Rage guitarist sounds off on music blacklist

October 18th, 2001

By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic

Free speech advocates cringed three weeks ago when Clear Channel Communications – the conglomerate that owns more than 1,200 of the nation’s major market radio stations – inadvertently leaked a list of songs it suggested were “questionable” to listeners in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Clear Channel promptly released a statement denying the list’s existence, even though Kathy Steinehour, the company’s market manager here, confirmed it does.

The only band whose entire catalog was considered unfit for the air was the political rock band Rage Against the Machine. Rage guitarist Tom Morello, a Libertyville native, was in L.A. recording the band’s next album (due early next year) when he heard the news.

He talked to the Daily Herald about the implications of taking reactionary measures against musicians in wartime.

Q: What was your reaction when you found out your band made Clear Channel’s list?

A: First of all, the music of Rage Against The Machine is diametrically opposed to the horrible attacks that occurred on Sept. 11. We have spent 10 years doing nothing but speaking out against innocent people being hurt. So clearly in this instance, the horrible violence that occurred on Sept. 11 is being used as a pretext to silence dissonant voices.

Q: In a way, isn’t it a kind of honor that every Rage song was banned? It suggests that your music is saying something powerful.

A: Maybe, if there wasn’t the possibility of it being misconstrued. We condemn the attacks in the strongest possible terms and have the deepest sympathy for everyone and their families and we feel the same empathy that all Americans feel.

But if the music of Rage Against The Machine is questionable, it’s that it encourages people to question the kind of ignorance that leads to this sort of intolerance. And it’s intolerance that can clearly lead to censorship and the extinguishing of our civil liberties. That same intolerance, at its extremes, can lead to the violence that happened on Sept. 11.

Q: How frustrating is this?

A: I don’t know if you followed their (Clear Channel) incredible Orwellian press release, but it’s just shocking. And the list itself is ludicrous – everything from (The Bangles’) “Walk Like An Egyptian” to John Lennon’s “Imagine” are now considered unlistenable.

It’s in times like this when the First Amendment is most important, when there needs to be thoughtful discourse where a variety of opinions, whether through art or through journalism, should be absorbed by a thinking public to make up their minds about what’s going on. It’s not a time to censor. There is no distance from this Clear Channel blacklist and making a list of books that are not OK in the public library, or making a list of journalists that are not OK to write for the Daily Herald.

Q: I wonder how long this’ll go on or if it’s just a knee-jerk reaction.

A: I don’t know. The trends of the aftermath have been really disturbing. If there is some kind of military engagement, I don’t think it’s going to lessen. I watched the telethon the other night. I thought there was some really tremendously powerful music and moving sentiments expressed by artists in light of it. But all of these songs would have been banned – like John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I can’t imagine Bruce Springsteen’s “My City In Ruins” wouldn’t have been on the banned list if they thought it existed. I thought they were tremendously moving and healing songs and that’s music at its best. So I bet you, if the people who made up that list had prescreened that telecast, they would have taken everything off that list.

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