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One Day as a Lion Review: Lessons in War for the Green Bay Packers

August 24, 2008

"It's better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb."

These words came to Zack de la Rocha and Jon Theodore by way of Chicano photographer George Rodriguez. His camera lens captured the line tagged on a white wall and that's exactly what One Day as a Lion's EP sounds like--art born out of limitations, a manifesto of war and survival. This project by the Rage Against the Machine frontman and the former Mars Volta drummer is a fist hitting concrete, broken skin and bloody knuckles. Zack is still fighting the same ills of society he always has, but listening to this demo's five songs, one can't help thinking he's a general without an army. The courage to go it alone is what we're here to admire, not the victory or the defeat.

Rage Against the Machine released their last album of original material in 1999, that's nine years ago, and in the time since then, Zack de la Rocha became Where's Waldo, or in musical terms he pulled a Lauryn Hill, doing nothing more than brief cameos while supposedly finding himself in the hills of Mexico, like a contemporary Che, or making a solo disc with Trent Reznor, never to be released. Since 1999, Zack de la Rocha has become a ghost story, floating between legend and reality, but the reality is he was learning the lessons that would pour themselves into the project that is One Day as a Lion.

His lyrics are still highly political and full of animosity. One can only imagine his brain has been simmering to a boil during the eight years of Bush's presidency. The amazing aspect of One Day as a Lion is that it did not happen sooner, but maybe Zack learned a lesson from the President and that is when going to war, do not rush into battle.

The five songs on this demo are the fruits of labors earned in waiting and in watching. Zack's keyboard playing reflects the sonic fireworks he learned firsthand from bandmate Tom Morello, specifically on The Battle for Los Angeles, but the sound here is more straightforward, reflecting the work Zack's done with progressive rockers and dj's Trent Reznor, DJ Shadow, and Saul Williams. All of these artists weave themselves in and out of Zack's keyboard like spirits marching to the beat of Jon Theodore's drums.

One must also admire Zack's subtle efforts to alter his vocal delivery. In the past, the closest he's gotten to singing is a harsh whisper. On the song "Ocean View," he delivers the chorus in a howl that sounds like Chino from Deftones and Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction spawned a child together. This new way of vibrating the voice box may not sound like singing to everyone, specifically my sister, but it still allows new emotional tones to enter Zack's lyrics. When he offers up the line "one day I say today we live as a lion," it's the most hopeful he's ever sounded and is a prime example of why Zack is such a strong frontman.

His greatest strength as a vocalist is his delivery. His passion and anger have always been delivered with such sincerity that he makes the audience believe the world really will be changed through mics and guitars.

Anyone who's seen Rage live knows that when the songs end one is entranced. There's a taste for blood in the air after chanting all the words to "Killing in the Name Of." Hearing Rage's songs in concert makes soldiers out of the audience, and upon listening to One Day as a Lion, it's not hard to imagine these songs doing the same because Zack bared his chest in making them.

The lyrics here are heartfelt. As stated earlier, Zack's greatest strength is his delivery. His passion allows him to deliver mediocre lines, like "tear mics till my voice get raspy/ faced flame for five centuries/ and if LA were Baghdad we'd be Iraqi," with conviction despite these lines making him sound like one of his own, less-talented impersonators. Still, while his lyrics sometimes become as predictable as Immortal Technique's, the last song on the EP "One Day as a Lion" sees Zack venturing into the form of story-telling, the hardest test for an emcee, with the song's last verse:

I heard this cat got life in the pen
crossing sand in the back of a truck bed
twelve deep heard sirens and lights red
was smacked on his dome with the club of a white fed
no food no water no rights read
he came north to keep his seeds and his wife fed
in the middle of the darkest night bled
stepped to the law and said
you a minuteman wait a minute man
talk like that might limit your life span

The One Day as a Lion EP is worth the six or seven bucks it cost. The only major drawback being that at only five songs it leaves its audience wanting more...

(there really is more to read, especially for Packers fans)

The other drawback cuts deeper. I'm typing this review while ESPN shows highlights from the Jets-Giants preseason game, and I can't help seeing Favre without Green Bay as a metaphor for Zack de la Rocha without Rage Against the Machine. Yes, it takes courage to step out into the unknown and not fold, to keep on fighting without the guys one's gone to war with in the past, but no matter what battles either Favre or Zack wages, the results do not matter. People will always want to see Favre in a Packers jersey, and people will always want to see Zack standing in front of Tom Morello, Y. tim. K., and Brad Wilk. Their major campaigns are behind them now. They're now like Patton at the end of World War II, posing for portraits.

Their legacy is what it is, and anything from here is totally for themselves, which in many regards is something to be commended, art for art's sake, and perhaps, if I can accept Zack de la Rocha's new project, then I can accept Favre's. Of course, "they say that in war that truth be the first casualty," which means we can't trust Favre, we can't trust the front office, we can't trust Zack, we can't trust his band, we can't trust the protester, and we can't trust the president, only the soldier and Aaron Rodgers.

Here's to Aaron Rodgers' one day as a lion, the one person to trust in the Great Packer War of 2008.


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