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"We hope to provide more progressive-minded bands with a warehouse of information, ideas and ways to facilitate ways for them to have an Axis installation at their own shows."
——Tom Morello, Audioslave

RAGING THROUGH THE SYSTEM WITH THE AXIS OF JUSTICE

An exclusive interview with Audioslave’s Tom Morello and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian by Maria Armoudian

Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello is unapologetic for his "left of Ralph Nader" politics. In fact, the one-time scheduling secretary for California Senator Alan Cranston says music is a conduit for his political views.

"That was the mission statement from day one, even before Rage Against the Machine," Morello says. "I was cursed being a guitar player. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. And with that as the given, I had to find a way to work my convictions into my life’s work."

So when the planes came crashing into the World Trade Center, Morello’s mind went right to work about ways to cause greater peace, rather than the avenging mode that spilled out of the mouths of so many political leaders. The famous "Axis of Evil" speech by George Dubya led Morello to conclude there was an equivalent "evil" with similar "diabolical characters in the name of fanatacism or greed" that were just as "hell-bent on destroying society." He called it "the axis of profit," which he says, "has similar effects, ripping societies apart with a greater gulf between the super rich and the destitute and through corporate crime, leaving families and hard-working folks with very little left."

"There was [equivalent] damage by this axis of profit—with unparalleled corporate crime," Morello explained. The Bush speech, he concluded, "was like this smoke-and-mirrors tactic."

In the end, the Harvard grad concluded that the only counter to this "axis of profit" was an Axis of Justice, Morello’s own, rock & roll-style response—a traveling "freedom school" to counter hate propaganda and war-mongering.

So Morello designed his project, with several big-screen TVs featuring author/filmmaker Michael Moore, a gigantic, eye-catching display housing 10 nonprofit organizations with information ranging from environmental protection to human rights, along with an on-site counselor to assist victims of violence. The school would travel with his band Rage Against the Machine as a prominent part of the Ozzfest tour that Rage was slated to headline. Unfortunately, the band broke up before the tour took place, leaving the Axis of Justice with no contract and virtually no champion.

It was then the Axis of Justice landed another advocate—Morello had already enlisted the support of System of a Down singer Serj Tankian, with whom he was supposed to share the main Ozzfest stage. Tankian, a well-read and articulate politico himself, had his own soapbox for the Axis if he could rescue the installation from oblivion—the Armenian Genocide, a little-known massacre of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

Tankian revived a scaled-down version of the Axis. Although the giant display was reduced to a card table shoved into the back of the music fest and reduced to four or five nonprofit organizations, the advocates insist the tour has made an important impact.

"[The display] doesn’t really matter," insists Tankian. "Because as far as I’m concerned, if you have the truth on your side, you don’t need huge video screens to get your point across. Each of the organizations is reporting a lot of signups, people are joining on, subscribing and reading their information and passing around their stickers. It’s very positive. The Armenian National Committee (ANC) is getting 300 letters per month in support of a Genocide resolution." The ANC even honored System of a Down with its high Freedom Award for the effort at its annual dinner on October 20.

Morello adds the organization has even bigger plans. The nonprofit org’s diredctors include aside, from Morello and Tankian, Rage staffer Jake Sexton. "This is just the beginning. We will be mushrooming out at rock shows all over the world."

"We hope to provide more progressive-minded bands with a warehouse of information, ideas and ways to facilitate ways for them to have an Axis installation at their own shows," Morello explains. "For a band in Amarillo, Texas, or Birmingham, Alabama, we will help them bridge to organizations and information for their own issues. If you’re in Peoria, Illinois, it’s not that easy to generate enthusiasm or energy about the plight of the Zapatistas, but there may be strike at the McDonalds there where the high school kids work or maybe, the local Wal-Mart is not carrying stickered albums. It’s a way for young people to organize. Then, when they get some victories under their belt, all of a sudden, they have their hand on the wheel."

The Axis of Justice is a logical development for these two rockers. Both had political upbringings. Morello’s father was a Mau Mau freedom fighter in Kenya and his mother was a civil rights activist. Tankian, whose relatives were murdered in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, grew up a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, dedicated to Armenia’s freedom and independence and an acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. And although Tankian’s politics have landed him in a heap of trouble, particularly after 9/11 when his op-ed piece critical of U.S. foreign policy enraged a grieving America, he remains dedicated to speaking his mind, particularly in one-on-one interaction with his fans. In fact, before one Ozzfest show, Tankian offered autographs only on literature from the nonprofit organizations featured at the Axis of Justice, ensuring that the literature was at least viewed by the fans.

Tankian maintains that his op-ed piece remains poignant, despite the bad timing of his criticism. His remarks, he says, were "completely factual and asking for peace." And while he understands the reaction, he still holds that "the U.S. government’s foreign policy has been very unjust and based on the profits of the multinationals. They’re not doing the American people any justice, to be honest with you, especially [not] the CIA."

With new albums coming this month from both Audioslave (11/19) and SOAD (Steal This Album, 11/26), Morello and Tankian will once again have the opportunity to introduce the idea of a personalized Axis of Justice to other bands. Their goal is to encourage them to "parlay the trust they have developed with their audience into meaningful change and action," rather than simply to "sell products." Its next steps, Morello says, may include making benefit CDs and if all goes well, perhaps a Rage Against the Machine Foundation.

These two rock stars aren’t afraid to make politics an integral part of their musical mix.

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