Marco Adamovic learned more from a seminal 90′s rock band than he ever did in the classroom.
By the time I was introduced to Rage Against the Machine, I was a 10th grader growing up in suburban Toronto. I was a privileged kid, spending my days skipping school, getting high, and playing the drums. I was also very angry: I had an absentee father whose idea of “being there” was court-enforced child support payments. As my real-world eyes opened, I looked around at my peers and their families and began to realize that I didn’t fit into the same mold.
To me, the suburbs are like the top 40—easy, apolitical, and blasé. There was, and continues to be, absolutely nothing in the top 40 playlist that I can relate to; not forties and blunts, not bitches and hoes, and not “Britney, bitch”. The content in these songs has nothing to do with me. In scanning this landscape, I wondered where the hell was my voice reflected in all of this nonsense. I am a first-generation Canadian, whose family narrowly escaped the horrors of both the Holocaust and Communism. I had to find my place. It was through this lens that I began my quest into the musical landscape.
I got my first cassette tape (House of Pain’s seminal album—the one with Jump Around) through rather contentious means. I’d also begun listening to Nirvana, as they had taken the market by storm in the early 90’s with their brooding, angst-ridden ethos. Their success isn’t surprising when you consider that Wilson Phillips and Mariah Carey were at the top of the charts in the early nineties—a fairly asinine pop scene to rebel against. As the nineties progressed, so did my search for new music and a voice that more accurately resonated with my own.
Cue the birthday gift from grandma—a chance to pick out a new CD. Back then, a new CD was a monumental moment: the anticipation, the cherishing of artwork, and the pledge to listen to the entire thing by sundown. I narrowed it down to Aerosmith’s “Greatest Hits” and Public Enemy’s “Muse-Sick-n-Hour-Mess-Age”. Opting for the latter, I found myself unexpectedly learning about everything from modern race relations to police brutality to sustainability issues. To this day, that was one of the most important decisions I ever made in my life.
As mainstream rap started to suck (see DJ Shadow’s “Why Hip Hop sucks in ‘96” for a brief explanation) and was packaged to rebrand sex and consumerism for the masses, I went in the opposite direction. I found so-called “conscious” rap: KRS-One and Gang Starr for example. The world opened up to me through headphones, and I began learning about global issues that were beyond my backyard.
This quest continued during high school—which I eventually dropped out of. It was a pretty hectic time: developing my sense of self while coming to grips with my father’s rejection, my family’s incredibly traumatic history; the impact of which was being played out daily in the theatre that was my house. I was also trying to figure out what the hell it meant to be a man—without a father figure to provide guidance. I was anxious, angry, and in pain. I self-medicated with pot. It was the only thing I could do to not feel it all.
In the midst of this internal chaos, I found Rage Against the Machine. To be more accurate, I think they found me. I’m not sure whether it was the aggression, the energy, or the seemingly perfect blend of my two favourite musical styles, rock and rap, but when I heard their second album, “Evil Empire,” it blew my mind. At the most critical developmental stage in my life, it gave me an outlet. I could put on my headphones and deal with my anger and isolation. Rage had a message for me: So, what you’re saying isn’t what everyone else is? That’s ok. In fact, that’s even better. Got an educated opinion about the state of the world? Say it.
This was revolutionary.
The fundamental difference between Nirvana, my earlier musical idols, and Rage was what they did with their anger. Nirvana brooded. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Nirvana, and Dave Grohl has been one of the best drum teachers I’ve ever had. But Rage was angry AND used their notoriety to attract attention to global injustices, to support causes and organizations that they believed in. Anger was the first step, channelling it into positive action was the second. This was the beginning of my Rageducation.
There wasn’t a day during my adolescence and early twenties that didn’t include at least one of their songs. The anger and frustration I had growing up without a father had an outlet here. Something about their raw, unbridled aggression helped me vent. I pounded the hell out of my drums—moving from Grohlian drum theory to learning every detail of Brad Wilks’ patterns. I can still groove to every single Rage jam like butter, and dreamed of playing with the band, even for just one song. In my moments of adolescent uncertainty and anxiety, their songs provided a sanctuary—an armor. Anywhere I was, I could put on my headphones and I was home, amongst brothers.
Did I idolize them? Absolutely. Their albums were my bibles. I knew every passage and every verse. I’d arrive to high school in the mornings having already taken my politics and history lessons for the day. The public school system wasn’t teaching us about the indigenous genocide in America or Mexico. They weren’t even addressing the one in Canada! Rage exposed these things to me, and I was encouraged to follow up on the topics by my own will: The Tet Offensive, Aztec ruler Cuatehmoc, and NAFTA—this primary research all led me to want to learn more about how this world works.
Ultimately, this is about how in my adolescence, I began to find my sense of self through pop culture. We all do. In ways pop culture, like advertising, is one of the greatest forms of education that isn’t actually labelled as such. We identify with and develop our societal roles through immediate examples (family), through tradition, and through pop culture. The outrage and unrest in Rage’s music resonated with me, essentially contributing to my sense of self by giving me a focus and purpose; showing me that there were many others in the world like me and that this was not only okay, but welcome.
It was Rage that encouraged me to volunteer across Canada with Katimavik (the now defunct Peace Corps of Canada); to work at an international labour union, and to go into experiential education—hopefully guiding others to think for themselves. After these efforts, I received a degree in international relations from the top university in Canada. None of this was because I thought it was cool, or because I thought it would make money, especially in today’s economy. It was because I believed (and still believe) in doing good work and contributing to the greater good. Rage were the first people that told me it was possible.
I remember being super disappointed when Rage split up in 2000. I drove from Toronto to New York seven years later to Rock the Bells to witness their first concert on the Eastern Seaboard in seven years.
And it was here that I realized that it was either me or them; something had changed. I was standing in the middle of the mosh pit—four rows back from the stage—waiting impatiently for the band to start. My fingers were white and waterlogged from the heat and sweat in the pit. After their opener, I caught a young dude who passed out after puking all over himself. Not my scene, man. After crowd surfing him to the front, I realized that it was me who changed—the pit wasn’t for me. I still have the picture from the night saved—my friend and I standing at a sizable distance from the stage’s signature red star marquee. I looked on from a new perspective. Still, I rapped along to Zack’s every word with a cool breeze on my back, and my fist in the air. But a new sensibility had come over me. The veil of worship lifted, and I finally realized that they were just men; opinionated, passionate and dedicated, but mortal.
While my relationship to Rage has changed, I still experience their songs with an immediate kinship — they have been a large part of my life’s soundtrack for years. I listen to them now more for motivation, focus, and to try to connect the angry, clueless teenager with the man that I have become. What has lasted is the respect and reverence that I have for those who stand by their beliefs and convictions with the ultimate resolve and their respective contributions to the greater good.
I will forever be indebted to Rage Against the Machine for helping me along this musical and spiritual path. For helping me through my anger and for serving as the male role models that I needed. I have undoubtedly become the man that I am through their Rageducation. Thank you Tom, Tim, Zack, and Brad.
Photo: AP, Jeff Chiu