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Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello: World's Coolest Nerd

Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello: World's Coolest Nerd

By Eric Garneau

One of the most surprising guests at Chicago's C2E2 convention had, to many visitors, nothing to do with comics at all. Legendary rock guitarist Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, the Street Sweeper Social Club, and the Nightwatchman) came to the convention Friday to talk with fans and host a panel.

As it turns out, Morello does have a connection to comics; he's been scripting the Dark Horse book Orchid, a fantasy epic in the style of Lord of the Rings that infuses the topic of class relations into escapist literature. ("Wouldn't the orcs in Mordor be mad at their masters?," Morello wondered.)

Morello talked comics, movies, baseball, his beginnings as a guitar god, and more. Here are some of the best things we learned from the interview:

On Comics:
As a child, Morello was obsessed with superhero books. He said he'd hunt through tons of north suburban Chicago pharmacies looking for books he needed in a pre-comic shop era. He dropped comics as a hobby when he picked up a guitar and became more political, turning away from the escapism they promised. He was drawn back in about five years ago by newer books with depth that surprised him, like The Red Star, V for Vendetta and DMZ.

On Comic Movies:
Morello named Watchmen as the worst big-budget comic movie ever made. "I can still taste the vomit in my mouth from the 'Hallelujah' scene," he said. On the other hand, he really likes the film adaptation V for Vendetta, which he feels captures the spirit of the book while modernizing some things.

On Growing Up in the 'Burbs:
Morello hails from a western suburb of Chicago called Libertyville. He mentioned that he was pretty much the only African-American kid at his high school, which means that automatically "you live a political existence." Early punk bands really opened his eyes to a world beyond Libertyville; he said that Clash records in particular were "my window into a world where people really cared about stuff." Bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols convinced Morello to leave town and try to make something of himself.

On Starting to Play Guitar:
Morello said that he first picked up an axe to learn Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and KISS' "Detroit Rock City." When his teacher wouldn't comply, he put it down until he discovered the Sex Pistols years later. Therefore, he feels it's important that music students learn what they want, and they're also taught that anybody can write a song.

On Being Creative:
An audience member asked whether Morello, who's famously political, felt that it was an artist's duty to wear their beliefs on their sleeve. "The only responsibility that an artist has is to be true to themselves," Morello replied. He further explained that, while no one should hide their beliefs out of fear, no one should feel that they have to make statements that seem important-sounding. It isn't an artist's job to change the world.

On the Music Business:
Morello says the future of the music industry looks bleak, which might be okay. He mentioned that he's even somewhat pro-downloading, noting that the act has both positives and negatives: on one hand it devalues music, but on the other it democratizes it. "Music is as free as water."

On Guitar Hero:
The video game series in which Tom Morello stars as an animated avatar "changed my life forever for the better and the worse." On the downside, it provides possibly too much notoriety for the wrong reasons. But Morello sees video games as a pretty good way to share one's music in the new business landscape.

On His Favorite Musical Collaboration:
This one. "Bruce Springsteen is the only Boss worth listening to."

Are you a Tom Morello fan?

Tags: music, books-and-comics, tom morello, rage against the machine

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