EARLY BACKGROUND - A DISTURBING BEGINNING
Zacarias Manuel de la Rocha was born in Long Beach, CA, on January 12th, 1970 to his parents Beto and Olivia. When Zack was barely a year old, Olivia separated from Beto because of their differences in religious ideals. Olivia moved away from Beto in Long Beach to study for her PhD in Anthropology at The University of California’s campus in Irvine. Beto was a well known Chicano artist, and a founding member of the political art group the "Los Four", who were most well known for their work on the early Chicano mural movement, which included the blunt slogan at the bottom of each of their works "Chicano art existe!" or "here we are!".
In the 70’s, Irvine was a growing suburb of Orange County, about 20 miles south of L.A., which was not a racially and culturally diverse area during this time. It was when Zack began grade school in Irvine, when he met Tim Commerford. The story is that the pair became friends when Tim taught Zack how to steal food off the cafeteria.
In 1983, Beto suffered a nervous breakdown, which resulted in him becoming a fanatical Christian. Strict Biblical teachings became an everyday aspect of Beto’s life. From the commandments, "Thou shalt not make engraven image," Beto interpreted it as a reason to stop painting. Soon after this, he quit the group in which he had helped establish, the “Los Four”. At home Beto became obsessive, and when Zack went to visit him on weekends in Lincoln Heights(an L.A. burrough, mostly Mexican-Americans), he would be forced to faithfully preach with his father for days at a time. The two of them would sit in a room with the curtains closed and the door locked in total silence. The thirteen year old boy would eat on Friday, and not eat until he returned to his mother on Monday. When he was there, Beto forced him to destroy paintings and murals which had established a Chicano identity for him. Eventually, Zack ran away from Beto and permanently lived in Irvine with his mother.
HIGH SCHOOL - DISCRIMINATION AND HARDSTANCE
Zack’s identity crisis continued to haunt him throughout High School. As a Mexican-American, he was victimized by his classmates and teachers. Zack’s gym teacher would often make ignorant and racist remarks to stir him up, claiming that it would make him perform harder in class. Zack reminisced one occasion, "I remember sitting there, about to explode. I realized that I was not of these people. They were not my friends. And I remember internalizing it, how silent I was. I remember how afraid I was to say anything" Zack’s opinion changed rapidly over the period of time which he spent at High School in Ivrine, " I told myself that I would never be silent again. I would never allow myself to not respond in that type of a situation - in any form, anywhere" He is quoted to have said.
The amount of depression in Zack’s early life lead to a bad case of drug usage and teen anger. He was musically inspired by the “Sex Pistols” and “Bad Religion” to take up the guitar. It was during this period in time that Zack managed to con Tim into joining his music class so that he’d have a friend to keep him company. As he got older, the punk and hardcore music scene “Minor Threat”, “Bad Brains”, and “Teen Idles” eventually inspired him to formed his first straight-edge band “Hardstance”. In this High School band, Zack played the lead guitar and vocals.
"...was about completely detaching ourselves from society to see ourselves as... as spirits, and not bowing down to a system that sees you as just another pebble on a beach. I channeled all my anger out through that band" - Zack de la Rocha
In the August of 1988, Zack formed "Inside Out", a band for which he gave up the guitar for to perform vocals. He wrote a couple of songs and formed Inside Out from a few remaining members of “Hardstance”. After a few local pub shows, an unenthusiastic response caused Zack to put the band on hold. Eventually the band became active again the following year, complete with a new guitarist. One of their most aggressive tracks, "No Spiritual Surrender", received a positive response from the hardcore rock scene, after their first show in a Riverside restaurant called "Spanky's Cafe". The hardcore rock group became a popular act at local pubs in both Huntington Beach and Irvine. In early 1990, the group recorded 6 tracks, and were picked up by Revelation Records. By the following year, they released the "No Spiritual Surrender" EP. After the group toured the west coast extensively, they embarked on a US tour with two other hardcore bands; “Shelter” and “Quicksand”.
Towards the end of June in 1990, moments before a concert was to begin in Chicago, guitarist Victor DiCara told Zack that he had decided to leave the band at the end of the tour. Victor had decided to take up a more enlightened life, and become a Hindu Monk (and, as it turned out, to play the guitar in the band Shelter). Zack and bassist Mark Hayworth desperately attempted to keep the band alive, however the chemistry and evolvement between the members never quite recovered. The band collapsed in April of 1991.
ANGER IS A GIFT
Zack's Chicano heritage had made him stand out for his entire childhood. He felt for the economically deprived Chicano’s around the country, as he had been reminded of their pain and social rejection for his entire life. Over his teen years, this rebellious tension had grown inside of him. Now at the age of twenty one, he could finally let this anger go. He began to relate to other ethnic social outcasts, such as the black communities in New York. He grew an interest in hip hop acts such as Public Enemy, Run-DMC and KRS-One. Zack discovered that powerful messages didn’t have to be screamed to be effective. After Inside Out broke up, his entire musical career had moved back to square one. Feeling although he had been given the opportunity to start again, he became local MC, and begun freestyle rapping in clubs.
Tom Morello had moved from Illinois to Los Angeles in 1986 under the impression that he was more likely to get a ‘real’ rock band started there. Tom joined Lock Up in 1988 to only record one record then break up the following year. He then became friends with a drummer, Brad Wilk, who had previously auditioned for Lock Up. Tom first saw Zack with some of his friends freestyling in a club, however the PA system was so bad that he couldn’t hear what Zack was on about. Tom had an urge of curiosity to find out why this man was so angry. Later on that night, Tom introduced himself to Zack and they got talking. Tom flicked through Zack’s lyric book, and decided that it was time to call Brad.
With the intention of experimenting with the two genres of rock and rap, Zack decided to contact his old school friend Tim Commerford. At the time, Tim was into rap acts such as Cypress Hill and NWA. He was perfect for the position in the new group. Named after an old Inside Out song, “Rage Against The Machine” was formed between October and November of 1991.
The rest is history.
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