by Steve Clem on October 27, 2012

Every now and then I’ll share a tidbit from my past with a friend, and I’ll get a “wait — what?” look from them.

I have to admit I’ve had some pretty cool moments in my 42 years on this planet. Of course the top-ranking moments would be the births of my sons. And yeah, being published in the New York Times by the age of 25 also ranks up there.

But without a doubt, one of the coolest things I ever got to do happened quite accidentally. I wanted to be able to see a rap group from SoCal, Cypress Hill, so I agreed to interview the opening band — some group I’d never heard of.

I wasn’t enthused about it at all. The concert, yes. The hoops I had to jump through beforehand, no.

But I was pulling strings. Although I was a cofounder of the newspaper I was representing that night, I had never written one concert/music/A&E/ entertainment piece up to that point. It didn’t matter. I was getting to see Cypress Hill for free. I’d suck it up and make sure I came across as semi-prepared for the interview. I read an article discussing the bass guitarist’s ability to turn his instrument into a turntable. Scratching with a geetar and such.

I had the hook I needed to do the interview that I didn’t care about. I just had to get it over with, and then I got to go watch a controversial rap group perform songs about things like smoking weed and the like. So edgy!

Sadly, I arrived two hours early for the concert. Because that’s what journalists do. I checked in with the media representative, who took me to a tour bus parked in front of the Iowa Memorial Union. “Tom is the only one available for an interview. The rest of the group is busy warming up with Cypress Hill.”

Despite picking up what the media rep was dropping down, I gladly walked onto the bus to meet this guy named Tom. I walked in ready to get this over with quickly. “Hi. You must be Steve,” Tom said.

“Yes, I am. Hi, Tom,” I replied.

“Tom Morello. Nice to meet you, Steve.”

The next few hours were a blur. I didn’t know who Tom Morello was at this point. And, frankly, neither did he. He and his band were just an opening act for Cypress Hill on the college circuit. But Morello, in my interview with him, and his band Rage Against The Machine, through their subsequent performance, were both about to blow me away.

With eloquence and passion, Morello spent at least 45 minutes telling me the inspiration behind the band, their goals, their mission, and why they woke up every morning. He also apologized that the rest of the group was busy warming up with Cypress Hill. He told me about his upper-class upbringing in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville, and how he was openly rebelling against that. He mentioned that the world wasn’t ready for them. And neither was I.

I headed into the concert as this mostly unknown group took the stage. The smell of marijuana permeated the ballroom of the IMU. Nobody in this crowd was in the mood for anything other than “Insane in the Membrane.” And, like me, they all were about to get woken the eff up.

I don’t recall the details of the concert review I wrote. I do remember that the headline read, “Rage Against The Machine Steals the Show from Cypress Hill.” And I also remember smiling when I saw it in print for the first time. I had stepped out of my normal comfort zone: I usually stuck to politics, editing, signing last-minute advertising deals, and the occasional political cartoon to fill in empty space. I wrote a concert review. About a group I’d never heard of.

But soon,  people across the nation — even worldwide — would know of them. I had nothing to do with that. But they had something to do with me. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

P.S. Has anyone heard anything about Cypress Hill lately?

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON.

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