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The Nightwatchman's Battle Hymns of Redemption !
For the past few years, spooky rumors have floated in from the west coast of a new kind of superhero called The Nightwatchman...
For the past few years, spooky rumors have floated in from the west coast of a new kind of superhero called The Nightwatchman clandestinely showing up at random spots to play folk songs. The performances were raw yet poignant, a modern day Woodie Guthrie talking about how things in this world need to change. This in itself may be nothing new, but the gossip told that The Nightwatchman was in fact Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and co-founder of the social activist group Axis of Justice.
Reports said he sounds like a righteous mixture of Leonard Cohen’s deep, soulful voice with Bruce Springsteen’s urgent yet straightforward guitar. But could this really be Morello- who revolutionized what musicians can do with an electric guitar- now sitting on stage alone with just an acoustic guitar?
The truth finally came to light, and with the release of One Man Revolution, The Nightwatchman, aka Tom Morello, is ready to share this new path with the world.
“I would do these open mic nights around L.A.,” says Morello, “and every once in a while, somebody would be like, ‘Is that…Tom Morello? No, it couldn’t be.’ And even when I was on tour with Audioslave, on my nights off, I would check in the local paper, and go down to the country western bars, or anarchist bicycle shops, or anywhere I could play three or four songs. It was important for me to do; I had a real commitment, like a mission from very early on.”
As he continued trying this project out on crowds, he occasionally found himself in the middle of rallies, even getting gassed by the police. “The most notable one,” he says, “was a big FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas] protest in Miami in late 2003…we were marching with 10,000 steel workers and supporters. And the storm trooper cops decided they’d had enough, and began gassing the rally. The Nightwatchman had to don his bandana.” Footage of this incident can be seen in the video for “The Road I Must Travel,” one of the tracks from One Man Revolution.
This relentless passion for his convictions is a backbone of Axis of Justice, and certainly Rage Against the Machine, who hadn’t played together since 2000…until, that is, the Coachella Festival this past April. “There was so much anticipation,” Morello reflects on the reunion, “it was sort of like pulling a bowstring back for seven years. You know, there’s gonna be a lot of torque ready to go. And the crowd was probably…you know, I’ve been to a lot of rock shows, played a lot of rock shows, and during the opening bars of ‘Testify,’ through the closing bars of ‘Killing in the Name,’ I’ve never seen a crowd go so crazy.”
Whether or not RATM is going to record or tour together again remains to be seen, but for now, Morello’s sights are on The Nightwatchman. “I started doing it because the combination of the arena rock of Audioslave and the political work of Axis of Justice were not enough for me, and as an artist I wanted to be able to express what I think, what I feel, via my vocation as a guitar player, and now as a singer.”
Indeed, it is Morello’s voice that makes One Man Revolution stand out, for up until now, he’d always just been that guy wailing something wicked on the guitar. Now he’s singing, and his voice, a deep tone almost like Tom Waits, cuts through your body like a machete. Moreover, his lyrics are as poetic as Bob Dylan’s best work, spinning tales of triumph and perseverance in a world of chaos.
“First of all,” Morello notes, “I think that the way change comes, it doesn’t come from presidents, it doesn’t come from supreme courts- it comes from people whose names you do not read about in history books. Standing up for their rights, where they live, where they work, where they go to school.
“So I think that it’s important to realize that you and I and the people reading this article are agents of history. We have our hands on the wheel too, not just Halliburton.
“People need to apply their intellect, their power, their creativity, their indignation and their strengths, where they are, and come up with creative answers for solving problems. I think the oft-used motto, ‘Think globally, act locally,’ is very true.”
Talking about the issues that today’s world is dealing with, he adds, “We have faced greater challenges in the past…there was a time in this country when women couldn’t vote, there was a time when black people and white people couldn’t sit down at a lunch counter together. And those things changed not because we had the right administration in office, those things changed because people stood up for their rights where they are.”
This attitude has kept Axis of Justice alive and strong, the non-profit organization he founded with Serj Tankian of System of a Down. “You can go to axisofjustice.org to see what’s going on,” Morello says. “That organization has a number of prongs in its attack. One is, we try to serve the community we live in; we have soup kitchens in LA, Venice, and San Bernardino. It’s also educational and informational. Fans of our music can plug into local grassroots organizations where they are. And we also provide a news service that’s different from the mainstream media, as well as some great recommendations for books and movies and concerts, kinda keep the cultural wing intact. Every Nightwatchman show is also an Axis of Justice show.”
So, should we be afraid of The Nightwatchman?
“Well,” Morello answers, “I certainly am.”
Could the Nightwatchman take Spiderman?
“It’s not a fistfight that I’m afraid of with The Nightwatchman. The pen can be mightier than the sword, my friend. And The Nightwatchman wields a very, very, very dark pen.”