The week before Occupy Boston changed Chris Faraone’s life, grassroots revolution was already on his mind. Faraone, who covers rap music and social injustice for the Boston Phoenix, had filed a 2000-word story about a progressive group called MassUniting, which had organized a series of flamboyant protests against Bank of America; Faraone called the group’s efforts “a multilateral attack for the ages,” and left readers with the definite sense that the best was yet to come. Three months later, with the Occupy movement a worldwide phenomenon, the story seems less a prediction than a prophecy. “You can tell when shit’s goin’,” says Faraone. “Sometimes it’s just in the air.”
Over the past few bleary-eyed months, with little concern for health, nutrition, or REM cycles, Faraone has spent almost every waking hour honing his insight into America’s economic counterculture. He has covered Occupy like a one-man swarm: embedding full-time at Boston’s Dewey Square encampment; visiting other movements around the country; juggling feature stories, blog posts, radio spots, and Twitter fights. The recent eviction and dispersal of the Occupy Boston HQ turned into a marathon two-day reporting session interrupted only by a three-hour nap and a French Dip sandwich. “I’ve stayed up twenty-four hours in the past couple of weeks more than I ever have in my life,” he says. “I’m so used to holding my piss at this point that I forget to go.”
Faraone, thirty-two, is short and bearded, with the sort of aggressive, open-hearted personality well-suited for bar fights, foxholes, and city rooms. A former graffiti artist, he speaks in short, colorful bursts that illustrate his familiarity and frustration with the state of things. He carries himself as if he is forever rising to challenges that nobody expects him to meet. “People think I’m not capable of anything,” he says. “I wear a hat, I drink a lot, I always smell like weed—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” He is not exaggerating.
Though born into a literary family—his father, an armchair neuroscientist, wrote a seminal book on hugging—he was an unlikely candidate for the ink-stained life. After an unfocused early twenties marked by dead-end jobs, legal troubles, and a stint as “the fucking dumbest kid at the New School,” he landed in Boston in 2004, determined to pursue a nascent interest in journalism. He soon found work at the Weekly Dig, a witty, shambolic local paper that, at the time, was a hub for those writers too smart, caustic, or ragged to thrive anywhere else. “They once had an eighty-year-old intern. That’s just the sort of place it was,” says Faraone. “They had an eighty-year-old guy sitting in the corner, getting drunk.”
In 2008, after a series of editorial changes ripped the heart out of the Dig, he followed many of his colleagues to the Boston Phoenix, the city’s major alt-weekly, where he’s been ever since, covering prisoners, protesters, and others who have given their lives to rebellion. He writes frequently about rap music, a lifelong passion. (His first printed piece was an aggrieved letter to The Source, berating the editors for running three separate cover packages on Master P.) On his right forearm, an intricate tattoo honors his hip-hop influences: the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and the show Yo! MTV Raps. His left arm is adorned with an old Royal typewriter and blank pages running up to the hand. “It’s a way of telling myself that I’ve got to do this shit,” he says.
When, on the last day of September, Occupy set up camp in Dewey Square, a small, oblong park across from Boston’s main train station, he was ready, even if the Phoenix wasn’t. “If you’re a fuckin’ alt-weekly, and you’re not covering Occupy, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. It’s a lens on all the stories you should be covering,” he says. “I’d be damned if I was going to give them the opportunity to say that we’re not going to cover this.”
For most of this autumn he was a permanent fixture at Dewey Square, reporting, blogging, Tweeting, and knocking heads with quarrelous protesters. His diligence has made him one of the few reporters who, rather than idealize or scapegoat the Occupy movement, has seen for what it is—a disparate group of generally well-meaning individuals who are alternately and at once inspiring, obtuse, galvanic, and ridiculous.