It's not quite the same as Clark Kent slipping into a phone booth and stepping out as Superman.
But when Tom Morello talks about the Nightwatchman, he sounds like he's morphed into a superhero ready to battle Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Miller simultaneously.
``When the Nightwatchman was tapped for this tour to smash globalization and challenge media consolidation,'' Morello says, ``he responded to the challenge in the way that he knew best, which is to sing his songs of bitterness and revenge.''
Morello chuckles. ``The Nightwatchman's all about three chords and the truth.''
Morello is referring to the Tell Us the Truth Tour, which finds the Audioslave guitarist on an eclectic bill with Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Lester Chambers, Jill Sobule and comedian Janeane Garofalo. The tour, which touches down at Berklee Performance Center on Sunday, mixes music and politics like he did with his former band, Rage Against the Machine.
While Morello remains as fiercely opinionated as he was with Rage, his music as the Nightwatchman has none of the sonic ferocity of Rage - or, for that matter, Audioslave. In fact, it's acoustic.
``The Nightwatchman is the political/folk alter ego of what I do in my day job,'' Morello says. ``I chose the name in part to make a clear distinction that there will be no rock-rap, no shredding guitar solos. It's not music for moshing. The Nightwatchman aspires to be the black Woody Guthrie. But he'll settle for Tom Joad.''
Morello's reputation is built on his innovative and aggressive electric guitar work. But unbeknownst to most fans, he's also been writing - and singing - folkish songs in the style of acoustic Dylan and Springsteen.
``If you click on the Tell Us the Truth Web site and click on the Nightwatchman,'' he says, ``you'll see there are about 30 songs in existence that I've played at local open-mike nights in L.A. and things like that. The only guitar I have at home is a nylon-string acoustic. It's what I've written my big-riff rock on. The Nightwatchman takes over on those moonless nights when a haunting is necessary.''
Or when Billy Bragg asks. When the British rabble-rouser invited him to join the Tell Us the Truth lineup, the Harvard-educated Morello jumped at the opportunity.
``With the upcoming presidential election,'' he says, ``the fate of not just the country, but of the world is at stake. People need to be told the truth.''
According to Morello, the corporate-controlled media is doing an increasingly poor job of reporting the truth about issues such as the free-trade agreements responsible for rising unemployment and lower wages. The Tell Us the Truth Tour was specifically designed to open in Madison, Wis., last week to coincide with a conference about the dangers of media consolidation. It arrives today in Miami, where demonstrators are protesting a meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which seeks to expand NAFTA-like free trade throughout North and South America. On Monday, the tour ends, fittingly, in Washington, D.C.
``By unifying the issues of media consolidation and fair trade,'' Morello says, ``we are hoping to draw the connection between bad journalism and bad policies. We are living in scary times. Just a few massive corporations control nearly all of what you see and hear. Ten years ago, there were as few as 50 corporations that owned the media outlets in the U.S. Today there are six. The result is a corporate bias in the media. They will do whatever they have to do to remain profitable, and it makes no difference whether reporters like you are right wingers, left wingers or Debra Wingers.
``As a result,'' Morello continues, ``a story that goes unreported is the other prong of this tour, which is globalization. This FTAA meeting means that a lot of American workers are going to find themselves without jobs, as their jobs flee across the border where there are people who will work for starvation wages, because corporate globalization has destroyed their economy and pushed them into American-owned sweatshops. It's a race to the bottom.''
Morello, articulate and passionate, goes on for several more minutes. Should the Tell Us the Truth audience expect a lecture along with the music?
``The one thing that was important to all of us was that this be a great show,'' Morello says. ``As a member of Rage Against the Machine and a veteran of more than a few political-minded shows, nothing brings the hall down more than having 20-minute speeches in the midst of some great rock 'n' roll.''
So no harangues?
Morello laughs. ``I don't think you'll be able to cork Billy Bragg or Steve Earle or my mouth that long. But the emphasis is going to be on the music.''
Tell Us the Truth Tour, Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Berklee Performance Center. Tickets are $29.50-$35. Call 617-747-2261.
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