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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Bulls on Parade" is timeless for the unsavory truths it tells is pretty much every Rage Against The Machine song.

I ended yesterday's post by remarking that the calmness "Black Water" gave me would not last.

Well, I think my change in mood is reflected pretty clearly in my song selection for today. Some anxiety remains, but more than that I'm feeling angry. I'm angry at myself for not having budgeted my time well — including my sleeping schedule — leading up to this midterm week, and I'm angry at forces beyond my control over the state of much of the world, here in Berkeley and beyond.

When I think of artists that express anger through their music, I nearly always think of Rage Against The Machine first. Despite not having released original material since November 1999, their politically charged music remains as provocatively irate and relevant now as it was then. I didn't have any political thoughts in mind when the opening to "Bulls on Parade" charged into my head, but when you're discussing RATM's music, said discussion will inevitably be intertwined with the quartet's left-wing, anti-cultural-imperialistic point of view.

"Bulls On Parade" fits right into Zack de la Rocha's poetic cannon with his statements against what the United State and the First World at large have become through continued feeding of the military-industrial complex. His start to the second verse lays out the point of view behind his contempt as clearly as any throughout the band's catalog:

Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes
Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal

The fueling of the military comes at a cost, and it's a cost borne by the citizens back home. Their suffering is clear, but working to remedy it requires monetary resources governments seem unwilling to spend, despite how much it would assist their reputation and the country at large. The growing "rotten sore on the face of Mother Earth" mentioned in the first verse is thus twofold: in one part, it's continued warfare, frequently unprovoked, waged by the world's most powerful nations for gains that amount to finance over all else; in the other part, it's the continued plight of the common people on both sides of such conflicts.

Well, isn't that a fitting narrative considering the nature of the continued Russo–Ukrainian War? (And yes, it's an invasion and a war — the few nations which are refusing to call it such are at least implicitly supporting Russia, and likely more.) The ability to plop the lyrical backdrop of so many of RATM's tracks is a testament to their sociopolitical awareness and understanding of a world fueled by big militaries and even bigger money. The same is the case for de la Rocha's chorus cry: "Rally 'round the family with a pocket full of shells." Despite continued gun violence across America, both through civilian and police action, the right to bear arms has been upheld as a core American value, in line with antiquated "family" values that cater to the traditional White ruling class.

Whenever war breaks out, or a military exercise grabs the headlines, I find that "Bulls on Parade" captures the essence of the world's disillusioned masses. As the song's title evokes, world powers proudly display and unnecessarily use their prize military bulls while ignoring bigger issues on their home front. With this aspect of modern life embedded into the machinery of major political parties and international structures, the task of making lasting action against the military-industrial complex seems so futile that it seems all one can do in response is be angry about it (though I'm intrigued to see if that mindset changes in the wake of current conflicts if/when they eventually die down). Rage Against The Machine channeled that anger and turned it into what can be considered their sonic act of protest, with Brad Wilk's simple but effective drums keeping time and rhythmically accenting de la Rocha's rhymes and the combined melody and rhythm of Tom Morello's guitar and Brad Wilk's bass. Heck, Morello's turntable scratch-like guitar solo carries as bellicose a sound as any instrument from all of the 90s — it's a musical rebellion in addition to a political one.

For a sound that is as 90s as it gets, Rage Against The Machine have maintained their cultural importance through the perpetuity of the structures against which they fought. The thunderous sound and clear message of "Bulls on Parade" is a microcosm for their discography and all it and the band represent.


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