True to their name, Rage Against the Machine were the most influential politically-minded band of their era, an agitating quartet with a matchless ability to transform songs about police brutality and the Zapatista revolution into rock radio hits. In a new interview for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, guitarist Tom Morello talked about the political nature of music. “100 percent of music is political. Music either supports the status quo or challenges the status quo. So every artist is political,” Morello said.
“Now, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez probably don’t identify as political artists, but their music – while often very entertaining and loved by their fan base – is the bread and circuses of our times,” Morello added. “If you’re not questioning authority, you’re tacitly submitting to authority. And that’s not to say I have a long list of booty-shaking jams on my iPod, and there’s certainly a place for that, but I am also conscious of the fact that in my own work, that what you say and what you do matters.”
Morello is among the artists who contributed new interviews about the crucial connection between music and politics to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics, a new exhibit that opens Friday at the Cleveland landmark. David Byrne, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Gloria Estefan, Jimmy Carter, Gregg Allman and Bono, who spoke about the roots of U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky,” also take part in the exhibit.
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The exhibit features iconic rock items like Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster from Woodstock, the original handwritten lyric sheets for anthems like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and artifacts related to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kent State shooting, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and more.
“You are a historical agent, and if you don’t have your hands on the steering wheel, someone else does,” Morello warned his fellow artists.