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(Credit: Deep Ghosh)

Music

Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford once waterboarded tennis legend John McEnroe

When the Los Angeles supergroup Future User released the video for their single ‘Clockwork’ in 2014, no one was prepared for what they were about to see. One of the most comedic yet pertinent videos we’ve seen in recent times, it criticised police militarisation and touched on the notion of America being a police state. Brimming with parodies of social media and well-known news outlets, the message of the video was loud and clear, both domestically and internationally, America has a problem with brutality. 

Whilst the song is interesting, it is the video that really catches the eye. It could have quite easily been a video that had surfaced in the darkest corners of the internet and features some pretty thought-provoking imagery. However, the centre point of the whole thing, and the one that really caused shock and awe, was something that no one expected.

Here, we watch former world champion tennis star John McEnroe get waterboarded. For those of you thinking, ‘you cannot be serious’, I really am. I’m not sure what the most shocking thing about this part of the video is, between the fact that McEnroe is starring as a parody of himself in the heavily politicised video or that he genuinely gets waterboarded. Watching the tennis icon get tortured is a truly confounding sight. 

Shot in an undisclosed location in L.A., we watch McEnroe get abducted after a tennis match and bound to a bench and tortured after he dismisses his mysterious tennis opponent with one of his trademark obscene gestures. Don’t be fooled, though, there were no stunt doubles or visual effects. McEnroe allowed himself to be properly waterboarded, with a towel placed over his nose and mouth and all. Allegedly, the steps were repeated half a dozen times over the course of the 90-minute shoot. 

“It’s a pretty powerful clip,” McEnroe told the Free Thought Project. “A friend involved with the project asked if I wanted to participate, saying he was making a video about living in a police state where people are punished for the smallest of infractions – sort of a ‘this could happen to you’ scenario.”

Explaining his thoughts about wanting to participate in the video, McEnroe said: “It seemed like a sci-fi concept at the time, but given everything that’s been happening around us lately, this video could easily be mistaken for an evening newscast. As for what it was like to shoot my scenes, let’s just say it was an experience I’ll never forget. I read about waterboarding and all the debates, and let me tell you from firsthand experience, it’s a brutal and terrifying form of torture. No one—American or otherwise—should ever have to endure that.”

Interestingly, Future User’s songs serve as the soundtrack of S.W.I.M., a fictional, disenfranchised taxpayer who’s tired of looking at the crumbling society from his window. He walks the streets that are scattered with litter, both real and personal, and as this happens, the music of Future User serves as his travelogue. In the video for ‘Clockwork’, S.W.I.M. is McEnroe’s captor. 

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“The St. Louis student shot by a warrior cop. The African-American television producer wrongly arrested in Beverly Hills because he ‘fit the description.’ The homeless man shot by police in New Mexico while ‘illegally camping.’ We watch these news reports with the same emotional investment reserved for a TV crime drama,” S.W.I.M. told the Free Thought Project

The masked vigilante continued: “But imagine how you’d feel if those things happened to someone close to you. What if one of those people was someone you loved? You’d be horrified. You’d be scared. You’d be angry. It’s easy to look at this video and think it was shot over the course of the past couple of weeks as a statement about what happened in Ferguson, but this project was actually months in the making, yet couldn’t be more timely. And that’s tragic.”

Although the video for ‘Clockwork’ is a magnificent statement on the socio-political fabric of America, we’re missing one key thing. The frontman and vocalist of Future User, who is also S.W.I.M., is Tim Commerford, the bass player of politi-rock heavyweights Rage Against the Machine. 

A self-professed “conspiracy theorist”, and politically charged musician, there’s no surprise that the video for ‘Clockwork’ was configured to be so shocking. He’s in Rage Against the Machine, the band that brought stark political themes into the mainstream with their unrelenting and abrasive style.

It’s mindblowing to think that Commerford actually waterboarded McEnroe, but as they say, life is full of surprises.

Watch the video for ‘Clockwork’ below.