On Dagospia’s 20th birthday, our interview with the uncontainable Roberto D’Agostino
Rebellious by nature, cheeky and irreverent the true face of Roberto D'Agostino
He defies classification, he rejects any attempt to tag him with a label. Probably because, with all those tattoos, he has run out of space. Rebellious by nature, impudent and irreverent, Roberto D’Agostino has gone a long way from being a stuttering kid living in Rome’s San Lorenzo neighborhood. He has “shed his skin” many times over the years, from bank clerk to DJ, music and society journalist, television personality, actor playing himself (in Faccione), film director (Mutande pazze) and TV host (Dago in the Sky, airing since 2016). A “quick-change” master, but always true to himself. And in 2020, the year he turns 72, he also celebrates the 20th birthday of his most beloved creature, Dagospia, a portal unique of its kind, which was also the topic of a lectio magistralis held in Oxford and mentioned in The New York Times and Der Spiegel. A window onto society news and the lives of VIPs of all sorts (Italy’s politicians, celebrities, socialites…. the “rich and famous” who are also regular visitors at his house in Rome), revealing what goes on behind the scenes.
Where was Roberto D’Agostino born?
I would rather say in San Lorenzo than in Rome. On Via dei Volsci, a turbulent street in the seventies, when it was home to a few hot-heads with Molotov cocktails. This neighborhood was more secluded from the rest of city than the Vatican, being closed in on one side by the Verano Cemetery and on the other by the railroad and connected with the city through a tunnel. An extraterritorial place which has always played by its own rules.
And what was it like to grow up in such a neighborhood?
When I was a kid, the San Lorenzo area had not been rebuilt yet after the 1943 bombing raids. My friends and I used to play among the rubble. But there was this chemistry that you couldn’t find elsewhere.
Then the Beatnik philosophy tumbled in…
I had a stammer until I was fifteen, so I had trouble communicating with other people- in particular, with girls, which is the reason I asked my mother to take me to a speech therapist- and I threw myself into reading. I read all kinds of books, in particular, American literature. My best friend back then- Paolo Zaccagnini who also became a journalist- and I were intrigued by books that described this far-away world, San Francisco’s youth. The farthest distance was not geographical: while, in Italy, those were the years of political ideology, whether communist or not, Kerouac, Ginsberg and John Giorno explored a very Zen idea of life in their books. We do not have many resources at our disposal, so we can either use them in a destructive way, by attacking the center of power, or in a creative way. That was the beatnik philosophy, which would lead to the Silicon Valley’s digital renaissance. A perspective radically different from ours: it’s useless to behave like Don Quixote, let’s create our own world, our own community rather than striving to convince others to live like us. Do your thing.
Those were the years leading to 1968, the student protests….
Yes, but I kept away from all that. After beatnik literature, I was struck by a “fatal blow” in 1967, when the famous book by Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, was published: it anticipated what has happened so far. People have been replaced with stars. The society of the spectacle would soon bury all ideologies. I was skeptical about what these people were looking for. 1968 was the year I was hired as a bank clerk.
And then what happened?
In 1970, feeling that I had failed as a guitarist, I began writing about music (music critics are all failed musicians anyway…). I worked with magazines such as Ciao 2001 and Rockstar and as a DJ for independent radio stations and at events that we called It’s Only Rock’n’Roll. I wrote about music for L’Europeo. Then, in the early seventies, the punk wave swept through and the various rock tribes, with their amazing look, were born. And so, when I quit my job at the bank and moved to Milan, I kept writing about music but as a society journalist.
How did you start working in television?
In 1976, I performed as a DJ in a show that would become a cult hit, Odeon. I met Brando Giordani and Paolo Giaccio there. For three years, I worked as a writer for Sotto le stelle, a show aired on Rai 1. I auditioned as host for Mister Fantasy, but I was turned down because of my terrible Roman accent. So I kept working as a writer. Then came the Quelli della notte show, with Renzo Arbore.
Have you ever had a mentor?
Many. In those years, certainly Arbore and Boncompagni. Boncompagni was an underestimated genius. I remember when we rehearsed for the Domenica in show, 4 hours to position the lights and 10 minutes for the script. Because television is all about light. He invented the “halo”, in order to distinguish the host from the guests. He was the image, the heart of television communication. And Arbore, with the Quelli della notte show, revolutionized everything: no cast member followed another one, the show was designed to be “horizontal” in order to go quickly from one number to the next, especially in case something went wrong. Which is why the show had such a fast pace and Arbore was the director.
Twenty years ago, when the Internet was still in its infancy, you created Dagospia. How did you get the idea?
There were no Google, no Facebook, no social media back then. Instagram would arrive 9 years later. Perhaps I was going through a midlife crisis- I was 50 years old, after all- but I was overwhelmed by a sense of autarky and, when a few problems with L’Espresso came up, I decided to start Dagospia. And I’ve been sweating blood every day for 20 years.
Your vision of Rome.
Rome is a great destroyer of megalomaniacs. We have the privilege of living in a city which is history and we give newcomers a very hard time. I remember Roberto Benigni once, years ago, at the height of success, passing by the Bar della Pace. Two very excited kids kept calling his name over and over. When Benigni finally decided to be so “gracious” as to turn around and say hello, the two, in perfect unison, blew a raspberry that resounded for a few minutes. That’s the way we are….born to be bastards.