22 Years Ago: Rage Against the Machine Bassist Protests Limp Bizkit’s MTV Video Music Awards Win

Once upon a time, tuning into the MTV VMAs wasn’t guaranteed to give you a completely predictable awards show. There was a time when there was a little bit of mystery and danger about what would unfold that night, given the nature of celebrity and ego back in the 90s. This danger came to a real head at the VMAs in September. 7, 2000, which saw Rage against the machine‘s Tim Commerford climb onto the show’s set to protest Limp Bizkit beat them out for best rock video.

The year 2000 represented a turning point of sorts in popular rock music, fully representative of the shift in trends and ideals of the genre. Back in the early 90s, politics and sincerity were at the forefront of the genre. Hip hop would blend with rock music to become a form of protest that allows for actions like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Believe no more, Vibrant color setting the stage for Rage Against the Machine to conquer. Rage’s message gave listeners the tools to incorporate politics into their daily lives, making big ideas easily digestible. It transmitted a level of anti-authoritarianism usually reserved for hardcore punk bands into the mainstream, allowing them to become one of the most relevant acts of the 90s.

For many, nu-metal marked a noticeable shift in message, retaining the angst but shedding its politics. Limp Bizkit were the genre’s poster children with a front man Fred Durst as the perfect target for criticism. Although there is a level of satire of ultra-male bravado in Limp Bizkit’s work, Durst would ultimately blur the lines between parody and reality and become a character.

Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine were therefore two sides of the rock music coin when the VMAs rolled around in 2000. Rage’s video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” was directed by documentarian Michael Moore, and showed the band performing outside the New York Stock Exchange as police officers try to stop them and the tension forced the building to shut down. The footage for the live performance was interspersed with a parody of Who wants to Be a Millionaire, adds darkly humorous facts about inequality in the world. The highly political video faced Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”, which featured a number of Limp Bizkit fans talking about the lyrics to the song, along with celebrity cameos.

In an interview years later, Commerford spoke about the event, saying, “We were up against Limp Bizkit, one of the dumbest bands in the history of music. We’re up against them, and their singer made the video. So it was Limp Bizkit vs. Rage, Fred Durst-directed video vs. Michael Moore And I’m sitting there with Michael and I’m like, ‘Hey man, if that camera doesn’t come over here, I’m going to climb that structure and I’m going to sit there like a gargoyle and throw a wrench into this show .’ And he says, “Tim, follow your heart.”

The ascent visibly shocked everyone present. Onstage, Fred Durst was confused and jokingly yelled at him to jump, then turned around and said, “Anyways, this is pretty phat,” pointing at Tim and saying, “This guy is rock n’ roll. He should win the award.” And then, in typical Durst fashion, he says, “This guy’s a p-sy because he won’t jump.” MTV quickly moved on to the next award to try and calm things down, and hosts Marlon and Shawn Wayans broke it all down. Commerford would eventually come down, and was arrested by the police, and had to spend a night in jail afterwards.

Rage members Zach De La Rocha and Tom Morello urged Commerford not to do so and were disappointed by his actions. A month after the events, De La Rocha announced his departure from the band, saying in a announcement, “I feel it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed. It no longer fulfills the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective it has undermined our artistic and political ideals.” It marked the end of Rage Against the Machine for a long time, with the band reuniting in 2007 and performing sporadically throughout 2011.

Commerford played on Prophets of Rage with Morello, Rage drummer Brad Wilk, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real before reuniting with Rage again in late 2019. Limp Bizkit are still active.. Commerford still has no love for Bizkit, saying“I apologize to Limp Bizkit. I really do. I feel really bad that we inspired such bulls.”

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