[2 November 2008]
PopMatters Managing Editor
“(Tom Morello’s) background is almost identical to Barack Obama’s,” Thomas Matlack writes in PopMatters, One Man Revolution: An Interview with Tom Morello. “Morello’s parents met during Kenya’s struggle for independence. They traveled back to New York, where Tom was born, when his dad became Kenya’s first black delegate to the United Nations. Soon thereafter his dad returned home to Kenya. His white mom took Morello to rural Illinois to grow up as the only black kid in an all-white town.”
On tour for his second solo album, The Fabled City, with the US Presidential elections looming, Morello chats with PopMatters 20 Questions about those who inspire him and the range of cultural and political genres they represent.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I admit I did get a little teary at the end of The Manchurian Candidate, the original one starring Frank Sinatra, which I watched the other night. When he puts the Medal of Honor around his neck and then blows his own head off, it’s very sad.
2. The fictional character most like you?
That’s easy. Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. Handsome, bald and bossy.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Why that would be London Calling by The Clash. It combines rock fury, adventurous music, brilliant lyrics and a commitment to righteousness that has rarely been seen before or since. God Bless Joe Strummer.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
See question #2 above, re: Captain Jean-Luc Picard. While both Star Trek and Star Wars have their merits, even when Start Trek hit a lull (Deep Space Nine), it was never as bas as the awful mangling that George Lucas did to the Star Wars franchise with his tinkering with the original films and then making those really weird new ones. Poor Chewbacca.
5. Your ideal brain food?
What the heck is brain food? I don’t really know what brain food is. Is it food that is supposed to make you smart? I guess if I don’t understand this question, I must not be eating enough ‘ideal brain food’.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
It was 1973. I was the youngest kid on the little league team in Marseilles, Illinois. I was on first base. It was a playoff game. One out, bottom of the ninth. Another kid on my team hits a long fly ball in the gap. I streak around the bases and there’s a close play at the plate. I slide in under the tag to win the game and rocket my team into the championship. I’ve never done anything as exciting before or since.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
For sticking it to The Man and causing a ruckus when a ruckus needed to be caused. (See Axis of Justice.org.)
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
That’s a long list. From Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg. From Huey P. Newton to Joe Strummer. From Randy Rhoads to Joe Hill. And of course, Mom.
The people I find most inspirational are not limited to music or art or politics, but span many genres.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
10. Your hidden talents…?
Ping pong, running charades, twirling drum sticks.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
When I was 17-years-old, this kid in high school who was a much better guitar player than me said, “Practice at least one hour every day.” I followed that advice and soon my practicing ballooned to two hours per day, then four, then eight hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s a tireless and perhaps obsessive pursuit of guitar wisdom.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
That would be Illinois Pete, a sweet doug who was chained to a shack and dying in the cold in a small town in Central Illinois. I liberated him and he had a happy life with me in Los Angeles for nine years.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
When I’m around the house I definitely am most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt. But when I’m rocking the stage I feel best in my Nightwatchman uniform, with a slug of Jameson whiskey in my system.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
My lovely fiancé, sweet D.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Hmmm ... interesting question. Maybe German, 1936. Perhaps I could have popped a cap in Hitler’s ass and saved everybody a lot of trouble.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
None of the above. A Chicago Cubs baseball game on the TiVo and a chocolate vodka volcano smoothie. Well, sometimes those Cubs games are stressful.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
My only severe addiction is to Snapple’s Lemon Flavored Ice Tea. Without one of those in the morning, the Nightwatchman can get pretty crabby.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I definitely love the serenity and beauty of the mountains and woods. Northern California, Colorado—places like that. Though I don’t get to either nearly often enough. The fight for Freedom and Justice is often happening amidst the tear gas clouds on the streets of the big city.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
It’s about time you changed the National Anthem to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
The Tom Morello/Nightwatchman tour starts November 1st. It will be a combination of brooding, dark folk music and searing electric guitar shreddery. Miss it at your peril.