Tom Morello talks Chris Cornell, Rage Against the Machine’s first gig ahead of new book

Guitarist, songwriter and political activist Tom Morello has lived a fast-paced and fascinating life.

He’s been in bands including Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage and The Nightwatchmen, and he even joined Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for a while. He’s toured the world many times over, played on 19 studio albums and is currently working on his 20th. Harvard-educated, he’s spoken at protests for human rights and is a virtuoso at shutting down trolls on Twitter.

Now, the 56-year-old musician reflects on his life and career in a hardback photo memoir entitled “Tom Morello: Whatever It Takes,” which will be published Oct. 27.

“I have been thinking about doing this for a while, and in my life as a musician and as an activist, it’s a pretty bizarre mosaic going from heavy metal bands at Harvard University to being a folk troubadour on the front lines of protests around the world,” he said during a phone interview in which at one point he was scolded by his school-aged children for being too loud for their at-home Zoom school sessions.

“I’ve also had the good fortune to be in bands with tremendous vocalists and frontmen like Zack de la Rocha, Chris Cornell, Bruce Springsteen and Chuck D and B-Real. On a day-to-day basis, I’m just living this life, but when I began assembling this it was so diverse in both musical experiences and political activism.”

Morello dug deep into his own archives for photographs and memorabilia. The book includes handwritten notes, song lyrics, setlists from important shows, photos and behind-the-scenes stories. He decided to publish it all, even the embarrassing photos of wild hairstyles and questionable fashion choices.

However, he is not at all ashamed of the photos that show him playing the French horn or dressed up like Alice Cooper.

“Those are actually the ones I’m most proud of,” he said with a laugh.

One of his favorite photos in the book is a faded picture of him sitting proudly on his mother’s very ’70s-looking print couch, holding up the program from a 1977 Kiss concert at Chicago Stadium and displaying a look of pure joy on his face.

“It was a revolutionary moment,” he said. “That was a time when rock was more mythic. Nowadays, on your favorite musicians’ Instagram feeds, you can know what sort of shrimp they’re tasting today. Back then, there were these rumors of a band like Kiss. Like they spit blood — and did the guy really bite his tongue at every gig? Even though my seat was behind a pole at that first concert, it still made me a lifer.”

He’s also held on to every guitar he’s ever had. His first was a $50 Kay guitar that he bought in a shop in his hometown of Libertyville, Illinois, and the store clerk mocked him for it. He has guitars he’s put more than 20,000 hours of playing time on and other special ones, including his famous “Arm The Homeless” Rage Against the Machine guitar and the “Soul Power” guitar he used in Audioslave.

“The ‘Whatever It Takes’ guitar that I use in The Nightwatchmen has been at hundreds and hundreds of barricades at protests and marches, and it still smells like tear gas to his day,” he said.

After his L.A. rock band Lock Up broke up, Morello founded Rage Against the Machine with De La Rocha in 1991. The book dives heavily into the early days of the band, which went on to become one of the biggest and most influential rock acts of the ’90s. The group disbanded in 2000 but briefly reunited in 2007 before going on hiatus again.

Though fans were calling on the politically fiery quartet to reunite in 2016 during what turned out to be a contentious election year, it didn’t happen.