Amp Up and Amplify / Defy /
I’m a Brother With a Furious Mind /
Action Must Be Taken /
We Don’t Need The Key We’ll Break In –
Know Your Enemy – Rage Against the Machine
Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, Prophets of Rage, Rage Against the Machine – What do all these groups have in common? – The virtuoso guitarist Tom Morello. Like many Beastie Boys and RATM fans, we were holding tickets to see the Rhyme and Reason tour in the summer of 2000. Bicycling Beastie Boys member Mike D had an unfortunate run-in with a New York City pothole, and dislocated his shoulder. The tour was cancelled, Rage eventually disbanded, and my hopes of seeing two of my favorite bands on the same bill were dashed.
Flash forward to the summer of 2016. An unstable political climate, and a lack of conscious, resistant musical voices, brought to life a new supergroup collaboration – The Prophets of Rage. Named for a Public Enemy song, the new band featured Chuck D, from Public Enemy, B-Real from Cypress Hill, and Tim Commerford and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. From the moment I heard about the new formation, I formulated plans to paint and meet the famous guitarist.
I researched dynamic imagery that depicted Morello with his classic ‘Arm the Homeless’ guitar, and selected a pristine sheet of 22″ x 30″ cold-pressed Arches 140 lb watercolor paper. I wanted only the best materials for this piece.
I completed the new composition in the early summer, only to find that the closest performance, in northern Virginia, would be the same night I’d be in New York for MCA Day. There was no possibility of missing the event in Brooklyn, and I began searching for a viable solution. I arranged to get tickets for the Prophets of Rage show in Holmdel, New Jersey on Friday, August 26th. This worried me a great deal, as I’d be further from home, and would not have the flexibility of waiting around before or after the show. It didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to make my plan of meeting Tom Morello a reality.
The week before MCA Day is always a whirlwind of activity. Putting on an event in a city two-hundred miles from home has many challenges. I was making labels for the art, finishing up an Adam Yauch portrait, and carefully packing up photographs, skateboards, and paintings that would be making the trip. The Tom Morello watercolor sat in the corner of my studio space, and I wondered how I’d ever get things to come together. The Wednesday before I went to Brooklyn, two days before the scheduled Prophets of Rage show in northern Virginia, I was on-line, checking in with a few people I’d see in New York. I was surprised to see photos from Eagle Bank Arena (formerly the Patriot Center) that depicted members of Prophets of Rage. I quickly deduced that they had arrived early for their mid-Atlantic swing, and they would be around the next couple of days. I contacted Kate G, Chuck D’s assistant, and asked what their plans were for Thursday. There was no show, and it was a full day before I was scheduled to leave for New York. She got back to me quickly, and said, “Practice all day!” This was it! This was my chance. I devised a new plan. On Thursday morning, I’d drive out that way, and contact Kate or Eric Ridenhour, once I got to the parking lot of the arena. Maybe I could meet them on the way in, or on the way out. It just might work. I was inviting myself to their band practice.
Thursday morning, I cleared my schedule and set my GPS for Eagle Bank Arena. It would only take a little over an hour to get down there, but I wanted to devote the whole day to the goal. As I turned into the large, empty parking lot of the venue, Know Your Enemy emanated from my car speakers. On a day when there was no event scheduled, it was strange to be here. Parking was not an issue, as there were hundreds of available spaces. I decided to drive around towards the back of the building, to see if there was any indication that they were inside.
I parked the car, and pulled out my portfolio case. Instantly, I realized I was in the right place, as the unmistakable vibrations of music shook the ground. The band was inside! I hurried to the lower parking lot, and searched for some way into the building.
As luck would have it, as I approached, I saw Eric Ridenhour, Chuck’s brother, sitting on a metal chair looking at his phone. I shot him a text message: “Hey Eric, It’s Andy Katz! Look up, and you’ll see me!” I silently counted to ten, and waited for a reaction. Eric looked up, and a smile of recognition lit his face. I was about fifty yards away, and he began walking towards me. When he reached me, at the edge of a fence, we gave each other a quick hug. “Are you trying to get in to see Chuck?”, Eric asked. “I was hoping that could happen.”, I replied. “C’mon then, I’ll check it out”. He gestured me to follow, and we walked over to a big steel garage door. “Wait here.” Eric pointed to the empty metal chair where he had been sitting. “I’ll be right back.”
When I’m on one of these ‘missions’ there is a lot of waiting. I’m used to it, and I try my best to enjoy the situation. This time around, it was an incredible experience. While I sat there, wondering if I’d make it inside, I listened to my own personal concert. Only a few yards away, Prophets of Rage was running through a full set. I could hear it all – Take the Power Back, Bombtrack, Welcome to the Terrordome, Insane in the Brain, Know Your Enemy, Bring the Noise. They would stop and start, and I could hear them working through the unfamiliarity of songs that were not their own. I was lost in thought, when Kate came out to see me. “Hey! What’s up?” More hugs and smiles. “Hey, I hope I’m not being pushy, showing up like this.” “No, you’re definitely not being pushy”, Kate assured me. We chatted a while, and I noticed that the music had stopped. Eric poked his head out and waved me in the door. “C’mon. They just finished. Chuck wants to see you.” Obviously, those were the words I wanted to hear. We entered an area that was noticeably backstage. There were supplies, crates on wheels, wires, and stagecraft equipment. We turned left, and went down a long, brightly-colored, cinderblock hallway. Everything was yellow and green – George Mason University’s team colors. We passed a few doors, and turned left into a spacious meeting room. There was food and bottled water on a table, and a few comfortable leather couches. There, working on his computer, was Mr. Chuck D. He didn’t greet me this time. Instead, I pulled up a chair, and sat in what was now a small circle. It was James Bomb (S1W), Chuck D, Kate G, Eric, and me. Kate and Chuck were having an energetic debate about sneaker culture. I had come in too late to have an opinion, but I was able to gather that it had something to do with Stephon Marbury’s shoe contract. It must’ve have looked like I was watching a tennis match, as Chuck and Kate argued their points with enthusiasm. In the middle of all this Chuck looked at me and said, “And how are you doin’, AK?” “I’m good. Thanks for having me”. We stood to hug one another hello, when Chuck said, “You’ve got something for Tom?” Not at all being on a first name basis, I almost didn’t realize who he meant. “Oh, um, yeah!. It’s this new watercolor that I painted”. I pulled it out of my large portfolio folder to show him. Immediately, Chuck took it from me, and said “C’mon, Let’s go find him! I think he’s on the stage”. The stage? I couldn’t believe this was happening. Chuck held my painting delicately, with the image facing out in front of him, and marched into the hallway. I followed, and pulled out my camera so I would be ready. I hit record, and like an idiot, once again forgot to turn my camera horizontally. I quietly hoped it was recording ,as I heard Chuck suggesting who I should paint next. Here is what transpired as we walked towards the stage: Chuck D helping me meet Tom Morello
Admittedly, I was embarrassed to turn the corner and have my camera fixed on the two unsuspecting bandmates. I eventually put it away, as the conversation turned more authentic. After Chuck introduced me to Tom and Brad, he took a seat casually on the back of the couch. He left me to my own devices, and I stuttered out a request for Tom to sign the original painting. He finished chewing his lunch, and hopped up to accommodate me. He took the painting, and gently tossed it flat on the ground. I was surprised, when he nimbly jumped to the floor and carefully got ready to sign it. I said, “I’d love some lyrics on there, too!” He said, “Hmm, lyrics? Ok.”
I have to say, this whole thing felt like a dream. I mean, Chuck D is one of my heroes. Here he was selflessly making one of my dreams a reality. I felt lightheaded, and continued to wonder when I was going to wake up.
Tom hopped up, and shook my hand. I thanked him over and over again, and he continued to assure me that it was no problem. I mustered up the courage to ask him to record a quick spot for our MCA Day tribute. I pulled out a picture of Rage Against the Machine that included Adam Yauch flanked by the members of the band. I said, “I stole this image from your Instagram account. We’re going to include pictures of MCA with his friends and peers on the wall at our event.” Tom and Brad both agreed to sign the picture, instantly transforming it into a treasured souvenir. I’m so glad I brought it along.
Tom dutifully moved to the center of the room, asked if I was ready, and said a few words about Yauch. It was apparent that he was used to this type of request, as he effortlessly and comfortably recounted his thoughts. I couldn’t wait to share the video with the MCA Day crew. This was all a little difficult to believe.
When I snapped to, I realized that I was interrupting their lunch, and that I was quite possibly overstaying my welcome. I thanked them again, and floated back out into the hallway.
Almost as soon as we returned to the other dressing room, I realized that I had neglected to get a photo with the painting and Tom. I said to Chuck, “Oh wow! I was a little star-struck, and I forgot to ask Tom for a picture.” Chuck said, “Well, let’s go catch them before they leave.” In the moments that we had left Brad and Tom, they had already made it down to the end of the long hallway. Chuck called after Tom. “Tom, Andy was star-struck, and forgot to ask for a picture!” So much for subtlety. Tom walked back towards us, and Chuck took my phone. He crouched down, and snapped our picture. This whole scene was surreal.
Quickly, I packed up my things, and said my goodbyes. I didn’t want to ruin anything by hanging out too long. I walked out with everyone as they loaded into the waiting SUVs. They were heading to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They’d be getting a sneak peek at the yet-to-be-completed Musical Crossroads exhibtion, to which Chuck, and Public Enemy, had donated personal artifacts.
I walked slowly towards my car, trying to process the experience, and mentally archiving each detail.
I drove a quarter mile down the road, and pulled into a parking lot. I sat still for a good ninety seconds. I had many questions: Did that really just happen? Why is Chuck D so good to me? Will I be able to adequately describe this experience? Who will even believe this?
I thumbed through my playlist, and cued up the self-titled Rage Against the Machine debut album. I clicked play, as I put the car into ‘drive’. I pulled back into the flowing stream of cars, and headed towards home. – AJK