Music That Makes a Difference 2018

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

CNN Music & Art

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

CNN Music & Art

Eddie Van Halen donates guitars to public schools

Eddie Van Halen

CNN Music & Art


Tom Morello

Tom Morello’s explosive new solo album, “The Atlas Underground” is a sonic conspiracy featuring diverse artists with like-minded opinions who have come together to make a forceful, powerful musical and political statement in 2018.

Along the way, the Rage Against the Machine and Prophets of Rage guitar legend created a new genre of music combing the Marshall stack rock n’ roll riffing that he’s known for with the huge EDM drops of modern dance. It’s electronic wizardry mixed with heavy metal fury.

Morello recruited an all-star cast to help get his message across… Vic Mensa lays the smack down on “We Don’t Need You,” Marcus Mumford croons on “Find Another Way” and Big Boi and Killer Mike drop verbal bombs on “Rabbit’s Revenge.” “The Atlas Underground” also features epic collaborations with Gary Clark, Jr., Pretty Lights and GZA and RZA of the Wu Tang Clan.

To promote the album, Morello wrote, “Amid this heightened sense of impending doom, it’s now time to rally the troops in a last-ditch effort to save the planet and our artistic souls.

“By challenging the boundaries of what music is and has sounded like before, you can open people’s eyes to changing the status quo in society.”

Morello added, “There has never been a successful social movement in this country that has not had a great soundtrack.”

He expanded on this statement during an interview with CNN’s John Vause. “The resistance needs a jukebox — and I’m hoping to add one or two 45s to that jukebox with this record.”

One of those tracks, “Lead Poisoning” featuring GZA, RZA and Herobust, explores the epidemic of police shootings of young African American men.

ATLAS UNDEGROUNDSome say it’s trigger happy
I say it’s lead poisoning
somethin’ that’s deeply rooted
In official embroidering
The difference?
We went from water hoses to bullets
But the valve or trigger
Just a different figure to pull it
Murdered by the state
Like the cousin of John the Baptist
As if Black youths aren’t nothing but target practice


“The murder of African Americans by police is as American as baseball or apple pie,” Morello argues. “What’s new is now we’re seeing it on cell phones, regularly. But that incessant drum beat of those murders and police getting away scot-free is what is at the core of the problem.

“I know many police officers and many of them are good people. But until they begin telling on their own and the blue code of silence goes away, we’ll never get any kind of justice unless we demand justice in the streets.”

In “Rabbit’s Revenge,” Morello along with Killer Mike name check black men gunned down by police.

Fight for my life like a motherfucking Trayvon
Fight for my life like a motherfucking Mike Brown
Cause I refuse to be the next n—– shot down

Morello says it’s crucial that America never forgets these young lives lost. “Too often these names are on page five to begin with, page sixteen the next day and they’re written out of history.

“The lyrical theme that goes through this ‘Atlas Underground’ record is social justice ghost stories. The idea that the heroes and martyrs and those murdered by injustice in the past can inform the present and shine a beacon light to hopefully create a more humane and just future.”

Another track dealing with social justice, “We Don’t Need You,” suggests that for minorities in America the only thing that changes is the time.

Don’t lie to me
Don’t lie to me
The poor go to war
And there’s no war on poverty
Don’t lie to me
Don’t lie to me
Brown vs. Board never gave us equality



© Eitan Miskevich

“As an artist, it’s a job both to reflect and change society, in my view,” Morello told CNN. “So with songs like ‘Rabbit’s Revenge,” “Lead Poisoning” and “We Don’t Need You,” we’re putting a mirror up to society and that mirror is hopefully reflecting some light to both stir up controversy in the mosh pit and on the dance floor.”

Morello has long argued that there’s a natural connection between music and activism. He feels that artists have a responsibility to speak out.

Before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Morello released a video clip where he “stood up against old man Trump” — calling him an “old-school segregationist” when it comes to issues of a race, “an old-school napalmist” when it comes go global affairs and a “frat house rapist” when it comes to women’s issues.

He also told the L.A. Times, “This election season it feels like we are in Pompeii with the volcano erupting and the only boat out of town is the Titanic.”

In other words, Morello is no fan of the American political system. And he’s come to that conclusion honestly. Before becoming a guitar god, he was the scheduling secretary for late U.S. Senator Alan Cranston — a progressive democrat — in Washington, D.C. “So I got to see how the sausage was made,” Morello told CNN. “And it’s as ugly as you think and add two zeroes.

“I also come from Trump country, too — Lake County, Illinois. Democrats don’t even run there” he added. “So I understand this reticence to embrace a system that seems to let down a lot of people.

“I believe that the underlying problems, whether its a democratic administration or a republican one — whether it’s Trump and his histrionics or a more erudite Barack Obama — are systemic. And until we address those underlying systemic problems, it’ll allow a fertile field for demagogues like Trump to use the oldest tricks in the book — racism (blame the Mexicans, blame the immigrants) to divide us, rather than uniting.”


Morello says, “We’re not gonna fix the master’s house with the master’s tools.”

As he explained, “(The tools) are tainted to begin with. We have to decide what is it that we really want.

“First of all, I think that the impending environmental disaster that’s facing us all now — I have young kids — and so looking to a future where there may not be an organized society because of global warming is something that’s very frightening.

“In the short term, the stuff that’s on the table — whether it’s the centrist democrats or the republicans to the right of Attila the Hun — are all policies that are not in the service of humanity.

“I get to see and talk to young people backstage at every show and see them in the mosh pit — they want something fundamentally different that has not been on the table for some time in the United States.”

fck trumpFor all the disciplined arguments Morello presented to CNN, he ratchets up his dissention during live concerts — flipping his guitar over to reveal a message on the back side that reads: “FUCK TRUMP.”

“It’s not a time for subtle statements,” Morello said with a smile. “And particularly at a rock show.

“Whether you’re in Sao Paulo or whether you’re in Buenos Aires or whether you’re in Johannesburg or whether you’re in Peoria, Illinois, people seem to respond to that.”

With the midterm elections just a few weeks away, there is a simple mechanism in place for those who are upset with what’s going on in Washington, D.C. And that is to get out and vote.

As Vause pointed out, “You don’t have to raid the White House with pitchforks and torches.”

Morello interjected, “Well, that might not be a bad idea either.

“I would suggest that there are multiple ways to address the system. One is — there were a lot of people who sacrificed a lot to get the right to vote. But I think that there are additional ways — like organizing direct action. Those are ways to confront injustices in a system that historically have been just as effective, or more effective sometimes, than the ballot box.”

Nonetheless, Morello said he always votes and encourages others to do the same. “But you can’t just cast that ballot into the void every two or four years and expect there to be systemic change. Systemic change is something we have to organize for on a much larger basis.”

Written by Ben Bamsey & John Vause. Produced by Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

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