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Tom Morello has earned Grammys with Rage Against the Machine, but it’s his work “that kicks ass and sticks it to the man” that got him honored Wednesday.
Morello received The Spirit of Courage Award, which the Courage Campaign presents to someone for fighting for a fair and just world.
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Morello played an acoustic set at The House of Blues and was surprised with a tribute video featuring Kiss (in full regalia), singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, The Last Internationale, actress Nazanin Boniadi, Rise Against, and musician Maureen Herman.
The entire room also sang “Happy Birthday” to Morello’s mother, Mary, who turned 91.
Ahead of the honor, Morello spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his years of activism, fatherhood and and his mantra “Feed the poor. Fight the power. Rock the f—k out.”
What does getting this honor mean to you?
It’s a great honor because the award itself is an embodiment of all the struggles and sacrifices of the people involved in the social justice issues for whom I’ve played music, who do the hard work every day without any expectation of recognition or awards. The fact that I’m able to lend my voice to their causes is what makes the award meaningful to me.
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You must get requests to advocate for causes all the time. How do you decide which causes to lend your voice to?
The majority of my performance career has been for benefit and activist shows, a point that my wife will sometimes bring up. “Are you ever going to play a show for money?” (Laughs.) It’s changed over the past three or four years. I have two small children now. One of my principal endeavors in creating a better world is being a great dad to them. That also sharpens my desire to fight for the causes that are most meaningful to me — to try to leave them a better planet than they were born into.
You’ve said you are trying to slow down on your activism now that you are a father. But that hasn’t really been the case, has it?
I guess slowing down when it comes to my activism might not seem so slow. (Laughs.) Compared to the fever pitch that once was, where I was playing maybe 200-plus shows a year for charity and benefits, that’s been ratcheted pretty far back. But that’s when I feel the most alive and connected in my artistic work — whether I’m standing in a room with people fighting for a cause, whether it’s on a street corner, whether it’s in a tomato field or whether it’s in a huge march.
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Why do you think you’re so motivated to do this stuff?
I didn’t choose to play the guitar; it chose me. So now I’m stuck. So my responsibility as an activist is to weave my convictions into my vocation in a way that is artistically compelling, that kicks ass and sticks it to the man. That’s the gig. It has to be real. It has to reflect who you really are, and that’s when people are drawn to it.
What do you want your activist shows to be like?
In those rooms, you try to create a little bit of the world you want to see. It’s not just a world of struggle; it’s a world of joy. It’s a world that is looking seriously at the problems of the day, but it’s a world that’s having a f—king great time too. That’s something that music can uniquely do. My mantra throughout this entire life of music and activism has been very, very simple: “Feed the poor. Fight the power. Rock the f—k out.”
Are your sons old enough to understand what you are doing?
They are three and four. They come to shows and stuff. I never push my music on them or my stuff. I like them to discover — their favorite band is Kiss. It’s clear that even at this young age they have sort of absorbed some of the principles. One of their favorite books is a book about Rosa Parks. They love The Sneetches by Dr. Suess, which has a left-of-center message. But they also love Ninja Turtles and Rio 2 — I don’t want to paint them as young socialists.
Wednesday’s Spirit of Courage Awards also honored Rev. Frank Schaefer.
Email: Aaron.Couch @THR.com
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