November 4, 2023
Two E Street Band members - one past and one present - made significant appearances at last night's 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. It was an historic induction ceremony, as not only was it the first ceremony to be streamed live in its entirety, but it also was the first to be held since Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation board-member and legendary Rolling Stone publisher/editor Jann Wenner was removed from the board after making racist and sexist comments in a September New York Times interview. Last night's ceremony played out very much as a conscious, public response to the Wenner controversy, with a heightened focus on the contributions of African-American and female inductees, along with an appreciation of diversity embedded throughout the evening.
Current E Street Band member Jake Clemons was the first member to appear onstage during the ceremony. Jake performed on saxophone in support of Miguel's performance of "Careless Whisper," part of the musical tribute to the late George Michael, who was inducted as part of the Hall's Class of 2023.
And then there was Tom Morello, whose amazing guitar work graced the E Street Band during his many live shows as an official band-member in 2013 and 2014, and who also recorded the 2014 High Hopes album with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. (Springsteen himself had this to say about Morello's importance to that album, in its liner notes: "Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level. Thanks for the inspiration, Tom.") Morello was inducted into the Hall last night as a member of the groundbreaking, musically and politically revolutionary band Rage Against The Machine.
Ice-T, another Los Angeles-based artist who, like Rage, brilliantly blurred the lines between hip-hop, metal, and radicalism in the early 1990s, delivered the induction speech, and spoke about how eager he was to do so. "Right out of the gate," he said, "Rage Against The Machine was not a game. And in their career, they did things that impressed cats like me. You can't impress me with normal stuff. You gotta impress me with stuff like... suing the U.S. State Department for using their music in Guantanamo Bay for torturing. Who does that?! Rage Against The Machine does that. Or how about 1993, pulling up in Lollapalooza buck-naked with duct tape, protesting against the PMRC. Who does that?! Rage Against The Machine does that. I respect the hell out of this band... but I love them. They're my brothers from L.A... I'm proud to introduce and induct Rage Against The Machine into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame."
Morello, who was the only member of Rage Against The Machine present for last night's induction, had been seated in the audience at a table with Stevie Van Zandt. He then rose and walked to the stage to deliver a very passionate, heartfelt, and inspiring acceptance speech, which is transcribed in full here:
My name is Tom Morello and I am one-quarter of Rage Against The Machine. I am deeply grateful for the musical chemistry I've had the good fortune to share with Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Zack de la Rocha. Like most bands, we have differing perspectives on a lot of things, including about being inducted into the Rock Hall.
My perspective is that tonight is a great opportunity to celebrate the music and the mission of the band, to celebrate with the fifth member of the band, and that is Rage Against The Machine's incredible fans. You're the reason we are here, and the best way to celebrate this music is for you to carry on that mission and that message. The lesson I've learned from Rage fans is that music can change the world. Daily, I hear from fans who've been affected by our music, and in turn have affected the world in significant ways. Organizers, activists, public defenders, teachers, the Presidents of Chile and Finland have all spent time in our mosh pit.
When protest music is done right, you can hear a new world emerging in the songs, skewering the oppressors of the day, and hinting that there might be more to life than what was handed to us. Can music change the world? The whole fucking aim is to change the world, or at a bare minimum, to stir up a shitload of trouble!
When Rage started, we rehearsed deep in the San Fernando Valley. This guy passed by our place regularly, and one day asked, "What are you guys doing in there?" We said, "We're a band." He asked to hear us, and we said, "Sure." He came in, sat down. Now this is the first guy to ever hear the music of Rage Against The Machine. We played him a couple of songs. After we finished, we asked him what he thought. He paused, stood up, and said, "Your music makes me wanna fight."
Throughout history, the spark of rebellion has come from unexpected quarters: authors, economists, carpenters... But as Salvador Allende said, "There is no revolution without songs." So who's to say what musicians might or might not be able to achieve, with revolutionary intent, when the bouncing crowd makes the Richter scale shake?
Personally, I'd like to thank my wife Denise and my kids who remind me daily that the world is worth fighting for. And thanks to all the musicians and changemakers who helped shape the band's collective vision. Rage has also been fortunate to have so many talented co-workers and co-conspirators who have believed in the band, from Michael Goldstone, the guy who signed us and insisted the first radio single be an unedited song featuring seventeen cuss words, to the greatest guitar tech of all time, Slim Richardson. Thank you, and thanks and deep appreciation to the hundreds of others, from those who put up flyers to those who have moved mountains to amplify the message and the music.
What I hear in the music is this: that the world is not going to change itself. but throughout history, those who have changed the world in progressive, radical, or even revolutionary ways did not have any more money, power, courage, intelligence, or creativity than anyone watching tonight. The world's changed by average, everyday, ordinary people who have had enough, and are willing to stand up for a country and a planet that is more humane, peaceful, and just. And that is what I'm here to celebrate tonight.
Fans often ask, "But what can I do?" Well, let's start with these three things: 1. Dream big, and don't settle, 2. Aim for the world you really want, without compromise or apology, and 3. Don't wait for us. Rage is not here, but you are. The job we set out to do is not over; now you're the ones that must testify. If you've got a boss, join a union. If you're a student, start an underground paper. If you're an anarchist, throw a brick. If you're a soldier or a cop, follow your conscience, not your orders. If you're bummed out you didn't get to see Rage Against The Machine, then form your own band and let's hear what you have to say. If you're a human being, stand up for your planet before it's too late. So tomorrow, crank up some Rage, and head out and confront injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. It's time to change the world, brothers and sisters, or at a bare minimum, to stir up a shitload of trouble!
And finally, a special thanks to my mom, Mary Morello, a retired public high-school teacher, a proud Rage Against The Machine fan, and a lifelong radical who turned one-hundred years old a couple of weeks ago. She's watching at home tonight, but she asked me to tell you this... History, like music, is not something that happens. It's something you make. Thank you very much.
The complete 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was recorded live and remains available for on-demand streaming in its entirety (and uncensored, to boot) at Disney+. Stay tuned for more coming soon from Letters To You on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Jann Wenner controversy, and efforts to address the deeper, lingering issues behind it.