8 May 2008
Articles | Interviews

Interview: Eugene S. Robinson

Oxbow frontman Eugene S. Robinson once killed a dog. He killed a dog. Now he’s got an audio book out and it’s called Fight.

Words Jeremy Allen
Photography J. Bennett

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Eugene “I’m incredibly patient. Patience is one of my few virtues. I’ll typically give a guy two or three chances. It’s a rare day that you show up, pull your cock out and go, ‘Showtime!’”

You may spray the expression badass motherfucker around like Alan Titchmarsh with a nozzle pointed at his greens, but few are more badass than Eugene S. Robinson, frontman of experimental noise rockers Oxbow, writer and Ultimate Fighter. His book Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ass-Kicking But Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked For Asking, now a audio book, does exactly what it says on the CD case. Eugene has a great mind, and he’s designed for annihilation too.

The day I’m meant to interview Eugene he’s in the woods, no doubt running around with a bear strapped to his back. He has no mobile signal.

“GOD FUCKIN’ DAMN IT! I hate forgetting stuff. It’s a precursor to Alzheimer’s.”

Now 45, he says he has to work hard, “otherwise I would have to accommodate the rest of the world.”

So when was the last time you had a dust up, Eugene?

“That would have been in Portland, Maine. That was great. The guy was just out of his fucking depth. I was the only black guy there so he thought, ‘Fuck it! Easy target.’ I looked small because it was a big curb. And it was a great moment for me when I stepped up onto the sidewalk and I could see the guy’s face drop, which actually made me angrier than anything. I was really disappointed that the courage of his convictions would not carry him through this moment.”

But Eugene has his nice side. He’ll give you three chances before splitting your face open.

“Recently, I was in a bar and a guy comes up to me and says, ‘YOU’VE BEEN ON THAT STOOL FOR FIVE HOURS!’ This critique would have made sense had we been in a dance club. It was a bar and I was in there to watch a fight. The guy says, ‘Fuck that!’ But my patience was not wearing thin. This went on for four minutes and the guy fucked off. Averted.”

Does Eugene ever concern himself that living his life fighting, making his living from fighting, is just not the hippy way? Does he regret the path he’s taken or worry about justifying his actions to himself?

“You might find this hard to believe, but I have very few moments of doubt about anything,” he says. “It’s disturbing the lack of regret I have about the things I’ve done. It leads me to believe there might be a strong possibility I’m a sociopath.”

Sociopaths are not too clever at relating to people, whereas Eugene is hugely erudite for a man who has been beaten around the head many times. Lazy journalists have compared him to the boring body fascist Henry Rollins.

“I think I’m better,” says Eugene. “Our lives are different. Rollins, for better or worse, has been a famous guy since he was 18. His worldview has been affected by his success. I have been largely unsuccessful.” He laughs, and his cackle is infectious. “In many endeavours, I have failed, so this has affected my worldview.”

Oxbow is no failure.

“Oh good, I’m glad you like it. That’s you and about 900 other people, ha ha ha! People are like, ‘Why do you do it? Why have you been doing it so long?’ I have nothing else to do! But when the comparison is made to Rollins I think that’s the least imaginative direction people can go. The ‘Black Rollins’ thing… his interests are very different to mine.”

There’s a story on Fight where Eugene beats up a guy and the police arrest not the assailant but the drunk biker buffoon he’s dispatched.

“He chose a time when the cops were there and typically it can be expected in America that, when the cops show up, they’re not gonna assume I’m in the right.”

Eugene avoids chokey by being sober and articulate, but is that fair?

“He outweighed me, and was thinking with his animal brain. In that instance, because I’d not been drinking, the reward went to me. I didn’t feel bad about taking that award at all.”

There’s also some fairly horrendous stuff on the CD relating to knives, very contentious in UK right now…

“This is the thing that got my fucking book banned in the UK. Harper Collins – pages 38 and 39 – they were really unhappy about it. Knives are a serious problem, though. I look at this book as harm reduction. People who repress shit, they end up being the biggest dickheads around. Knives are not a cool place to go, and in America people just shoot each other. The problems with the underclasses are persistent but, from my standpoint, you have to know how to take care of yourself. It’s only people who are scared who pick up guns.”

Eugene is a master at recounting violence, like a modern day comedy Norman Mailer relaying the fear, the blood, the machismo. One classic: his story about encountering a murdering Simon Le Bon doppelganger. “‘Do you mean that Duran Duran look-alike standing there over by the bar?’ The guy telling me was 300 pounds, a very tough Samoan guy… I looked at his face and his face has grown ashen.”

Another: the story about getting a finger up the ass during a conflict that got him knocked out. But Eugene sounds distraught when we tell him we heard he murdered his dog.

“I mean it wasn’t like I was sitting around having dinner and decided to kill my dog. I used to breed dogs and I didn’t believe in selling the runt of the litter, so I nursed this dog back from sickness, though there’s a reason why a dog is the runt of the litter – they’re not right.

“It was a big dog, a 65-pound pitbull. I came home one day and if I didn’t know any better I was thinking, ‘The dog is about to attack.’ It goes for my left hand. At that point it’s shaking back and forth and I can’t get my hand back, so I pull a knife and, you know… it’s a recognition thing. If I pull out a knife on a person, they have visual identification; the dog didn’t give a shit, just looked at the knife and kept tearing away at my hand. So I had to stab the dog about five or six times. Then it let go of my hand and ran off. At that point, I said, ‘I’m not taking a dog to the vet with six stab wounds in it and try to explain it.’ I’m not going to spend three thousand dollars of surgery on a dog that has now displayed itself to be not good around people. So I shot it in the head.

“A bad day. A very bad day.”

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