D.C. Diary: Midnight Rage

November 1, 1999
10 p.m.
Tower Records

A small city sprang up around 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue Tuesday night.

Hundreds of fans of the band Rage Against the Machine began lining up outside Tower Records and the collection of shops at 2000 Penn as early as six hours before the group’s scheduled midnight appearance. By 10 p.m., the line already stretched up 21st Street and all the way to Kinko’s on Eye Street. Rage was appearing to promote the release of its new album, The Battle of Los Angeles.

The band has a loyal following throughout the country. Some love Rage for its rockin’ music, some for the anti-establishment message that permeates nearly every one of its songs. Through his lyrics, Zack de la Rocha, the band’s frontman and a Harvard graduate, tells listeners to rage against the machine, or fight the government. The band endorses socialism and decries human rights violations around the world.

GW freshman Mike Hungerford said he likes Rage for both its sound and its words.

I wouldn’t be as much into the music if it weren’t for the message, he said. They’re trying to do something with their popularity instead of pissing it away.

Because of the featured attraction and its beliefs, representatives of the socialist movement and the Free Tibet movement flocked to the event. The representatives passed around information about their causes and telling anyone who would listen about upcoming meetings.

Bernard Pollack, the spokesman of Students For a Free Tibet, was clearly pleased with the attention his group was receiving.

A lot of people have shown a lot of concern, Pollack said, citing the importance of Rage’s message in fostering that kind of public support. The message may have been lost on some people waiting to see the band, including Tara (who did not give her last name). She admitted she didn’t know much about Tibetan Freedom and whatever.

Around the line

The first people in line, four friends from Fairfax, Va., were truly die-hard Rage fans in the estimation of the group’s most talkative member, Jeremy Worley.. The 22-year-old Virginia Tech graduate said he and his friends went to the band’s show the previous night at the 9:30 Club and rocked out in the first row. They got to Tower at 5 p.m. only to find that a line hadn’t yet formed, so they went to T.G.I. Friday’s and had some drinks before starting the line.

While they were first in line, they weren’t sure what they were going to do with their coveted position.

It’s kind of weird to have to talk to someone you’d never thought you’d meet, Worley said. It’ll be whatever comes out I guess.

As the line grew in length, it filled with an increasingly diverse crowd of Rage fans.

I’ve seen every stereotype here, George Mason student Rich Rothery said. You’ll see a guy with a mohawk standing next to a guy with a jock hat.

The members of the line had equally diverse reasons for being there. Fans toted posters, album covers and even bass guitars for the group to sign.

Why not have a great musician’s name on my guitar? asked Evan Dornbush, clutching his white Fender.

Others had less inspired justifications. I’m here because I’m a good friend, said Holly McGillis, clutching her boyfriend’s arm. Another, a man choosing only to be known as Sean, muttered, To do something with our meaningless lives.

Time to go in

It was probably only a matter of time until a crowd of hundreds of Rage fans got rowdy. The combination of the long wait, loud opposition voiced from the windows of several Lafayette Hall rooms, and the untimely distribution of rubber balls to the crowd turned the line into quite a ruckus. Horns blared and balls flew as non-Rage traffic attempted to make its way down 21st Street.

Police on the scene, with the aid of a few imposing fellows in white Tower Security polo shirts, seemed unfazed and in control of the situation. In the words of one officer who withheld his name, the teeming line was a very well-contained potential disaster.

By the time Tower opened its doors, actually getting in to see the band was almost anti-climatic. There was a mad rush to buy the new CD at the front of the store and then another 15-minute wait to meet the band.

Each person got to say a few words to the band as each member signed whatever the fan brought. Some got a smile, a handshake or a short conversation out of the group members. In the end, much of the crowd had just waited several hours for 15 seconds with Rage Against the Machine. And strangely enough, nobody was really complaining.

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