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David Rovics

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David Rovics (born April 10, 1967) is an atheist American indie singer/songwriter and grassroots political protestor of Jewish descent. His music is most accurately described as protest-folk and concerns topical subjects such as the 2003 Iraq war, anti-globalization and social justice issues. Rovics is an outspoken critic of not only George W. Bush and the Republican Party, but also figures like John Kerry and the Democratic Party as a whole. He is vocal on these subjects on stage, radio shows and in press releases.

Although most of Rovics' work is fully-copyrighted and commercially-distributed, Rovics has made all of his recorded music freely available as downloadable mp3 files from his personal page on He encourages the free distribution of his work by all non-profit means to promote his work and spread political messages, and speaks out against websites or programs like iTunes that charge money for downloading his songs, deeming a price of 99 cents per song as "too expensive". Rovics has also advocated the performing of his songs at protests and demonstrations and has made his sheet music and lyrics available for download to this end. It is worth noting that this means of promotion contains elements of the copyleft licensing scheme.

Although Rovics is not strongly associated with any particular political or ideological movement, his lyrics and recorded interviews encompass a wide range of left-wing, humanitarian interests. He has suggested a commonality or synthesis between these varied ideologies in several of his radio interviews, and cites his music as a means to disseminate these ideas. His provocative and catchy lyrics bring to mind a modern-day Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs.


David Rovics was born in New York City. His family moved to Wilton, Connecticut when he was young. Rovics was politically inspired during his adolescence by his experiences with the conservative-oriented, Christian milieu of his home town. His parents, both classical musicians[1] and educators, were liberal in their outlook. Perhaps for this reason, Rovics became a hippie, and while in his teens he acquired interests in nuclear disarmament, vegetarianism and other counterculture issues. Rovics, is ethnically Jewish and an atheist.

In 1985, Rovics enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana but did not finish his studies and moved to Berkeley, California. He worked in varied occupations, including as a cook, barista, secretary and typist, while pursuing his musical interests as a street and subway performer and in small clubs and bars. He immersed himself in leftist counterculture and made contact with other songwriters and performers on the underground circuit.

By the early 1990's he was a full-time busker in the Boston subways.[2]

On May 1, 1993, Rovics was involved in a traumatic incident in which a close friend was shot dead after intervening in a gang shoot-out. This was a turning point in his life, forcing him to concentrate on his songwriting career, initially as a means of dealing with the grief over his friend's death. He had already amassed a fair collection of lyrics and songs by that time, but his own admission, his compositions prior to this time were inferior and "preachy," and none were used in his later albums.

From around the mid 1990s, Rovics has spent most of his time on concert tours around the world.[3] In 1996 he self-released his first album, Make It So, which consisted mostly of covers of other artists’ songs. He released his second cover album in 1998. He produced a series of five original song albums between 1998 and 2003 as self-release titles. The album Who Would Jesus Bomb? was entirely distributed in mp3 format over the Internet and had no commercial release, although it was included in a later "best of" album.

Rovics is a Wobbly- a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. “In that Wobbly tradition of sharp social commentary, David is a master.” — The Industrial Worker.

Rovics is polyamorous, and one of his earlier works, the Polyamory Song, is a song about polyamory which earned him a small but dedicated fan base among other polyamorists. Some of his more recent songs continue to make reference to being in love with more than one person.

In 2003 Rovics signed up to Ever Reviled Records and produced a studio album, Return. Later that year, he released Behind The Barricades: The Best Of David Rovics in association with AK Press, including titles from his earlier self-releases which met with minimal commercial success. He has since released the Songs for Mahmud album as a self-release in association with Ever Reviled Records. Despite being the sole performer in most of his work, he usually describes himself only as a songwriter.

Although Rovics' work has never met with great commercial success, it has been critically acclaimed in the press[4] and continues to be popular with a small yet widespread base of fans with similar political interests, as well as supporters of internet file sharing.

These days Rovics tours regularly on four continents, playing for audiences large and small at cafes, pubs, universities, churches, union halls and protest rallies. He has shared the stage with a veritable of who's who of the left in two dozen countries, and has had his music featured on Democracy Now!, BBC, Al-Jazzeera and other networks. His essays are published regularly on CounterPunch and Truthout and the 200+ songs he makes available on the web have been downloaded more than a million times.[5]

Rovics currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his family[6] and has a daughter, Leila, who was born in 2006.[7]

Political activism

In an interview article with the Baltimore Independent Media Ccenter entitled “Inspiring the Troops” Through Music,[8] David Rovics said:

"...when I first started writing any songs that were any good I had already become very much involved with activism and wanting to talk about what was happening in the world. But when I first started writing songs, I wasn’t writing political songs..."[9]

"I say, that I’m not really hardly at all involved with the folk music scene and I don’t play for the folk music audiences so much and shows don’t get booked by the folk music presenters. Everything I’m doing pretty much in the activist scene. I find that when folk music aficionados come to my shows that they usually like it. I think I could be doing fine in the folk scene if there was enough interest there for more people to be booking shows. The interest in the kind of music I’m doing is almost entirely in the activist scene, which is fine..."[10]

"If you look at it – take a real cursory glance of the world around you we see that pretty much every institution out there uses music in one way or another. Every corporation uses music to sell their products. The military uses music to inspire their troops. I use music for my troops. It’s the same basic function that music is playing. You know, even from a capitalist perspective you could say it’s used to sell products and to foster – in the military for example, that people are working together – that they’re part of the same thing, that they’re sticking up for each other. That’s what we’re using music at marches and rallies. It’s to inspire the troops. And in other settings it’s to educate people about things that are happening and to talk about it in a way that hopefully might be more memorable than a speech..."[11]

"Yes, to communicate to people on an emotional level. And perhaps even a spiritual level and reach them in a way that people don’t often get reached by other means. And it’s just one of many means of communication, but I think it’s a an important one and when we have events, whether they’re protests or educational events or whatever, the events that have music and food at them are so much different from the ones that don’t. Everyone, whether or not they’re conscious of why they come out of those events inspired and feeling like they’ve learned something and they’re going to do something with that knowledge – that’s the difference between even a really good speaker, they’re still – are not really pessimistic but good educational optimistic speaker – there’s still something missing compared to when you hear that speaker and you sing a few songs before or after – preferably after I think because then you leave on a feeling on more togetherness and optimism even when the songs are not particularly optimistic. There’s something about music that makes people feel optimistic..."[12]

Opinions on file sharing

David Rovics supports file sharing of his own work. "Feel free to download these songs. Use them for whatever purpose. Send them to friends, burn them, copy them, play them on the radio, on the internet, wherever. Music is the Commons. Ignore the corporate music industry shills who tell you otherwise. Downloading music is not theft, you're not hurting anyone, I promise. (And in any case, yes, this is legal, and I'm making all of these songs available myself.)" [13]


Self-release unless noted otherwise.

  • Make It So (1996)
  • Pay Day at Coal Creek (1998)
  • We Just Want the World (1998)
  • Live at Club Passim (2000)
  • Living In These Times (2001)
  • Hang A Flag In The Window (2002)
  • Who Would Jesus Bomb? (2003)
  • Return (Ever Reviled Records, 2003)
  • Behind the Barricades, the Best of David Rovics (AK Press/Daemon Records 2003)
  • Songs for Mahmud (Ever Reviled Records, 2004)
  • Beyond The Mall (2004)
  • For the Moment (Yoyo Records 2005)
  • Waiting For The Fall (2005)
  • Haliburton Boardroom Massacre (2006)
  • The Commons (2008)
  • Ten Thousand Miles Away (2009)



  7. ZNet - The Soundtrack to Protest: An interview with David Rovics by Matt Dineen, September 2006
  8. Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
  9. Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
  10. Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
  11. Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
  12. Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
  13. David Rovics SoundClick Page

Further reading

External links

  • Official website. Additional information, huge collection of free mp3s, sheet music and links.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at David Rovics. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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