How Rage Against the Machine Got Banned from SNL for Life

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From day one, there was no getting in the way of Rage Against the Machine letting out their anger in as visceral a way as possible. There were far too many injustices in the world to just roll over and ignore them, and every single Rage album felt like the next extension of fighting against those who keep you in oppression.

That doesn’t always make for the most PC of public appearances, and Rage found themselves in a bit of hot water when they went into 30 Rock for the first time back in 1996, right after their second full length, Evil Empire was released.

Then again, whoever was putting Saturday Night Live together that night probably didn’t do the best job with scheduling, putting billionaire and ex-presidential candidate Steve Forbes as the host, exactly the kind of public figure that Rage were adamantly against, with Tom Morello saying

“We knew that he was going to be making a statement–it was going to be all about how charming to have a billionaire telling these jokes and promoting his flat tax… And we wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to that by making our own statement.”

Though Rage were going to perform, they had the idea of putting upside down American flags on their amplifiers, which was the common way to signal distress. The SNL crew was having none of it though, demanding that the flags be taken off or faced the correct way if they were to use them. 

Rage agreed reluctantly, only to tell their roadies to put the flags back up right before they went on air to play ‘Bulls on Parade.’ With just 20 seconds before going live, SNL producers rushed the stage and removed the flags.

This wasn’t just a slap on the wrist either, as some of the producers came on after their set and escorted them out of the building before they could perform their second song of the night, the equally incendiary ‘Bullet in the Head.’

Rage being kicked out of 30 Rock incensed bassist Tim Commerford, who ended up storming Forbes’ dressing room in the middle of the proceedings, ripping up an American flag and throwing it at Forbes’ entourage.

Morello told the LA Times that “‘Saturday Night Live’ censored Rage, period. And they could not have sucked up to the billionaire more. The thing that’s ironic is, ‘Saturday Night Live’ is supposedly this cutting-edge show, but they proved that they’re bootlickers to their corporate masters when it comes down to it. They’re cowards.”

Even with the new reunion of RATM in the past few years, the ban has still remained in effect to this day, with the band never being invited back to play.

They may not have gone quietly, but considering everything that went down during the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire,” the doors of SNL got off pretty easy. 

Watch The Saturday Night Live Performance That Got Rage Against the Machine Banned: