The invasion of Iraq in 2003 launched a surge of patriotism in the United States the likes of which hadn’t been seen since perhaps World War II, and the internet played an unprecedented part in the discourse of the day. Leading the charge was a group of would-be pundits and writers who called themselves “warbloggers”, using their spaces on the web to cheer on every step of the invasion and nearly every decision and strategy committed by the Bush administration. But a small contingent of skeptical, left-leaning bloggers soon emerged and began challenging the government’s version of the truth about Iraq, decrying its financial and human cost. Unique among these bloggers was Roy Edroso, a New York-based writer who began to hold forth noisily on his site alicublog. His near-daily delivery of wry observations and wicked wit gained him a loyal audience and earned him the respect of his blogging peers on the Left, most of whom had have greater visibility and prominence but possess far less passion, intelligence and well-aimed outrage.
Edroso is a superb writer with a muckraker’s sense of justice and a Marx Brother’s sense of humor. In addition to his blog, every Monday he posts a column at the Village Voice entitled Exploring the Right Wing Blogosphere, which features our hero throwing spitballs from the back of the room at hapless, outraged 'rightbloggers'. A website collecting his various work can be found at edroso.com.
In addition to his writing career, Roy spent several years on the New York City music scene, writing and performing in bands such as the Shaved Pigs, Lancaster County Prison, the Rosicrucians, and most notably, the legendary Reverb Motherfuckers.
He now lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two dogs, and is a first-rate drinking and moviegoing companion.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
(more after the jump)
What was your upbringing like?
Well, we didn't have a lot of money, especially after my Dad died -- which happened when I was three -- but I don't think we had a lot of money before then, either. Mom and Dad were working-class. They worked in the factories in Bridgeport, which was a big labor town then. They weren't skilled labor, either. They worked assembly lines, Dad drove trucks for a while, and so on. But in those days you could get by on that kind of work, and maybe if Dad had lived they would have figured some way to move up in life. But he died, and Mom had to raise my sister and me, so we lived off Dad's pension and what she made at part-time jobs.
We got by. We were in a good old North End neighborhood, nothing fancy, small homes. Ours was very small, though; when my sister and I got too big to share a bedroom she slept in Mom's room, and later when I'd come home from college I'd sleep in the basement.
On the surface it was pretty normal. We went to school, had friends, did homework and had dinner together and all that. But Mom was depressed, and what her life had become made her bitter and a little crazy. My sister and I handled that in our own ways. I mainly retreated into fantasy and a peculiar sense of humor
What kind of crowd did you run with as a kid?
I wasn't a social success as a kid. I got along okay with the neighbor kids for a while -- playing with dumptrucks, playing spies and army men and such, until they got of an age to want to persecute weirdos, and it was pretty obvious I was a weirdo. They'd let me play street football and baseball with them, but only because the more kids you had, the bigger and better the game was. But they'd tease me, because it was easy to hurt my feelings and they enjoyed that. Also I was what you'd call uncoordinated, not very good at sports. Unbeknownst to anyone then, I had an adrenal tumor, which made me thin and really nervous and scattered. But given the scene at my house, I might have been that way anyway. Anyway it didn't help.
But like I said, I was in a dream world a lot of the time. I got the idea at an early age that this was going to be something I would get past and leave behind. But it didn't completely insulate me, and I spent a lot of time unhappy.
What sort of influences shaped your growth as a writer?
Well, there's influences, and then there's growth. I don't think the writers who influenced me helped me grow. They inspired me. I'd find something in a writer that I liked and that would make the proposition of writing attractive, sort of heroic, like it was something that not only could be done but could be done great. But I wasn't picky about what inspired me. As a teenager I liked Chekhov and Nathanael West and Dostoyevsky and those guys, but I also liked magazine writing, and junk like the Carlos Castaneda Don Juan books -- in fact I read that whole series, which embarrassed me when I became an adult, much like my owning three Emerson Lake & Palmer albums embarrassed me, especially when I turned into a punk rocker. But looking back from my advanced age I can see now that it doesn't matter whether the fuel that feeds your motor is high-test or not -- it's just got to excite you.
Now what has made me grow -- if I have grown, I'm not so sure -- is just writing. That's it. You just keep writing and with enough time and any luck you get bored enough with whatever shit you're trapped in that you have to rise above it. Or sink below it. I wrote fancy, I wrote plain, I wrote for money, I wrote arty-farty stuff. And there was a long period of time when I didn't write much of anything -- which may have been sloth or some psychological avoidance thing, but I'm pretty sure at least part of the reason was this: I didn't think I had anything to say with writing, so I waited until I did.
Well, the biggest band I was in was called the Reverb Motherfuckers -- what does that tell you? But I had some vague notion of getting somewhere with it. Basically what happened is, I went to New York after college with some idea of being an actor. But then I saw the Ramones, and I thought: Why chase after parts in showcases when you can run the whole show with a band? But first I had to learn how to play! Now, I'd had acoustic guitars as a kid, but I didn't know how to play with people or how to write songs or how to even handle an electric guitar. So I taught myself. Took me years. I press-ganged my friends who could play into playing with me; for years I was that lame idiot trying to keep up at the jam session. I played with whatever lunatics would play with me.
My first band was basically me, my girlfriend who played a Farfisa, and whoever we could manipulate into playing drums and bass with us. I broke up with the girlfriend and started going out with this woman who'd played drums with us -- and I convinced her to play drums in my next band. I had no shame at all.
At that point, what I was playing was kind of old-fashioned rock, maybe a little new-wavey, you know -- tight songs, not too fussy, not too many leads, steady beat. I do think I had some hope that we'd get somewhere with that, because I thought it sounded good. But mainly I was doing it because it excited me, and when you're performing for people -- or anyway this is how it was with me -- what you think is artistic and what you think is fun kind of blur. I didn't really have principles about it -- I was just letting my experience tell me what was good. As long as people were listening to me play it was alright.
But when I got into Reverb, we leaned heavy into the heaviness -- "volume and power," like Pete Townshend says in that interview -- and that just took me right out of any idea of making it in the traditional sense. I mean, we were getting written up in the Village Voice and Option and Spin, and that was exciting, but there was no way that was going to add up to a career -- because we weren't like the Pixies or any of those bands people would be nostalgic for when they got to be thirtysomething salarymen and go pay 70 bucks to see do a reunion -- we were more like the Dwarves or Drunks with Guns, just an outrage. Reverb got to be sort of a kamikazee mission -- we knew it was going somewhere, but it wasn't fame and fortune. I quit when I realized that where it was going, for me, might just be the graveyard, because the lunacy of the band had gotten so under my skin that I couldn't even think straight anymore.
What instruments do you play?
Guitar and bass.
Who have you played with?
A bunch of guys who would have probably been better off playing with someone else.
What is your most memorable experience in the New York music scene?
Huh. As an audience? The Clash's first show at the Palladium. That was the first time I'd seen that kind of legend-begins-here show in New York, where every single person in the crowd is psyched for it and the band delivers. Playing? Some of the first Reverb shows, when we were playing in basements and gas stations and the crowds didn't know what to make of us.
Where else have you lived, and how has it impacted your work?
Briefly Texas, and currently D.C., and I can't say they've done a thing for my work. Maybe my experiences in those places will catch up with me, but so far they were just changes of scene.
What inspired you to start writing a blog?
I'm a crank. I used to write letters to the editor. I'd get mad about something I'd read in the newspaper, and write to the editor, and sometimes they'd print my letter, which appealed to me on an I'll-show-them level. But it was a minor part of my life, much less my writing. Mostly then I was writing stories which almost nobody wanted. My acceptance-to-rejection ratio was off the charts. I don't know what it was exactly, but any sensible person would look at it and think, this guy must be completely talentless or maybe just crazy.
When blogs started happening I thought it was all bullshit -- just online diaries for narcissists. But then 9/11 happened, and suddenly there were all these psychopaths writing the craziest shit on blogs imaginable about how we had to kill all the Arabs and the French and all that. And there were only a few sane people contradicting them. I figured, what the hell, it's a seller's market, let me in on this.
How would you describe your blog?
Letters to the editor, only I get to see all of them printed.
How would you define your politics?
I'm a fatalist. I like to describe myself as an old-fashioned Northeastern Democrat, because I don't have any interesting political quirks that would make me some more interesting thing, like an anarcho-syndicalist. Democrats are nearly useless, but at least with them you get a slightly bigger piece of the pie than with the Republicans. Since we can't expect much more than that from this thoroughly corrupt system, I think we should at least go with the lesser of the two evils, if only because it makes the people who identify with the greater of the two evils cry.
Do you identify with any particular political movement or group?
What would you most like to see changed or improved in the U.S.?
When I was growing up, a working man could make a living and maybe get ahead. Even when I was a young man you could sort of do it. But Reagan basically destroyed that. And since then the Zombie Reagans in both parties have been trying to tell us that the way we used to live is impossible -- in fact, that it never happened, we were just imagining it. Bullshit. I was there, I saw it. And I know it wasn't an Act of God that took it away, either. I'd really like to see all the government's attention turned toward giving the good people of America a chance to live like they used to. Failing that, I would like to see all Zombie Reagans killed with fire, especially if they can feel pain and vocalize.
Who are the writers, performers, film directors, and artists you most admire today?
Well, you got me. I don't have an answer to that. I guess whichever great artist I noticed last. Let me think. A few months ago the Corcoran had a show of Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park paintings that was just unbelievable. So, Richard Diebenkorn. I was going to say Jean Rhys because I read some of her stories recently, but she's dead so she doesn't count.
I guess at the moment I'm not much of a respecter of persons as far as art goes. If someone produces something I like, I'm a fan as long as I'm paying attention. But I don't nurture my feelings for them. I'm frankly too preoccupied with what I'm trying to do to spend time contemplating the greats.
Which politicians, if any, do you admire or respect? Why?
I can't say I respect many of them. I like Obama okay, but face it, he's nothing much -- he hired Geithner, he signed the Monsanto bill, he does everything for the banks and corporations who are keeping the cracked shell of our economy standing just so people won't notice how fucked they are. The best you can say for him is, at the margins, he's pushed through some stimulus that helped some working people, created a national health care system -- which sucks, but the very existence of which will force us to finally get our shit together eventually -- and begun to reverse the whole crazy social-conservative mania that the Republicans have been using as a distraction for decades.
Cliche as it is, I like Bernie Sanders and anyone else who wants working Americans to get theirs.
What accomplishment, personal or professional, are you most proud?
I'm proud I'm not in jail, that I still have a few friends I haven't alienated, that my wife wants to be married to me, that our dogs are still happy to see me come home.
What would you still like to accomplish in your life?
Roy Edroso's Music
On the Cross
On the Cross
My Turn to Bitch