Night of Rage

I’m from Spanish Fork, Utah. 84660.

On September 11, 1996, the band Rage Against the Machine played a sold out show at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds.

The band was booked by accident. City officials didn’t know who Rage Against the Machine was or the type of music they played when the contract was signed for them to perform in my hometown.

The weeks leading up to the concert were the most controversial and anxiety-inducing in Spanish Fork history. It was as though Satan himself had been invited to give a presentation to the teenagers of our community on why he should be worshipped and parents should be disobeyed. (The presentation would be given via PowerPoint; because Satan is evil. He’d show up to a school assembly wearing a tank top, JNCO jeans, and a backwards hat. Smoking a cigarette like a badass, he’d flip a chair around and sit in it the cool way. That’s when he’d get real and tell us the truth adults don't want kids to hear.)

The Sunday before, a letter was read from the pulpit of my church warning parents to keep their children indoors during the concert. Blinds should be shuttered; ear muffs should be worn; doors should be locked. If needed, your family should hide underneath the kitchen table until the concert was over.

From time to time, these types of warnings were given from my church’s pulpit. Even as an 11-year-old I was used to being scared out of my mind in an effort to avoid things that brought others joy:

  • Don’t watch the Simpsons – it’s animated.
  • The movie Titanic shows a nipple – avoid seeing it as it is sure to conjure impure thoughts.
  • Stop shooting your brother with a BB gun every time you’re down at the farm.

The local news reports leading up to the concert were wild. The fine people of Spanish Fork were worried and scared. A band that actively raged against the machine was coming to our peaceful town. We were expecting riots and teenage frenzy. In one news report, a woman was quoted as saying, “I got a brother coming down with some dogs, and hopefully that’ll scare ‘em away if they decide to do anything.”

My family didn’t have a dog. I felt more than a little vulnerable.

The fairgrounds weren’t too far from our house. When the night of the concert arrived, the typically blue sky turned gray. The moon was blood red. There were rumors of locusts roaming the abandoned streets.

It was terrifying.

As the concert began, I was sitting with my brother in the bedroom we shared. He’s two years older and, for some reason, didn’t seem all that worried about a hedonistic band performing just down the road.

“I bet there’s a sick mosh pit going on right now,” he said as the faint sound of an electric guitar could be heard from a distance. I didn’t know what a mosh pit was, and I wasn’t about to ask. I crawled underneath my bed and began to pray.

As I was seeking safety from a higher power, my brother put a CD in our little boombox and a song I’d never heard began playing. I was used to listening to Garth Brooks, so the sounds I was hearing blew my 11-year-old mind. Crawling out from underneath my bed, I asked my brother over the music, “What is this? It’s amazing!”

My brother looked at me like I was an idiot. “This is Rage Against the Machine. They’re awesome, huh?”

Of course, the concert went off without incident. Everyone made it to school and work the next day. The sky was again blue, the moon was again... whatever happens to be its normal color. And soon after, Spanish Fork banned any concert from ever being performed at the fairgrounds again.

It was the first time in my life I realized adults don’t know what they’re talking about. It was an important night.

It was a night of rage.

(Design: Josh Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)