The Rittenhouse Review‘s Jim Capozzola died Monday. He was one of only two or three bloggers who could legitimately be considered a pioneer, and there are a lot of posts around expressing gratitude for his generosity and appreciation for his talent.
Unlike the others who are writing postmortems, I didn’t know him personally, I never corresponded with him, and as far as I know, he never had so much as an inkling that I existed. So I wasn’t going to write anything about him, figuring it wasn’t really my place.
Then I read this short eulogy by Anthony Cartouche, who’s subbing for Roger Ailes this week, and when I read the last graf, I realized that Mr Capozzola had after all influenced me in a significant way that I had almost forgotten.
It’s been said that not too many people bought the first two Velvet Underground LPs upon their release, but that everybody who DID buy them went on to form a band. It’s not overstating the case by much to say that nearly everyone who was moved by one of those four blogs went on to start their own. Jim wrote with style, wit, and grace, and he will be missed, here and elsewhere.
I didn’t start a blog because of Mr Capozzola, exactly. Mostly I started a blog because two years on BBS’ had frustrated the hell out of me. When I first came online, it was possible to have a discussion about any number of issues on the BBS’ and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth give-and-take of call-and-response. And I learned a helluva lot from people a bunch smarter than me.
But after the invasion, it got harder and harder to have anything approaching a legitimate dialogue because right-wing trolls suddenly appeared in vast numbers, seemingly determined to hijack every thread on every forum by repeating the same tropes, the same lies, the same arguments, the same fantasies over and over and over again. Eventually I just gave up and tried to ignore them, but the rest of the forum apparently couldn’t do that and allowed themselves to get pulled into pointless defense after pointless defense, knocking down the same twisted logic post after post after post. When I tried to simply float by them and have a discussion with someone who had actually said something interesting, I was usually ignored because that poster was much too busy dealing with the latest troll.
If you want to know what killed BBS’, that was it: the right-wing, pro-war trolls, with their fantasies, lies, and never-ending name-calling. They couldn’t argue on the facts – they had no idea what they were – so they called us names, and as time went on the names got nastier and nastier. At last, I’d had enough.
It was in that irritable frame of mind that I finally decided to find out what this “blog” thing was all about. When I first started scanning them, there weren’t that many to be scanned but of what there were, a few stood out: Jeanne D’Arc’s Body and Soul (now sadly disappeared behind an invitation-only wall to sidetrack the vicious trolls she used to get), Emma Goldman’s Notes on the Atrocities (Jeff Alworth’s seminal blog; you can find him now intermittently at Low on the Hog), and Mr Capozzola’s Rittenhouse Review. (I was never an Eschaton reader because I was on dial-up and Atrios’ complicated page could take as long as 5 mins to load. I didn’t have that kind of patience.)
Those three stood out because the quality of the writing, and the perception and insight in the thought behind the words were of an excellence 2 yrs on BBS’ had never led me to suspect existed on the net. Reading them sequentially was like reading the best literary/political magazine ever conceived, as if some latter-day Harold Ross had rounded up John Reed, Germaine Greer, Jean Genet, and Jonathan Swift and had them all writing in the same place. I was astounded. I used to devour quarterlies (if anybody remembers them) but this was better: at my fingertips, just as good and often astouding, and FREE (a very important consideration at the time – still is).
I had expected the same level of unflashy intelligence and moderately good to poor to gawd-awful writing I was used to on BBS’. Instead, I found myself smack up against penetrating brilliance expressed with gumption, elan, and in unique styles. I almost quit right there. (Maybe I should have, ay?)
For better or worse, I didn’t, and Mr Capozzola was largely the reason. Though I eventually used NOTA as the template for my own first blog, and though I never copied Rittenhouse‘s style or wit in any substantial way (I couldn’t have even if I’d wanted to and anyway, I’m too arrogant, ornery, and self-indulgent for that), Mr Capozzola’s sly humor and easy-going, conversational style – a style that belied the seriousness and depth of his work – managed to convince me that I might belong here after all. He wrote most of his posts as if he was just talking to you, one intelligent, humane person to another. I wasn’t sure I could write (still not) but I knew damn well I could talk.
And so, like countless others he inspired without ever knowing it, I overcame my doubts thanks to him, and started a band of my own. I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to live up to his and Jeanne’s and of course Jeff’s examples. They were my three biggest blogging influences.
Imagine how depressed Jim would have been if he’d known that.