Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman

by Mack Dreyfuss
November 2008

Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave)

Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave)

Music lovers attempting to use their money wisely during these dour economic times may have just found the show of the year to attend. Musico-political titan, Tom Morello, is coming to the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on Nov. 12 under the moniker, The Nightwatchman. For those who don’t immediately recognize his name, you may be familiar with Rage Against the Machine or Audioslave, bands who have been built with Morello on lead guitar. Rolling Stone rates him 26 on the list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. His most recent solo project released Sept. 30 is called “The Fabled City.” The Nightwatchman, Morello’s “folk singer alter ego,” transfuses politically charged lyrics into guitar riffs reminiscent of “eighties Dylan + Jimi Hendrix.”

The genesis of The Nightwatchman occurred while playing packed stadium shows with Audioslave. Morello hungered to voice his political views and be more intimate with his audience. Soon after, he released “One Man Revolution.” He states: “…it was absolutely the most fulfilling, artistically as anything I had ever done….There were a few nights where it really felt like in this tiny, dark coffeehouse that everybody’s soul in the room was at stake.”

Listeners of The Nightwatchman’s second album are invited on an intense human journey. “King of Hell” is a song that inhabits the minds of torture victims at Guantanamo Bay. Morello meditates on the “sweet moments of breath between water-boarding” and “the peace that must exist in the moments between electric shocks.” In “Night Falls,” the journey continues through 1930’s Illinois, where the untimely death of a man named Steve Sutton produced a labor union which reversed worker exploitation and established worker rights. A verse in “Midnight in the City of Destruction” takes the government to task for its inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and touches on further instances of “irredeemable loss.” Morello invokes his “dear, departed aunt” in Saint Isabelle who “had physical and mental disabilities. She was born and she died in the same room. I used to call her from the exotic destinations that I was able to travel to and share those places with her. I continue that here by singing of her. I am taking her with me.”

Intensely political, he isn’t easily dismissed as a ridiculous celebrity who spouts off something “controversial” in order to preserve fame for another 15 minutes. He is much too credentialed and driven: a degree in political science from Harvard, guitarist for RATM and Audioslave, co-creator of [] (a non-profit organization which brings together musicians, fans of music and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice). When Morello gets arrested, it’s because he and 2000 others march in protest of sub-poverty wages for hotel workers in Los Angeles, not because he’s been caught double-fisting vicodin and mojitos in the Hollywood Hills at a sobriety checkpoint or driving infants down Pacific Coast Highway sans car seat.

As America seems to teeter further toward chaos, Morello’s many critical messages have never been timelier. They are also strangely comforting. His music is the angry conscience of America which drives a cement truck over the shortsighted verbal trench warfare that occurs between the liberal/conservative cnn/foxnews schism. His messages transcend these convenient camps and draw the universal heart and mind back to the essence of “liberty and justice for all.” He condemns thoughtless action and eviscerates action-less, elitist intellectualism at the same time.

Morello grew up in Libertyville, Illinois. He states that when he revisits the Midwest, he is reminded of his first stinging experiences with racism and prejudice, but that he also values deeply “the scenic beauty and the honest, real people who call it home. It definitely adds an element of passion to my music when I play there.” He discusses his tour plan, “I’m going to tour one night at a time. I’m going to try to remember the words to my songs and I’m going to do my best to rock people senseless.” Expect him to come prepared. While taking a full class load at Harvard, Morello self-mandated 8 hours of guitar practice daily. He only missed 3 days in 4 years.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, you are guaranteed to become more thoughtful in your own beliefs after listening to his music. You just might emerge from bureaucracy, lack of health insurance, credit card debt, gas prices, the three jobs you’re working, the stock market, rapid-fire technological over stimulation and amorality to find that the jewel of society is the fleeting miracle of the human being standing beside you. You might stop waiting for someone else to do it for you. You might shed categorization in pursuit of the whole. The Nightwatchman might be right: your soul may be at stake.

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Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman
CD: The Fabled City Record Label: Sony/BMG
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