Tom Morello on creative calling, conviction, and inspiration
Last May, Bill Moyers interviewed guitarist extraordinaire Tom Morello on Moyers & Company, and in addition to providing the expected barrage of radical and impassioned political brilliance, Morello said a few things in passing that show him to be a musical artist who is gripped by a powerful sense of calling in the deep sense of a mission and purpose that’s not chosen but given. He also briefly referenced the mysterious nature of creative inspiration as something that happens on its own and demands that a person be “tuned in” and wait for its arrival. These are, of course, long-time themes of interest here at The Teeming Brain.
Tom Morello: I didn’t choose to be a guitar player. That’s something that was a calling. That was something that felt like it was chosen for me. And with that blessing and curse, throughout my entire career it’s been my job to weave my convictions into my vocation. And so, whether I’m standing in the streets of Chicago or at Occupy Wall Street or in Madison, Wisconsin, my job is to steel the backbone of people on the frontlines of social justice struggles, and to put wind in sails of those struggles and people who are fighting on a daily basis, at a grass roots level, for the things that I believe in.
… I go to protests so I’m branded as a political artist. A good deal of the material on those records [in my catalog of Nightwatchman songs] is very, very personal. And some of it’s politics with a lower case P. Some of it could hardly be described as politics at all. It’s sort of, you know, an unearthing of the dark, shining a light on the dark recesses of the tortured suburban psyche that feels like, in order to be true to the political stuff, I feel I have to be just true to myself in making that music and to not conceal those things.
BILL MOYERS: Who is that self?
TOM MORELLO: Well, that’s something that I’ve found that I’ve been able to explore to the greatest extent in this music. Rarely will I sit down and say, “I am now going to write a song about unions.” That stuff, I don’t know where it comes from. You can practice guitar eight hours a day and get a predictable result. But how I write my lyrics, it’s just like I hope to have the antenna up when inspiration strikes. And quite often, you know, what I see in those stanzas is an accurate reflection of the fears, desires, the hope, and the struggle that’s been my personal journey as opposed to my political one. The name of my first solo record was “One Man Revolution.” That was not an accident.
— “Tom Morello, Troubador for Justice” (transcript), May 18, 2012
Here’s the full interview: