"My aspiration is to be the black Woody Guthrie," spouts Tom Morello, rock's guitar innovator. "But I'll settle for the black Robin Hood of acoustic music."
Waging war within a breath, the six-string poet of the recently disbanded Audioslave unplugs his One Man Revolution under Nightwatchman's shadowy guise. His gravel voice recalling Johnny Cash's most haunting moments, Morello taps protest music's history as a call to arms against an "unrepresentative government, illicit war, and economic injustice."
"It only recently occurred to me that music doesn't have to be fed through Marshall stacks to be heavy," testifies the renegade of funk, reuniting with Rage Against the Machine at Coachella next month. "We have to remind ourselves that it wasn't through the good graces of presidents or the wisdom of the Supreme Court that women got the right to vote or that lunch counters were desegregated. Those immense challenges were overcome because average people like you and me stood up for their rights where they worked and went to school and in the community. That's how change happens."
Morello, a Harvard graduate and recipient of the 2006 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, formed nonprofit activist organization Axis of Justice with System of a Down's Serj Tankian five years ago, but that's only half the battle.
"An organization can educate, but music can inspire," he asserts. "Perhaps we've been complacent too long. Whether it's the jarring chords of Rage's 'Bulls on Parade' or the lyrical tales of retribution of the Nightwatchman, I think it's time people are rocked and haunted. It's not about nostalgia; it's about being a battering ram for social justice."
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