Thanksgiving brought me home to Connecticut, where I attended a football game, pitting the University of Connecticut against the University of Cincinnati. The Huskies lost by a field goal in the closing seconds of the game in a heartbreaker, a loss I pin entirely on UConn’s terrible kicker, who shanked an extra point that probably was the difference in the game.
But my complaints about the game have more to do with the half time show. The UConn marching band provided entertainment, and I was doing what I always do whenever a marching band is playing: I did my best to pretend I was some place where a marching band wasn’t playing. I consider marching bands to be only about as entertaining as women’s basketball or movies with hobbits in them, which is to say not at all. But at one point, a particular melody caught my ear, and I turned to my girlfriend and said, “Isn’t that ‘Bulls on Parade’?” She nodded in the affirmative.
This is a problem. Why is it a problem? Because “Bulls on Parade” is a song about the savagery of the international military-industrial complex, and because the UConn marching band is a fucking marching band.
Rage Against the Machine is probably the most misappropriated band of all time. Retroactively, they’re always mentioned in the same breath as Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and the other rap metal acts that flooded the airwaves at the end of the ’90s. This makes sense, as sonically they all melded the volume and the power of metal with the groove and thud of hip-hop. Korn used it to shout at their parents and Bizkit to talk about getting laid, but Rage always had specific topics and targets.
But Rage always sounded badass and anthemic, so their songs got used in contexts that never should have come to pass. In fact, in that same football game on Saturday, the players were introduced with “Guerilla Radio” (particularly that whispered “It has to start somewhere” bit in the bridge). Isolated, that may sound badass, but that song is about taking back the airwaves, specifically in the context of the 2000 Presidential election. Sure, it sounds badass in isolation, but it’s a total jumbling of the song’s message. Honestly, the fact that any Rage songs ever got played on the radio is sort of inappropriate — considering that radio stations were owned by the same corporations Zach De La Rocha considered the enemy, it seems like a tremendous conflict of interest.
This isn’t new, of course. Once a song is recorded, it’s out there, and as long as somebody writes a check, it tends to be used however people see fit. When the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, the song that scored their celebration was Beck’s “The Golden Age,” which does include the lyric “Let the golden age begin,” but overlooks the fact that the song is about suicide. Rage’s case is especially compelling, as the band (and especially De La Rocha and guitarist Tom Morello) always talked about how the message was more important than the actual music.
So just remember that the next time you scream along to “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” (from their breakout first single “Killing in the Name”), just remember that it isn’t just about damning the man — it’s specifically about racism in law enforcement. Rage Against the Machine should be remembered as one of the more important, proactive bands of all time, and it’s doubly important that we don’t mix the message.
Now Watch This: RATM’s video for “Bulls on Parade,” the way it was meant to be presented.