Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello: ‘I get terrified whenever I play with Bruce Springsteen’

Tom Morello is a big rock star, a member of Rage Against the Machine and leader of his own side project the Nightwatchman. But he still gets more than a little excited when talking about appearing alongside Bruce Springsteen.

“No, it has not really settled in,” says Morello, who guested on the Boss’ new Wrecking Ball project and has appeared with him on stage off and on since 2008, most recently at South by Southwest. “Like I don’t get the least bit nervous when the police pull the plug on a show in the middle of the street. I get terrified whenever I play with Bruce Springsteen.”

[CAN'T GET ENOUGH BRUCE?: Check out our weekly feature 'Sparks Fly on E Street,' where Mark Saleski breaks down Bruce Springsteen's legendary career -- song by memorable song.]

Morello made two guest appearances with Springsteen and the E Street Band in April 2008, performing an extended electric version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” — a track covered by Rage Against the Machine on their album Renegades. Morello also did four songs, including “Badlands,” with Springsteen in October 2009 at the 25th anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert at Madison Square Garden. He then performed with the Boss again on earlier this month on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

In many ways, the experiences have been a dream come true, Morello told KROQ Radio: “You gotta be kidding me man! Like when I moved to California back in 1986 with the Nebraska tape in my Chevy Astro Van, there was no crystal ball I could have ever looked into that would have said: ‘Yo, one day you will be playing four songs on stage on stage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band at South by Southwest.’”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Bruce Springsteen. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

FRIDAY MORNING LISTEN: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN” (2012): I popped in the earbuds, pulled the comforter up over my head, and pressed play. Nobody could see it but a huge grin came across my face. The drums lead into the Telecaster arpeggios, and then the glockenspiel, and piano, and … and I’m a kid again. This is where I almost feel sorry for the nitpickers. It’s like people forget what the joy of discovery is like, choosing to remain attached to a kind of negative spirit that suits every occasion. Is it a control thing? I guess I don’t know, and certainly won’t spend a whole lot of time trying to figure it out. So press play I did. About ten times.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WRECKING BALL (2012): Thematically, Wrecking Ball is split into two parts. The first half — from the defiant “We Take Care Of Our Own” through desolate “This Depression,” gives the soapbox to the down and out, the people dealing with the aftermath of economic and social breakdown. The title track then kicks off part two, which allows a little hope into the discussion. Springsteen employs many elements both old (protest folk, gospel, an incendiary horn section) and new (electronic beats, samples). There are masterful uses of irony (the cornpone, cartoonish characters of “Easy Money,” thinking crime-laden thoughts but set to such cheerful music), dynamic explosions of emotion (Tom Morello’s “Jack Of All Trades” guitar solo), and gospel tinges as well (the sample of the Alan Lomax-recorded Alabama Sacred Heart Singers that is the underlayment of the stomping “Death To My Hometown,” the entirety of “Rocky Ground.”) Kudos to Bruce (and producer Ron Aniello) for thinking far outside the E Street box.

SNEAK PEEK: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WRECKING BALL (2012): Reports using words like “experimental,” “loops” and “hip hop beats” to describe these songs — while not entirely off-base — don’t mean so much that Bruce has adopted some new-fangled, “hippity-hop, ya’ don’t stop” type of sound. Instead, Springsteen has simply expanded upon, and added new dimensions to the folk, blues, country and especially gospel influences that were always there anyway. Those political lyrics you’ve been hearing so much about are likewise nowhere near as angry as you may have heard. Oh sure, there’s some talk about shooting a few robber barons and bankers here and there. But for all the tension brought upon the circumstances of the characters of these songs by tough economic times, an undercurrent of hope and redemption never lies too far underneath it.

SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, APRIL 22, 2009: Earlier in the day, I had an e-conversation with a writer cohort about the issue of emotion at concerts. I can easily be overwhelmed with emotion in the moment and wondered how I would react last night, given the crazy changes that have affected my family over the last year. Well, there were a couple of times when it was tough to hold back. The first came early, during the louder parts of “Candy’s Room.” My mom loved that song and would always ask me to crank it up during those parts. The second, which did overcome me, came during “The Promised Land.” When Bruce sang “Mister I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man…” it just hit me that I am, indeed, no longer anybody’s little boy. I sort of hoped that nobody would see the tears, but I sort of didn’t care either.

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