I have come back around to listening to some of the music I had almost forgotten existed. I was heading out for a ride on my bike, so I grabbed my MP3 player and my headphones. I opened up the internet radio program on my phone and searched “Rage Against the Machine.” I was greeted with the angry music that I had grown to love years prior. As “Renegades of Funk” blared through my headphones at the requisite maximum volume, I remembered something I had heard someone say about the breakup of RATM years ago.
I can't even remember who it was that coined the phrase, but I do remember that it was quite poignant at the time, and remained true until RATM got back together to tour in 2007. You see, the disbanding of RATM in the year 2000 was as sudden as it was impactful for me. I was severely distraught when I learned that I would no longer hear the powerful lyrics of the militant poet, Zack de la Rocha, backed up by the creative guitar sounds of Tom Morello and his arsenal of different homemade distortion pedals. Yes, I would still get to hear Tom playing guitar for Audioslave and Zack would later show up as a soloist on a solo list and he would also ignite others' bomb tracks as as a featured guest. I knew then, and I know now, that it would not be the same. According to the aforementioned and now forgotten originator of the phrase, Zack had officially gotten “too angry for Rage.”
I took it as a funny twist of words at the time, and it helped put a tag line to my grief over the loss of a great band, but now it left me wondering what that actually meant. I remembered song titles like “Bullet in the Head”, “Killing in the Name of”, and “Calm Like a Bomb.” There were lines like “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me” and “There's a right to obey, and there's a right to kill.” Those were some of the famous interludes to Zack's screams for “Freedom.” I wondered how anyone could get any angrier than that. What would Zack would turn into during his seven year stint as a rogue artist without RATM around him? Was he driving around the streets of Los Angeles in a perpetual status of “Hulking out?” Was his previous angry self only a fraction of what he would become later? Was that even possible?
I needed to know what became of Zack during those lost years away from the spotlight. Just like Jesus and Robert Downey Jr. before him, there was very little information to be found. So I did what I always do, I made it up in my head. Here is my version of a day in the life of Zack de la Rocha, in the years 2001-2006, a man that was labeled “too angry for Rage.” What started as a sketch in my notebook, eventually turned into this:
Zack would arise each morning at 9:30 am. His clock radio would erupt with the garbled voices of an NPR news anchor, and Zack would club the snooze bar with a forceful fist, and shout “Fuck you Steve Inskeep, turn that shit off!” He would repeat the same action until he was ready to angrily take on the day. He would curse at a bowl of Raisin Bran and announce his displeasure at the level of pulp in his orange juice (breakfast was the most infuriating meal of the day). He knew his limits, and would not drink coffee. He did not need caffeine, and did not want to mix coffee and bran that early in the morning. He wanted to go out and play, and forget about the movement. After he read the newspaper and expressed his displeasure for the headlines and the copy editor's “Marxist viewpoints”, he would head out into the world to spread his resentment to anyone he encountered.
He saw the kids on the playground and said to himself, “He had to start somewhere, he had to start somehow. What better place than here, what better time than now?” He would be berate the children for their innocence, and tell them the trampoline on which they played was the man's way of telling them to jump, and their laughter was them only answering with a question of “how high?” The children rallied around the sand box with their pockets full of shells, their tears of fear and raised eyebrows of confusion would only further exasperate Zack.
That exasperation would be unleashed on the mailman, who according to Zack was “spreading misinformation and capitalist propaganda.” The mailman did not know exactly what was in his satchel, but he was pretty sure it was mostly just coupons and pre-approved credit card applications. Either way, there was no need for such ire, but Zack believed otherwise. No longer could he vent his desperation through song. Now, he has to spread his messages of national and global change on a person-to-person basis. It was tiring, but he knew his anger was a gift, and went forth to testify.
Trips to the grocery store used to be an enjoyable experience. It was where his fans would tell them how much they loved his music. Now, he could be seen smashing vine-ripened tomatoes that were picked by “underpaid and over-worked migrants” or writing hateful messages on the labels of cereals that were “fortified with chemicals that destroyed our bodies from the inside out.” He would tirelessly stare at the different varieties of fruit salad available in the produce section. He would try to decide, and eventually narrow it down to two things, hold them up high and say, “All of this, or some tangerines? All of this, or some tangerines?” That would continue until he would be asked to leave.
Bank tellers would be forced to endure lengthy lectures on interest rates that “perpetuate the working class to indentured servitude while the top 1% of Americans saw their profits grow exponentially.” When they asked him if he wanted to make a withdrawal, he would reply curtly, “I'll withdraw nothing now, and I'll withdraw nothing later.” He would walk away smiling as if he said something deep, but the tellers would look on in disbelief.
The people who inhabited the laundromat where he cleaned his clothes were entertained by his haunting mumblings. Sometimes he would scream about the metaphorical spin cycles of “ethnic cleansing”, where the “white bubbles” would wash away the “filthy brown particles.” Other times he would ask the other patrons “Why is it a bad thing when a red sock fell in with a load of white laundry?” They all knew that a stack of pink blouses was a bad thing, but Zack begged to differ, and he did so with great fury and even greater volume.
A dinner at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet was how he really liked to cap off a day of “freedom fighting.” He would stalk the other customers as they wound their way through the buffet. Asking them if they could really appreciate the food they spooned onto their plates. He would ask them, “Do you know that the proprietors of this restaurant are not the smiling faces and bowing figures they seemed to be?” No, according to Zack, they were still “being held captive in the internment camps of the 1940's” but instead of metal fences and barbed wire, they were “enslaved by the white man's need for more Moo Goo Gai Pan.” Those who corrected him by stating that was the Japanese and not the Chinese, would immediately receive the label of “racist” or “xenophobe.” Zack was not very good at admitting he was wrong, and pointing out his inaccuracies would only provoke him further.
As he strolled down Rodeo with his belly full of rice and egg drop soup, he would make his way back toward his home. The people who worked in the retail stores and upscale clothing shops would be met by stiff middle fingers and long diatribes about sweat shops. Valets in front of swanky restaurants would endure comments relating their vocation of choice to the “house slave that thought they were part of the plantation owner's family, but were nothing more than a piece of property with a good meatloaf recipe.” If the store clerks explained how their clothes were hand stitched by well-paid seamstresses from Paris, he would spit on their mannequins. If the Valet's explained that they great health benefits and could personally vouch for the owner's strength of character, Zack would turn his back and mutter expletive riddled tirades about corporate brainwashing.
Eventually, Zack would make his way back to his house in Long Beach, and turn in for the night after writing down the petulant endeavors of his day in his journal. He would curse the US government, the Right Wing Conservatives, and all other “Capitalist Pigs” before he crawled into bed at night as a sort of self-described “Unholy Trinity.” He would need his rest, so he could wake up the next day, and do it all over again.
That is, until Tom Morello would come back into Zack's life in 2007. Putting an end to the cycle of psycho that Zack had created just six years earlier. It was an act of charity for the people of Los Angeles, and Tom should be commended for it. After Audioslave had run it's course and Tom had grown tired of the prima donna antics of Chris Cornell, he realized that Zack was the lesser of two evils. In the words of somebody who I can't remember, Zack had become “too angry for Rage.” In the words of Zack de la Rocha, “If ignorance is bliss, than wipe the smile off my face.” It may not have been ignorance or Tom Morello in the case of Zack, but I am sure his reported net worth of $50 million helped put that smile back on his face. Now Zack is once again like a warm bowl of anger pourage, just angry enough for Rage.