Friday, February 15, 2008

Raging With the System

A confluence of factors - an impending street cleaning, an evening class, and my possession of the household's sole drivers license - found me walking along a street near my apartment at 9:45 on a cold night, listening to Rage Against the Machine's first album. I love this album; every track (with the exception of "Settle for Nothing," which never sat right with me) is an excellent song with a host of things to recommend it to the ear over and over again. The associations I've added to most of the track over the years don't hurt, either: "Bombtrack" became the all-too appropriate theme song for a table top game campaign I played in high school; "Killing the Name" and "Freedom" were radio staples with a powerful influence on my impressionable ears; a friend inscribed the final line ("All of which are American dreams...") of "Know Your Enemy" on a doorway in the cabin at a camp I attended in high school; hearing "Wake Up" at the end of The Matrix made for some of the most appropriate film closing music ever chosen, and I left the theater wanting to fight someone or something...and on and on.

Silently mouthing the words of "Bullet in the Head" - I'm not much of an exhibitionist, and don't care to attract the stares of passersby - while they screamed through my skull at the high volume I reserve for only the most special songs, walking along that nearly empty Brooklyn thoroughfare, I pondered why I still felt any attraction to the ideas that De La Rocha's lyrics express. I'm no longer a teenager, and much of the hard-headed idealism that I felt when I was younger has been tempered by the all-too pragmatic realization that no one can see everything the same way, and that compromise is the only route to true progress. It's not disillusionment, but more what Hüsker Dü talked about in "Real World": "You want to change the world / By breaking rules and laws / People don't do things like that / In the real world at all / You're not a cop, or a politician / You're a person too." At the same time, though, I don't just love Rage because the riffs get me pumped up. Besides, I'm an MBA student, and I live in a yuppie neighborhood - why would I want to overthrow the system?

Then I came to the end of "Know Your Enemy," to De La Rocha's litany against the dark side of the American Dream: "compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission, ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite" and I realized what still appeals: I may have submerged myself into the life of the middle class American, getting the job, the family, the aspirations towards future success, but that doesn't mean I've bought in to being anything other than me. I won't be the person who looks back in 20 years and feel like I've wasted my youth, and I won't become the power whore who sells out everything he believes in, neglects his family and destroys his friends to the top. It's not something that's ever far from the surface of my mind, but it felt good to have music I love bring those thoughts to the surface and remind me of what matters.

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