Remember When RATM’s Tim Commerford Raged Against Limp Bizkit at the VMAs

Awards shows tend to be rather predictable affairs with the glamour, performances, and often rote speeches one would expect. Television producers don’t like surprises unless they are entertaining, and even then that can make them nervous. A lot of “unpredictability” is staged. But sometimes a monkey wrench, or a set-climbing bassist, can gum up the works. As it did in September 2000.

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At the time of the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, the nu metal movement was at its peak, and in the Best Rock Video category an interesting showdown was set up. Among the nominees were Creed, Kid Rock, Korn, and Metallica. There was also the face-off between political insurgents Rage Against the Machine and nu metal buffoons Limp Bizkit. They represented opposing ideologies.

Rage’s video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” was helmed by director Michael Moore. He brought them down to the New York Stock Exchange for a protest concert outside of the building. Their concert drew fans, including some Wall Street types, and police who eventually shut down the event. They were particularly displeased with frontman Zach de la Rocha leading some fans into the building, which was shut down for approximately 15 minutes. These scenes were intercut with news footage of other protests along with a parody of game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, called Who Wants to Be Filthy F#&%ing Rich?, in which contestants failed to properly answer questions about wealth inequality in the world.

Limp Bizkit’s video focused on a band performance along with fans dancing, posing and lip-synching to “Break Stuff.” The song was simply about a person threatening to explode out of pent-up rage from their everyday life. The clip featured cameos from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Jonathan Davis, and Pauly Shore.

Both were heavy tracks represented venting and frustration. One was obviously smarter and more interesting than the other. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which.

Taking Matters into His Own Hands

Rage bassist Tim Commerford felt confident their clip was going to win the Best Rock Video category. And when it was announced that “Break Stuff” was the winner, he decided he was going to take matters into his own hands. Against the advice of de la Rocha and Rage guitarist Tom Morello, he walked over seats, got on stage, and climbed up a set piece that looked like a combination of the headpiece and the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Ironically, it featured digital ticker tape-like displays that could make one think of Wall Street. It hung over the podium where Fred Durst and his band were accepting the award.

Then the guys in Limp Bizkit started a chant of “Jump! Jump!” that was echoed by many in the crowd. Commerford initially thought they were calling his name, but then he realized he was wrong. Durst declared on stage, “This guy is rock and roll. He should be getting the award.” But he (predictably) followed up with, “This guy’s a pussy because he won’t jump.”

Commerford shook the structure in hopes that it would fall over, but it did not. Police tried to get the defiant bassist to come down. Eventually, they pulled him down and forcibly dragged him away. MTV staff also ejected his bandmates.

When later interviewed by Carson Daly at the event, Durst was unfazed and amused. Kid Rock chimed in, “Is it for world peace? World poverty? What are we fighting for?” In fact, Commerford did not mention why he was up there.

Drummer Brad Wilk later told MTV News: “To be honest with you, I thought it was a beautifully honest act of frustration.”

In 2015, Commerford recalled the event to ESPN Radio: “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 versus 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 climbing up that structure and I’m gonna sit there like a f—ing gargoyle and throw a wrench in this show.’ And he’s like, ‘Tim, follow your heart.’”

Internal Friction

One can understand Commerford’s annoyance. Since the dawn of the ‘90s, Rage Against the Machine have been espousing their far left politics—not that everyone got that—and sought change in the capitalist system that they felt was oppressing America. The group had built up a hardcore following, and their combination of hip-hop and heavy rock, along with bands like Korn and Pantera, paved the way for the nu-metal movement of the mid- to late-’90s. But it is pretty likely that Rage never had low brow bands like Limp Bizkit in mind. (Commerford has even apologized for inspiring them.)

A month after the VMAs incident, de la Rocha departed Rage Against the Machine. In a statement, he said, “I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed. It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal. I am extremely proud of our work, both as activists and musicians, as well as indebted and grateful to every person who has expressed solidarity and shared this incredible experience with us.”

The MTV stunt was not the only thing that and caused internal friction. The group had reportedly gone through three managers in the previous year.

The remaining Rage members formed Audioslave with Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and released three albums with him. Rage reunited in 2007 and toured intermittently through 2011. In 2016, Morello, Commerford, and Wilk united with with Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill to form Prophets of Rage. They toured and played each other’s songs.

After delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, Rage reunited for a U.S. tour in 2022. It was cut short due to a de la Rocha rupturing his achilles tendon. European and UK tour dates were canceled.

Rage Against the Machine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Ice-T in November 2023. Morello was the only one who attended. He accepted the award and gave a speech. In January 2024, Wilk announced to the press that Rage would never tour again.

But in rock and roll, never say never. And never say never to wild stunts. Those often stayed burned in people’s brains as much as the music.

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Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

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