Killing in the Name

Originally Performed ByRage Against the Machine
Original AlbumRage Against the Machine (1992)
Music/LyricsCommerford, De La Rocha, Morello, Wilk
Phish Debut2010-07-04
Last Played2010-07-04
Current Gap342
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)


When Rudyard Kipling wrote “White Man’s Burden” in 1899, he was in effect – as Britain’s imperial poet – relinquishing the British Empire’s once tightly-held reins of imperialist domination over the darker, sullen peoples of the world including the United States. The conclusion of the Spanish-American War, which had inspired Kipling’s work and culminated in the United States assuming command and control of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Phillipines marked the point in our nation’s history when the Monroe Doctrine – originally intended to minimize the influence of European nations in the Americas – began to be exercised outside the bounds of our continent.

Under the guise of protecting our self interest, the United States has in the century that just passed become Team America: World Police. In this role we have been guilty of enforcing a global policy that is hard to differentiate from Arizona’s Senate Bill (SB) 1070, the highly contentious “Breathing While Brown” law requiring Arizona law enforcement to racially profile its citizens in an effort to curtail the flow of illegal immigrants into the desert southwest. Considering the nature of Rage Against the Machine front man Zack de la Rocha’s lyrics in the band’s anthemic signature song “Killing in the Name” it comes as no surprise that this “new” law is the target of The Sound Strike, RATM’s latest foray into political activism.

“Killing in the Name” was Rage Against the Machine’s first single on their self-titled 1992 debut album. In simplest terms, the song is Rage Against the Machine’s declaration of war on social injustice around the world. The song was written and recorded shortly after the band formed in 1991 and was one of 12 songs released in December 1991 on their self-titled demo cassette. Recorded at Sunbirth Studios in Los Angeles, the demo cassette ultimately won Rage their contract with Epic Records, reportedly having sold over 5000 copies at their early live shows prior to signing with the label. The first public performance of “Killing in the Name” was as a somewhat subdued instrumental to open their first show (10/23/91) on The Quad at Cal State Northridge. The restraint shown by the band during this performance is surprising when considering how vocal they have become with espousing their “Fuck you, I won’t do what you told me!” mantra since that time. 

Phish performed “Killing in the Name” in the midst of the “Harpua” narration at their 7/4/10 show at the Encore in Alpharetta, GA. Jimmy was apparently blasting the song when Poster Nutbag slipped out the door to meet with another of his “you killed Kenny!” demises within the slobber drooling jowls of the spastic dead-eyed hound. According to Trey’s narration, Phish wanted to perform “Harpua” on Independence Day to celebrate the “true alternate history” of the United States that apparently pervades all of their lyrics. Trey went on to cite Rage Against the Machine as one of the few bands other than Phish that “won’t bullshit you” which is why they are one of Jimmy’s all-time favorite bands. 

It is undetermined whether this assessment is based on Rage Against the Machine’s efforts to boycott Arizona’s SB 1070, or perhaps the band making good on their promise to play a free show in England (The Rage Factor) at Finsbury Park on 6/6/10 to celebrate their 1992 release outselling the latest installment of prefabricated pop from Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor and thereby being the 2009 Christmas Single in the United Kingdom. Either way, Page Against the Machine added another classic song to their “Little Drummer Boy’s” vocal repertoire and delivered a rather incendiary version which certainly worked the previously pro-USA crowd into a frenzy of Wook Against The Man that has largely gone unseen since the Battle of Kashyyyk.

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