Multimedia

In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises

News

Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

News

Former Harvard President Bacow, Maria Ressa to Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement

News

‘A’ Game: How Harvard Recruits its Student-Athletes

News

Interim Harvard President Alan Garber Takes the Political Battle to Washington

Tom Morello

Musician

By Kevin Sun, Crimson Staff Writer

“Rage Against the Machine” guitarist Thomas B. Morello ’86 has been arrested for civil disobedience, played in protest concerts of both Republican and Democratic National Conventions, been immortalized as a video game boss in “Guitar Hero III,” and worked as a male stripper to support himself after his college graduation.

Morello, who has made his mark in the music industry with his guitar virtuosity in numerous bands, is also well known for his strong, left-leaning political views—having once described himself as being “the only anarchist in a conservative high school.”

But twenty-five years ago, Morello was still a student concentrating in social studies in Currier House—one who worked hard in school, but practiced guitar even harder.

SETTING THE STAGE

Before he came to Harvard, Morello’s family was enmeshed in anti-establishment politics: Morello’s father was a Mau Mau rebel in Kenya and subsequently became the first United Nations ambassador of Kenya.

Though his mother taught U.S. History in Libertyville, Illinois—where Morello was raised—she later founded an organization to support free speech in music to counter the censorship movement spearheaded by Tipper Gore in the 1990s.

At Harvard, friends say Morello was devoted to both music and academics.

“He practiced every night between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. with his guitar unamplified, I would say at least six nights a week,” says Ethan C. Anderson ’86, who was Morello’s roommate for three years in Currier House. “He really got twenty hours of practice in every week.”

Morello also played in rock bands as an undergraduate, prior to his mainstream music success.

But while his hard rock-hip-hop fusion with Rage Against the Machine often rails against the government, corporations, and other social structures that perpetuate inequity, his junior year band “Joey Thunder and the Electrical Storm” instead expounded upon more mundane topics. Their songs, often inspired by life at Harvard, included “Library Love” and “Action Man”—a reference to a Cambridge local who had taken to prank calling numbers from the freshman phonebook, claiming he was “looking for some action,” according to Gerald J. Roper ’86, band drummer and friend of Morello’s.

During his time at Harvard, Morello also performed in a number of other bands, including “The Zoo”—named after his six-man suite in Hurlbut freshman year—a band called the “The Deviates” his sophomore year, and “Bored of Education” his senior year.

According to friends, Morello’s musical prowess was a product of his discipline, but other areas of his life sometimes fell by the wayside.

“He could be unbelievably sloppy and incredibly lazy about everything, except for playing guitar and going to class—he never missed class,” Anderson says. “He’d often set his alarm for 1:55 p.m. after [going to bed] late the night before, and he’d always make it to the dining hall in sweats to catch the last five minutes of lunch.”

When not practicing guitar or studying, Morello was also an active intramural athlete.

“I remember our claim to fame was during our senior year, when we won the Co-ed Touch Football House Championship,” says John P. Daley ’86, who lived with Morello for four years.

But as serious as Morello was about his music, he and Anderson had a running joke about the juxtaposition of their musical affiliations on campus. Anderson, who sang in the Din & Tonics a cappella group, remembers coming home late from gigs in his evening coattails and seeing Morello back from his gig as well, wearing spandex and leopard print.

“‘How was your gig?’ ended up being a kind of running joke between us. We really had a good time just making fun of each other,” Anderson says.

RAGING ON

After Harvard, Morello moved to Los Angeles, where he worked, among other jobs, a brief stint as a male stripper.

“I did bachlorette parties and I’d go down to my boxer shorts. Would I go further? All I can say is thank God it was in the time before YouTube!” said Morello in an interview with CHARTattack in 2009. “You could make decent money doing that job—people do what they have to do.”

After forming Rage Against the Machine in 1991, Morello and the rest of the group enjoyed mainstream success, selling over 16 million records to date. Rage Against the Machine eventually broke up in 2000, though the band has periodically reunited since 2007 to play in concerts around the world.

Three of the four members—including Morello—joined forces with the frontman of the now-defunct band Soundgarden to form Audioslave in 2001. Morello also debuted a solo act called “The Nightwatchmen” in 2003 as an outlet for his political views, and most recently, makes up one half of the two-man rap-metal band the Street Sweeper Social Club, which started in 2006.

According to Joseph “Joey Thunder” M. Forbess ’86, one of Morello’s college bandmates, it was clear even in college that Morello had his heart set on making music.

“[After graduation,] I was walking out of Currier with my parents and we saw Tom getting into a van his mother had bought him,” Forbess says. “My mother asked, ‘Hey Tom, where’re you going with that van?’ He replied, ‘I’m going out to California to become a rock star!’ And he did.”

—Staff writer Kevin Sun can be reached at ksun@college.harvard.edu.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
MusicHarvard in the WorldCommencement 2011Class of 1986