The rock guitarist and activist shares his golden rules for living.
Forgiveness rocks! And other philosophical nuggets from the ex-RATM guitarist.
1 DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR GUITAR TONE
This is anathema to guitar players who slavishly work away at particular tones. I tried for years to find this magical tone that was in my head and I finally just gave up and played with the crappy tone I had and said, “I’m never gonna worry about it another day in my life, I’m just gonna make music that sounds good with the tone I’ve got” and that ended up being Rage Against The Machine.
2 CONFRONT INJUSTICE AT EVERY TURN
This was something that was embedded in me by my mom when I was four years old. Some older kid at daycare was doing some racial namecalling at me every day and I was crying and my mom said, “you’re the one who has to confront it.” She gave me some choice words to say back, rolled my little brown hand into a fist and said, “go back there and give ’em hell.” The kid was N-wording me and I called him whatever my mom had said, a big fight broke out and eventually when the supervisor came over and sussed it all out, the kid was taken over to the sink and had his mouth washed out with soap. Whether you see someone bullying on the playgrounds or a boss being abusive at work or a government being abusive to the people in it or under it, it’s important to confront it.
3 PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
This was advice given to me by a more advanced guitar player in high school and I took it as biblical script. I practised every day and I realised the tide of my ability was rising because of that. Eventually it was eight hours a day, every day, without fail. It was a commitment to a goal that you can extrapolate. You can do that in any endeavour and achieve real results.
4 ALL THE WORLD IS A LITTLE WEIRD
My grandmother told me this. There was some kid doing something peculiar and she pointed out that I had some peculiar faculties myself! I thought, “You’re right”. Celebrating the differences and the weirdness in others and ourselves is better than casting aspersions and condemning people for standing out.
5 FORGIVE OTHERS, AND YOURSELF
In forgiving others, you can become free and clean to move forward and, in forgiving yourself, you’re able to open new doors to new experiences. Wayne Kramer of the mighty MC5 gave me great advice. He’d taken me to some charity event and I just behaved awfully to the host. Afterwards I was beating myself up and he said, “It’s OK to make mistakes, everybody makes ’em and you’re a good person.” I felt absolved in some way. Forgiving myself was key to moving forward.
6 BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU DO
I didn’t move to Hollywood to become a political firebrand, I moved to Hollywood to become a rock star. I was a neophyte from Smalltown, Illinois. I got in a band and the record company said to do this and the producer said to do that and a lot of it didn’t feel right, but I thought, “They’re the experts, they must know best”. After that band was dropped from the label, I made a solemn vow to myself to never play music I didn’t believe in. I’ve stuck to that from that day to this.
7 QUESTION EVERYTHING
I realised at a very young age that when it came to certain ethical matters, my compass was very different from the textbook I was reading or the way the teacher was describing the Cold War, stuff like that. I began questioning out loud in class and writing letters to the editor of newspapers. When I found that I could win an argument with a teacher, it made me go, “Hold on, maybe the guy on the news is no smarter than this guy, or has a perspective that is equally invalid.” That really began a lifetime of questioning everything.
8 PEOPLE’S LIVES MATTER ALL OVER THE WORLD
We just had the yearly 9/11 mourning here in the States, very rightly memorialising the civilians who’d been killed, and it’s a reminder of how good Americans can be and how empathetic they can feel. Too often, that empathy ends at the border and when it comes to American drones killing people overseas, we turn a blind eye, we don’t count the dead, we don’t know their names. That is at the core of a lot of evil in the world: viewing people, who don’t look like you or come from where you are, as less deserving of empathy.
9 YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWN
In this rabid consumer culture, the intrinsic worth of a person is not tied up in their material possessions at all. I know some very wealthy people who have helicopters and who have sadness and sickness in their souls, and I’ve known people who are hopeless drug addicts or prostitutes who had hearts of gold and were deeply worthwhile humans.
10 YOU ARE AN AGENT OF HISTORY
The world changes when somebody changes it and injustice stops when somebody stops it. The people who’ve changed the world in the past have no more power or courage or intelligence than the people reading this now. You can choose to stay on the sidelines with your head in a hole like an ostrich, or you can join the countless others who have stood up in their place and time to create a more just and humane planet.