David Rovics

Canzoni contro la guerra di David Rovics

From the official site

August, 2003

After the hundredth time someone took a paragraph directly out of my badly-written bio, making me cringe once again, I finally decided I should update it. I'm going to update it by not updating it, though, because the honest truth is that for us independent artists, these bios are most often written by ourselves, and it's just a really strange thing to try to write such self-congratulatory stuff, and I'd just rather avoid it. I'll try to work some of that in here for whatever it's worth, since bios are supposed to include that sort of thing, but if you're looking for a quote for a press release or something, try using one of the quotes from other people on the main page of my website.

I'll start at the end, for people coming here to find this "who is he" sort of stuff. I'm a songwriter. Most descriptions would hasten to add, a political one, since anyone who writes about something other than their navel these days is generally considered political (due to the entirely deleterious effect of a propagandistic, evil corporate phenomenon known as the "music industry"). I believe music can be more than an escape. It can be that, yes, fine, but it can also be a hammer, to paraphrase Bertoldt Brecht. It can be a tool for selling products on the one hand, or part of the stockpile of ammunition necessary to build and maintain a social movement.

Since the mid-90's I've been spending most of my time on tour, playing concerts around the US, Canada and various countries in Europe. Often for dozens, fairly often for hundreds, and a few times a year for many thousands, at rallies and protests and such. Those big events are inevitably highlights, when so many people come together to protest against the imperialist war-mongers, corporate globalizers, schools of torture, etc. I've had the honor in recent years of sharing the stage with many fine activists including Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Angela Davis, Danny Glover, Desmond Tutu, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Ward Churchill, Jello Biafra, Dead Prez, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, the Indigo Girls, Steve Earle and many others. What a bunch of name-dropping. Perhaps you should think less of me for it. Incidentally, most of the most impressive speakers and performers I've shared the stage with aren't in the list there, and you've never heard of them. (Many of these are on my links page.)

Before I started touring around doing concerts singing my own songs, I spent many years singing mostly other people's songs in one capacity or another, as a solo artist in the subways, streets and cafes of Boston, San Francisco and Seattle and backing up other folks, like Chris Chandler and Robert Hoyt. The years spent mostly as a full-time street musician were invaluable. Getting so much practice, learning so many songs and having so much time to sing, for such a diverse audience, it's all very good stuff. The main down side is the air quality in the subways. In London it nearly did me in right away, that didn't last long. In Boston it probably just took a couple years off my life, kind of like smoking a couple packs of cigarettes each day. But otherwise a great experience.

I was born in New York City (on April 10th, 1967). My family moved to the woodsy and generally very bourgeois suburbs when I was a little kid, to Wilton, Connecticut. There I grew up amongst the Republicans and Christian fundamentalists, with my parents and little sister. My folks were and are still classical musicians, a concert pianist and a composer among other things. They both used to teach at Long Island University for most of my childhood to make a living, more or less eking out a middle class existence in the midst of a generally wealthier and more coservative milieu. My folks were progressive and counter-culture in their own ways, politically and socially, which was of course very impactful on me in many ways. They sent me to a little hippie elementary school, and a Unitarian-run camp in western Massachusetts where I learned about vegetarianism, sex and the evils of nuclear power.

I was a long-haired, pot-smoking, "tune in, turn on and drop out" hippie during most of my teen-age years. Something changed in my early twenties, after I dropped out of college and moved to Berkeley. Living in a city for the first time, I discovered, more up-close, poverty, pollution, old-growth logging and bad urban planning. I also met radicals who were taking action against these things in various ways. I met anarchists, Marxist intellectuals, tree-huggers, and also discovered amazing songwriters I hadn't run into before. Utah Phillips, Phil Ochs, Jim Page, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Adam Benjamin. I started learning their songs, and singing at open mikes and in the streets, while working as a barista, a prep cook, a secretary, a word processing drone, and other depressing occupations.

The single most seminal event in my life happened around that time period. On May 1st, 1993, I went from being a middle-class radical from the suburbs of Connecticut to an aggrieved member of the human family. On this day, in the wee hours of the morning, I was out with a bunch of folks in the Mission District in San Francisco. One of them happened to be my friend Eric Mark. I was so happy to know Eric, and very conscious at the time that he was the most intimate friend I'd ever had, and one of the most beautiful people I'd ever met. There on Shotwell Street he was killed in a gang shooting. His head was blown off by a point-blank shotgun blast while he was trying to protect another guy, who seemed to be the main person the gang was after.

Losing Eric like this was an experience of such grief, nothing like anything I'd ever experienced, and it opened my eyes to the kinds of things the majority-world goes through so predictably. I suddenly understood so much more viscerally the looks in the faces of the Central American refugees populating the Mission. For me, the definition of the word "us" suddenly got dramatically bigger.

I had tried writing songs before then. Wrote lots of them, in fact, mostly really awful, preachy shit. A few days after Eric was killed I wrote my first decent composition (a version of "Glory and Fame," which appears on We Just Want the World). At that time, songwriting became a survival mechanism, my main way of dealing with life. I still wasn't very good at it, and songs didn't come often. It took five years to write the songs on We Just Want the World. But by around '98 they started coming more predictably, due to nothing more mysterious than a combination of effort, practice, and an open heart. And lots of speeches by George W. Bush.

The End, por ahora.


[David Rovics' official Website]

Songs for Mahmud (2004, self-release in associaiton with Ever Reviled Records)
Behind the Barricades, the Best of David Rovics (2003, AK Press)
Return (2003, Ever Reviled Records)
Who Would Jesus Bomb? (2003, MP3-only self-release)
Hang A Flag In The Window (2002, self-release)
Living In These Times (2001, self-release)
Live At Club Passim (2000, self-release)
We Just Want the World (1998, self-release)
Pay Day at Coal Creek (1998, self-release, all covers)
Make It So (1996, self-relesae, mostly covers)

Created June, 1998
Updated August, 2004