Twitter LL Cool J has snagged yet another legendary guest for his upcoming LP…
- Posted on May 13th 2011 1:00PM by Jonathan Dekel
Neil Lupin, Redferns
"At the time my wife was just about to give birth to my second child," Morello recalls. "We both looked at each other and said, 'Our boys are going to be union men so it's time for the Nightwatchman to spring into action.' So I jumped on the first plane out there."
His experience playing in front of the 150,000 strong protest on a chilly February day in Madison earlier this year inspired Morello to record the 'Union Town' EP -- a collection of Nightwatchman originals and covers of anthemic protest songs that will be digitally released May 17, with all proceeds going towards pro-union struggles. The political troubadour spoke with Spinner about his union experience, President Obama's performance and his hope for new Rage Against the Machine music.
Before the last election you mentioned that you felt a kinship to candidate Obama. Three years later, do you feel the same way about President Obama?
What I said was that there were similarities in our biographies. The thing I was hopeful about was what it said about the United States. I never imagined the United States would elect a black president in my lifetime. The issue of race -- both in my own life and viewing it historically in the country -- I never imagined that would happen and that, to me, culturally, seemed like a step forward.
I also tempered any enthusiasm I had because I had worked for a US Senator -- I was Alan Cranston's scheduling secretary for two years and he was considerably to the left of Obama -- and I got to see, firsthand, the influence that big money had on electoral politics, and that's one of the reasons why I chose a career in music.
I was hopeful that after the eight years of George W. Bush that there would be more sanity. There are many things that I'm disappointed about, there are more wars going on now than there were when George W. left office. There's a lot that hasn't been done that many Obama supporters were hoping for. He certainly got an electoral bump recently.
As a man who consistently and vehemently fights for what he believes is justice, how do you feel about the Osama bin Laden killing?
I think I'm still processing it. It made me reflect on violence and terror and trouble in the world, generally. It makes me think what role each of us can play in stopping that cycle.
Do you think you'll vote for Obama in 2012?
I'll assume the union issue and how that's dealt with is at the top of your national agenda. Why is the union fight such an important one for you?
I've been a union member for 22 years and my mom was a public high-school teacher in a small town in Illinois so unionism has been a big part of my life. I see unions as a crucial counterweight to the corporate greed that's responsible for torpedoing out economy and threatening our environment. In the instance of what's going on in Wisconsin and other states around the country now, it's an attempt to roll back decades of social progress.
How do you think the American people, as a democracy, got to this point?
It's a tremendous bait-and-switch in which the malfeasance of the banks and multinationals is being blamed on teachers and nurses, telling them that they're responsible and they need to sacrifice not only financially -- which they're willing to do -- but also their hard-fought, hard-earned collective bargaining right. It's really just shameful behaviour on the part of those right-wing governors as part of a bigger plan to make their millionaire friends multimillionaires.
Does the rise of the Tea Party make you concerned about the current mindset of the majority of Americans?
Due to the economic downturn, people are desperate so you get these right-wing demagogues who stir up anger via propaganda and fear. They can't say "Head to Wall Street with pitchforks and torches to get the guys who created this financial crisis," they have to find a softer target. But I think they made a great miscalculation by going after public sector unions. I think they realized that when they saw how hard the union fought back. When I went to Madison there were 150,000 people in a city of 200,000. There were more people on the streets of Madison than there were in Cairo that day.
What did you take away from the experience?
I was so inspired by what I saw that the day when I got back I wrote the song 'Union Town.' I thought it was important that artists, especially those with an audience in their teens and twenties, put forward an artistic statement supporting the union. That's my job in this. If you're a carpenter, you stand with the carpenters union; if you're a musician, you write your songs.
Considering the bill still went through before being slowed down via a judge's ruling, how effective do you think your actions were? I suppose there's no denying the public outcry led to the delay.
Everybody saw this was a guilty piece of legislation that was anti-human. What happened in Madison is a warning shot across the bow of those other states' right-wing governors who feel that they can pull the same kind of s---. My hope is that this is a watershed moment in the history of the labour movement. That it's not just about stopping some bad legislation, not just about preserving past gains of social progress, it's about pushing forward and realizing there's a populist agenda that goes from Madison to Cairo, where working-class people around the globe are willing to stand up to tyranny and that they have each other's back.
When I was in Madison I got a very moving email from one of the organizers of the Egyptian demonstration who put it poetically that there was something in the air and that they had our backs. When I talked to the people of Madison they told me that one of the reasons they were in the streets is because they were inspired by what they saw in the Middle East and that you can walk out your door and change history.
Social media has been credited as a driving force in the organization and flow of information that led to the uprisings in the Middle East.
It's yet to be determined how the energy that gets 100,000 people in the streets -- whether it's Cairo or Madison -- will be funneled and what the result will be. Will it be watered-down mainstream politics as usual or will we see the kind of leaps of social progress that we can all be a part of? But it's certainly a fact that instantaneous communication between masses of people has a democratising effect.
On the opposite end, it also gives voice to the incredulous hate-mongering and validation to conspiracy theorists that result in the whole Trump/Birther idiocy.
I'm in favour of the democratisation of information. Why should the people that we receive our news from just be hired by a big corporation or be on television, whether it be CNN or FOX. I've seen plenty of insane conspiracy theories put forward on major news networks by retired generals so I'm happy to hear what a grocer in Indiana has to say about his situation, I think that's a step forward.
With the rise of social media as "the people's tool" to spread information, do you feel that writing songs to raise awareness is under threat of becoming redundant?
What I do is not so much about spreading information as it is about spreading inspiration, and that's something I believe I can do effectively when it's coupled with a social and political movement. It can really put the wind in the sails of people's struggles, as it has historically.
You see it in people's faces when they're standing out there when it's 17 degrees out and there's a whipping wind from the lake, and they've cheered to 15 speeches in a row and then one of the guys from the MC5, one of the guys from Rise Against and one of the guys from Rage Against the Machine gets up there and sings these songs that speaks to a truth that they feel in the reptilian brain. A big crowd of people singing together it changes the momentum.
That's one of the reasons I became the Nightwatchman, as a solo troubadour, because at a moment's notice I can grab that guitar and stand side by side with people who have the courage to stand up for justice.
Despite several Rage Against the Machine reunion shows, it seems that you've concentrated your songwriting efforts away from producing any new rock music. Is there still a place for that within you, creatively?
Absolutely, Rage is still an active entity. We played a bunch of shows last year and we're figuring out what we're going to do in the future.
Are you writing new songs?
We haven't written a new song since 1999. Everyone's been involved in their other endeavours but, if that comes together in the future, I'd be very happy for it. Between raising my two little union men and my bustling Nightwatchman career, [I'm busy.] When we do play Rage shows, it's been really great, but we haven't booked any studio time.