No musician has been more identified than Tom Morello with the uprising against the crony capitalism of Wall Street speculators and Washington pawns like Paul Ryan.
Morello, the Grammy Award—winning guitarist with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave who has earned an international following with his musically and politically charged performances as the Nightwatchman, followed the wave of protests that swept Egypt and other Mideast countries at the start of 2011.
A Woody Guthrie-inspired advocate of mass protests, rallies, marches and in-the-streets campaigning for economic and social justice, Morello loved the reports from Cairo. And he kept up with each new report from Tahrir Square.
Then, one night, he and his wife were watching the protests, and he saw something odd. Snow.
It doesn’t snow in Cairo.
But it does in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I was watching the demonstrations in Cairo with my then-pregnant wife,” Morello says. “The report went from 100,000 people on the streets of Cairo to 100,000 people on the streets of Madison. And I remember saying, What the hell is going on? Where did this come from?”
When he heard it was a union struggle that had brought masses of Wisconsinites to the streets in winter, Morello wanted to grab his guitar and fly immediately from his home in Los Angeles to Madison.
He wasn’t at all sure his wife would approve. But, Morello recalls, she was two steps ahead of him. “She said: ‘Our sons are going to be union men. You’ve got to go.’ ”
Morello went, with a crew of fellow musicians that included The Street Dogs and legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, to Madison and on to the Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate corruption and political abuses that have concentrated power in the hands of the new-generation robber barons who have occupied the top one percent of American business and political life.
So you can imagine Tom Morello’s response when the New York Times reported that newly minted Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan “lists Rage Against the Machine, which sings about the greed of oil companies and whose Web site praises the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement, among his favorite bands.”
Ryan’s a bit of a metalhead, with a taste for Led Zeppelin, Metallica and—as he told CNN—“a lot of grunge” bands that are not frequently identified with the extreme social conservatism and the free-market economic theories of Austrian economists. He a kid growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, he listened to radio rockers like John “Sly” Sylvester, who has since become a Wisconsin talk-radio legend and one of Ryan’s edgiest critics.