Rage Against the Machine is one of the most politically outspoken bands in modern times and guitarist Tom Morello loves to toe the line.
In a recent interview with Yahoo, he recalled the moment the band stormed the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan while shooting their 1999 music video for “Sleep Now in the Fire,” directed by Michael Moore.
“The band shut down the New York Stock Exchange, which was the first time that that happened in its 200-year history, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon,” Morello, 56, told the outlet.
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Moore wound up getting arrested, but before that, Morello said the director instructed the band to continue playing no matter what. The band did have permission to film on the federal steps.
According to Morello, Moore informed the band: “We’ve got a permit to play on the federal steps. We do not have a permit to play on the city streets, but we’re going to be up on the federal steps. But don’t stop playing, no matter what happens.”
Audible celebrates Tom Morello at Minetta Lane Theatre In NYC on Sept.18, 2019 in New York City. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Audible)
The musician described, ”So we’re up there, and when you’re making a video, you’re miming along to the song. So the CD is on and we’re pretending we’re playing. And placards are walking back and forth. Mike says, ‘OK, now we’re going to go down of the city sidewalk’ — the unpermitted city sidewalk. And we continue to play, continue to mime along, and a police sergeant comes up to me and says, ‘You’ve got to get back up on the steps.’ I remember what Mike said — no matter what happens, to keep playing — so this clearly falls under the auspices of that.
“So I keep playing, and [the policeman] is getting mad and madder and madder. The vein in his neck is popping out. He’s like, ‘Get the f–k back up on the steps! Get on the steps!'”
Morello said the officer then unplugged his guitar, as well as bandmate Tim Commerford’s bass, and was astounded to find that the music continued to play.
“He gives us a look of, like, religious horror on his face. And so he [detains] Mike, and as they’re carrying Michael Moore off in irons, Mike turns over his shoulder and delivers his second directorial edict of the afternoon, which is: ‘Take the New York Stock Exchange!'”
Morello said a security guard pressed a panic button and the “riot police come and the riot doors slam shut. And so, the New York Stock Exchange was shut down in the middle of the afternoon.”
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Morello believes he can make the most impactful statements through his music and art and that’s what he explores in his Audible Original “Tom Morello at Minetta Lane Theatre: Speaking Truth to Power Through Stories and Song.”
“There’s no music that doesn’t affect you. Whether reinforces misogynist values or whether it reinforces social justice values, culture is never neutral,” he said. “Art has to be impactful and rocking and emotionally moving in order to make a connection that matters.”