April 21, 2005

The Pretty Toney Column

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No possession in the world was more valuable to my feeble elementary-school mind than a t-shirt of one of my favorite bands. Remember, during years of single digit age, band t-shirts were considered almost dangerous. Most band t-shirts that kids wore were of groups prone to swear multiple times within the same album, bands like White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails. After I got my first band t-shirt in fourth grade (of the relatively tame but still profane Pearl Jam), my name was mentioned with the same reverential tone usually reserved in Pittsburgh playgrounds for Mario Lemieux.

I remember youth track meets being veritable band t-shirt fashion shows. One girl from an inner-city team had this stupid Brandy shirt with the word “Baby” splattered all over it. But a t-shirt worn by one of the better distance runners always caught my eye. It was maroon with only the words “rage against the machine” stamped across the chest in sloppy Courier font. I’d seen the name occasionally in two-page band t-shirt ads in Guitar World, but had never actually heard the band’s music. I was endlessly intrigued.

It wouldn’t be until sixth grade that I heard Rage Against the Machine for the first time, when “Bulls On Parade” was released as the lead single/video for Evil Empire. Oh man, were they the greatest thing ever. I needed to hear more. Lucky for me, a friend had just bought their self-titled debut from 1992.

Looking back, it’s hard to say whether any other moment of my life impacted me as deeply as the first time I heard “Killing in the Name.” That statement might seem ludicrous now, but you must realize how fervently I despised my teachers, almost all of whom were embittered Bolshevik ex-patriates who, following the dissolution of the USSR, defected to America in order to take their frustrations out on innocent capitalist children like myself. The words that Zach de la Rocha screams in the song’s final chorus quickly became my life’s mantra — “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

Most parents would probably consider this to be the last thing a youngster should be listening to, but I say it makes no difference — few people submit to authority as blindly as I currently do. If I ever have kids, I’m going to secretly hope that they end up listening to recklessly violent music at some point in their lives. Head-banging to “Killing in the Name” is one of the most amusing, happiest memories that I have.

Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer