the shrinking middle class and corporate money in politics. Answering a question about his patriotism, Morello says that America is not a “homogeneous” block. “There’s an America of the Napalmers and the lynchers; that sends missiles to kill civilians oversees and forecloses on farms,” he says. “Than there’s the America that fights back against it that’s the country I’m proud of.”
But even the most parochially minded OWS supporter nodded along with Morello when he said that the most pressing message for Americans to take away from Occupy is that “gross economic inequality” is not just an accident of market forces, as the consensus-oriented media and our moderate politicians would have them believe, but the result of a massive theft of wealth from the middle-class by “criminals who should be prosecuted,” in the very top-economic tier. Once people know the score, he added, “the genie can’t be put back in the bottle.”
As the protest moved downtown, gaining steam, white-collar workers watched from office windows above. At one point when a gap in the march grew too long, the group out front called a “sit-in.” Despite of all the smart technology in attendance and concomitant social media it was left to a runner to be dispatched to find out how far behind the next clump of protesters was.
People chanted and waved banners, some obviously dusted off from last fall, but there were new ones as well. (A memorable one juxtaposed a headshot of NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly with that of notorious southern racist sheriff Bull Conner.) A few handed out flowers, but there would be no photographs of lilacs gingerly placed into the barrel of NYPD guns. One flower giver, 26-year-old Emily Hosmer-Dillard of Brooklyn, said her offerings were decidedly not for the boys in blue. Like many others who were marching yesterday, Hosmer-Dillard still remembered the mass-arrests, late-night evictions and all-around authoritarian tactics that marked the NYPD’s treatment of OWS last fall. Laughing at such a “60s type image” she said, “I’m not here to make the cops’ job easier.”
While nothing approaching the anger directed at millionaires, bankers, the GOP Congress or the NYPD, several OWS supporters had harsh words for the “mainstream media,” (but especially Fox News), which they felt deceived the majority of middle class Americans against the movement even though they shared common interests. Sitting on a bicycle Fred Gates, a 39 year-old “self-employed web designer,” was arguing civilly with Phil—a middle-aged “auditor” who would not give his last name but works near Union Square and was for the moment at least stuck in his car—who told him that if someone’s unemployed he should be “looking in himself and looking for a job,” instead of out marching.
Effectively summing up the grumbling heard that day directed towards the fourth estate, Gates told Phil that they’d be on the same side if it wasn’t for the “media coverage,” which back in October “started making us look like dirty hippies with nothing substantive to say.” Indeed the two certainly agreed on one important idea, that as Phil the auditor put it, “the economic pie is shrinking and we’re getting squeezed up down and sideways.”
By the time the “Solidarity Rally” (featuring Tom Morello and Das Racist) started after 4pm, the sun was shining and Union Square was filled with thousands of activists and onlookers (video below). With free food, a “free store,” a library and representatives of a different far-left political party thrusting literature in your face every time you turned around the scene had strong echoes of the Liberty Plaza occupation. But there was a stronger union showing, especially of domestic workers, and a more international vibe.
Morello climbed the makeshift stage with his acoustic guitar and “guitarmy” comrades and kicked off into “Rebel Songs.” Looking around at the crowd and flags flying from every color of the rainbow (but especially red), one couldn’t help but think that minus the NYPD helicopter circling low overhead and the ubiquitous smartphones, this could have been May Day during the Great Depression. As if on cue, Morello announced that this year would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday and that he would end his short set on a song that “we all learned in school,” except for the fact that we were taught it wrong. Then Morello played a version of “This Land is Your Land,” with a last verse about the speaker seeing “[his] people, as they stood there hungry,” waiting for government relief. This angrier version with its raw “censored” last verse ends with a plaintive question, rather than a patriotic statement. “Is this land made for you and me?”
Despite the long lines on Thursday, my faith has been restored in the music at the festival due to one band, HAIM (pronounced Hi-yum). This sister trio from Los Angeles KILLED IT. If Patti Smith had started a band with her two sisters, this is what it would have sounded like. At the end of the performance each girl put down their instrument, picked up a drum stick and went at it on individual drums they had in front of them creating the SICKEST drum solo EVER! It was AMAZING! By far the best performance we’ve seen all week.
On a music high from the HAIM performance, Lorenna and I took the night by storm and headed out onto the streets to see what was up in the world of Austin. The crowds surprisingly seemed a little less intense then they have the whole week, which was a huge relief. But the ability to get into a show at night was still just as difficult. A friend of Lorenna’s texted her saying that Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine was holding an Occupy Austin event on the streets not far from where we were. We were intrigued and headed down there.
A small group of people formed in front of the Swan Dive bar where Tom Morello stood welcoming everyone to the event and introducing Outernational, the band who stood behind him. He then headed back inside and Outernational took the stage. The crowd grew a little bigger and out of the corner of my eye I saw a medium-sized march happening to my left. It was at this point that we had realized midnight marked the six-month birthday of the movement. The march was led by people carrying a huge banner that read “Fuck the Police.” Outernational screamed, “Tonight we sing fighting songs!” and encouraged people to raise their fists. I felt weary about the whole thing and once the crowd started chanting “Fuck the police” I started to feel sad.
The Occupy movement I knew was a peaceful one. The marches that I had been in were so beautiful they brought me to tears. We stood side by side with students and doctors: all of us equal, all of us understanding that something needed to change or we were in trouble. After all of the craziness that has gone down all over this country with police beating and abusing protesters, there is a part of me that can understand the “fuck the police” sentiment. But you don’t start there. You don’t start with hate. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I don’t live in Austin, I don’t know their politics or their movements and I only have this one moment to base anything on. But all I saw watching that rally last night was a lot of angry people looking for a reason to scream at authority. That passion of peace, the passion of change, that wasn’t there. Choose love first. Don’t be angry just for the sake of it, it never gets you anywhere.
When we left the rally we decided we were going to attempt to get into a party or a showcase of bands we wanted to see. But the red lights and out-of-tune singing of a karaoke bar lured us in and there we found ourselves. Karaoke is the most underrated fun in the world. It is so hysterical and if it wasn’t so expensive in New York I would do it every night.
Our car was a million miles away and it was already after one, so we agreed to eat the expense and take a pedi-cab. This was only my second time being in one, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by them. For those of you who don’t know, a pedi-cab is a carriage seat attached to a bike. I have a hard enough time carrying my own ass on a bike, so I could not even begin to imagine toting someone else’s as well! Those kids’ thighs are rock solid.
Friday was an eventful and amazing day. We had three interviews with three amazing bands/performers: HAIM, Radiation City, and Illustrate. We’ll post those in a larger piece including our interviews with Spank Rock, The Drums, and Elizabeth and the Catapult. Every band/person we interviewed was so awesome, sweet, funny, intelligent, and insanely talented. I want to be friends with all y’all in real life, please!
During one of our interviews, we headed to this area in downtown Austin across the river that had a bajillion of the most amazing thrift/vintage stores. Our wallets are not so happy about what happened because of this, but our closets are super psyched. While standing outside interviewing my new favorite band/ladies HAIM, a bird pooped on me. As a result, I had no sweater to wear that night and was freezing, but I guess it means I’ll have good luck forever, right?
After spending too much money, we headed back downtown to see the band Radiation City play. Those of you who have been keeping up with our posts will understand how I feel about this band with just these few insights. They have two chicks on keyboards, multiple singers, and beautiful tuneage that I want to sing along to. I mean, I’m in love. Add in the fact that they also happen to be super awesome people just makes me want to have their musical babies.
We really lucked out with getting into really unbelievable performances yesterday. From Radiation City to Elizabeth and the Catapult my heart is filled with lady love. Elizabeth and the Catapult played at St. David’s, which is a giant church in the middle of downtown Austin. It was a pretty intense and amazing way to watch an artist like Elizabeth. Her voice and songs are so beautiful they make me cry and dance at the same time. In full disclosure, she is actually my sister’s roommate and a friend of Lorenna’s and mine, and we love her so much. They were having some sound difficulties and for some reason they couldn’t get her keyboard to turn on for the first half of her set. That poor girl handled it with the greatest sense of humor and cracked all of us up as she dealt with the ridiculousness of the situation. Did I say I love her yet? I love her!
We managed to get into the Flatbush Zombies show which was awesome, but by midnight a wall of exhaustion hit both Lorenna and me. St. Patrick’s day at SXSW lived up to its horror, and being out on the streets just proved to be a miserable experience. We were ready to get out of there. But not before spending another thirty minutes navigating our way through drunken pedestrian traffic with a car, which was just as awful as it sounds. We drove a friend of Lorenna’s (who is also a former editor at BlackBook) Nadeska Alexis (check her out at Rapfix) back to her hotel, and by the time we got home we were both so cracked-out that we could barely get out of the car because we were laughing so hard.
This experience has been equally as amazing and ridiculous as it was exhausting. I will never forget it for the rest of my life and am eternally grateful to have been able to do it along side my best friend in the world. In conclusion if you are going to make the trip to SXSW, be prepared. Know what you are getting yourself into, maybe only stay for a couple of days, and make sure to wear good shoes (my poor feet).
What’s a Bruce Springsteen show without an all-star sing-a-long? Last night at SXSW, the Boss followed up a warmly-received keynote speech with a performance at the Moody Theater, accompanied by the E Street Band. At the end of his set, he brought a ton of famous friends on stage — Tom Morello, Alejandro Escovedo, Eric Burdon, Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne and Win and Will Butler, among them — to close with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land," one of the most "we’re all in this together" songs ever laid down. Consequence of Sound recorded some video for our viewing pleasure, which you can hit after the click.
Morello gets on the mic around the 4:00 mark and makes a bunch of dorky finger-pointing gestures, which is just great. The Guthrie-sharing spirit was all around at SXSW: The day before, The Flaming Lips and Jackson Browne covered Guthrie’s "Along Sun & The Rain," accompanied by some iPads. (It’s a weird world we live in.) Watch that one below, courtesy of Stereogum.
SXSW ends on Sunday, fun for everyone stuck at home following the coverage on Twitter. If you’re up for more man-on-the-beat perspective, remember to read the rest of Sara Romeo-White’s coverage for BlackBook as it comes through the wire.
MTV will air its special True Life: I’m Occupying Wall Street on Saturday, proving that the channel still has its fingers on the pulse of the current counterculture despite avoiding “music” at nearly all costs and focusing its programming on exploiting teenage pregnancy and giving jobs to alleged rapists. But don’t forget the award shows! MTV has a new one: the O Music Awards, and they’re taking the opportunity to commercialize on the Occupy movement by awarding a special prize to Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
“It’s an unusual title for an award, but it’s an award that is for the worldwide rebels who are now occupying 1,300 cities around the planet,” Morello told TheWrap. “The one thing that all the Occupy cities have in common is everyone pitches in and cooperates. I’m a musician, so I pitched in and played.”
Uh, sure. I’m sure this award will be shared by all of the worldwide rebels, especially those who spent all day in Zuccotti Park on Saturday in the snow.
More importantly, why not give the award to Jeff Mangum, who played an entire set in the park weeks before Morello? Does it have something to do with Neutral Milk Hotel not being as recognizable to the MTV generation as Rage Against the Machine? Or perhaps it’s more convenient to give it to a guy who recently released an album two months ago and is currently on tour?
As the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello was into radical activism long before it was cool. That’s why it’s a little surprising it took him over three weeks to pay in Zuccotti Park for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Hell, Jeff Mangum was there ten days ago and Talib Kweli showed up last Thursday. Yesterday, it was Tom Morello’s turn. Morello’s folk alter-ego, The Nightwatchman, traveled to One Liberty Plaza and played a four-song set for the protesters.
Morello said he went after being “asked/nagged” by Occupy Wall Street organizers. He also said he was bombarded via Twitter with requests to come to the park. Here’s an interview he gave yesterday from Zuccotti:
He told the gathered journalists, “The media didn’t report on it until somebody got pepper sprayed. Then the media didn’t report on it nationally until 700 people got arrested.” He could barely hold his laughter in when he said, “Now, the guy from Rage Against the Machine is performing so they’re reporting on that too.”
He introduced himself to the crowd as “The Nightwatchman,” which he uses for his solo work, and explained his alter-ego to reporters: “My modus operandi from the beginning of being the Nightwatchman, doing the singer-songwriting, was to have the ability—the folk music guerilla warfare ability—to be on the front lines of struggles as they’re happening.”
Here’s his performance of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Our Land” from those very front lines:
Last night, the stage of the Nokia Theatre was transformed into a grunge-era wet dream. Out for the Road Recovery benefit concert were Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello (as his folk alter-ego The Nightwatchman), Jerry Cantrell, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Jakob Dylan, Perry Ferrell, and the only man today that can pull of a top-hat and lady-silhouette forearm tattoo: Slash. Road Recovery, a nonprofit that mentors young recovering addicts, is comprised of entertainment industry professionals whose lives have also been touched by addiction.
Denis Leary opened the benefit, poking fun at the recent rash of celebrities in rehab and the irony of Amy Winehouse’s name. Harvard-educated Guitar Hero Morello was a smooth emcee, mediating when Jimmy Gnecco, the lead singer of Ours, refused to come back onstage after their set — presumably and justifiably because some jerk in the audience hurled a glow stick on stage (what year is this?) and narrowly missed him. The past met the present when Cantrell, Slash, and Morello played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and the audience flipped out glowing cell-phones in appreciation.
Even with the kumbaya vibe, the politics of Morello were overt. He sang rebel tunes, wished Lee Harvey Oswald were around today, and at one point he turned the lights up and instructed the crowd to sing along in the Woody Guthrie protest song, “This Land Is Your Land.” But the night’s show-stealers were under the radar. Perry Farrell strutted around, looking GQ with a white button-down, jaunty neckerchief, and enthusiastic smile. And then there was a crowd-surfing Sen Dog, who got even the businessmen jumping and singing that they were “insane in the membrane” during his throwback Cypress Hill set.
“When I first heard we were doing Road Recovery, I thought, we’re gonna fix the potholes of New York?” quipped Farrell. The night ended with a supergroup performance of all the entertainers wailing the lyrics to GNR’s “Paradise City” with Guitar Hero # 2 Slash as the centerpiece. Sen Dog played the part of Axl, and even the bashful Gnecco was coaxed back out on stage. Maybe next year Amy Winehouse will get up there, pumping her fists while (one hopes) ironically performing “Rehab.”