When Legend And Facts Blur-An Interview With Eugene S. Robinson
By Dave Wahlman Portrait photos by Kasia Robinson
In John Ford’s film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there is a line of dialogue, “When the legend becomes fact, Print the legend”. Eugene S. Robinson is definitely a legend. He earned that title and the facts are out there to back that claim up. Many people who know who he is know only one element. That he’s the big black dude who is the lead singer of a band called Oxbow and that he will choke you out during a show if you challenge him and he will most likely be wearing only underwear. Yeah that’s the legend. But there is much more to him. Eugene is a graduate of Stanford University, accomplished writer, skilled mixed martial artist, brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, editor at large for OZY.com….the list goes on. He has a skill set and resume most people could only dream of. I have followed his writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen him perform spoken word and live on stage fronting Oxbow (Who have a new album coming out soon). I’ve wanted to have a conversation with him forever now. I knew there was more to him than the obvious well documented legend. I had questions because I wanted to learn about how a man like Eugene views the world. In my eyes, the legend and the facts overlapped. They blurred and created an equation that is singular and unique. Eugene was kind enough to grant me time and patience while I picked his brain on topics like writing, love, music, violence, family, and much more and in the process I got taken to school. I learned some things. I could have talked to him for days because he is the kind of person you can learn from….If you’re smart enough and self aware enough to realize that. And if you come correct because if you know the legend, you know that you are facing a moment in life where you will learn something about yourself.
DW- A lot of times when I have questions, I’ll ask them in a roundabout way, trying to give examples, context, the biggest picture I can, throwing in shit I’ve observed to try to get the most honest and fullest answer I can. So I had 2 lined up to get started. One was simple just to get the ball rolling. The other was more “Wake up Noddy, Popeye’s here”. Then as I sat down to do this, I decided to poke a around for a couple minutes and I stumbled across something that made me laugh and thought forget the rest, this is it right here. What was up with the dude who had the Indiegogo campaign to fight you? I was reading it and he is German and looking for someone to translate his book about Carl Panzram (and in this context…I just laughed harder) into English and yeah he’s done some training but the fuck? I would have paid just to watch you interact with the guy. Do people still show to events up looking for shit? What do you think of why everyone wants to push the metaphorical hard man until he reacts to see what he does? People have been doing it throughout history. And it’s either people who think they have a chance or someone that can only be described as unbalanced looking for god knows what. What were you thinking?
ER- Well the internet has delivered on one promise and that’s an increased and improved and generalized access to just about anyone. So I get interesting mail. This guy is training in Hamburg and an errant thought crossed his mind and given the proximity of his laptop there was probably nothing to stop him doing what he did which was challenge me to a fight. A good natured one but a hand to hand struggle in any case. Like Harley Flanagan once told me, “Jiu Jitsu is what I do with my friends” and so it is here. But violence is like porno….Done poorly by most and unnecessarily by many. Also: Something best left to the pros. No one shows up to shows to challenge me anymore. I think because they’ve understood fundamentally that’s an incredibly pointless thing to do. I’ll tell you we played Helsinki last year and a few fighters came to the show. They corralled me at the merch table and we geeked on the fight game and goofed off with takedowns and so on….Again: What we do with our friends. But as an expression of real hostility? Why bother? I mean it’s like challenging your plumber to a fight. Except I’m a singer. This is a man thing though and I understand it and it comes from a place of need. Mostly to get close/closer and feeling weird about that. OR already being close, and feeling a need to resolve it. Strangely enough I have NEVER gone to a show wanting to fight the guys in the band even if they really deserved it. And for the record I’ve only beaten people in other bands twice. The Misfits for almost killing a kid in the audience who was standing next to me, and some guy in an opening band who during our acoustic set stood right by the stage and talked loudly until I told him to shut his fucking mouth. An offer he declined until it was all too late and I never want people to not know what happened though so I often give at least three avenues of escape so that if it does end in tears we all know why we’re all crying and no one can ever say later, “I had no idea what was happening!” I’m an artist and welcome all who are friends of art. Not so much for those who are enemies of art. But this whole discussion of violence is really antithetical to the whole business of being an artist at least in this context, don’t you think?
DW- I saw one thing in a interview you did and fighting came up. Violence is a fact of life. It happens, cost of doing business. For context, I’m talking about everything outside of a sanctioned fight. My thoughts are once an act of violence is inevitable, are you willing to commit to the path of seeing it all the way? Meaning the end result of emergency rooms, handcuffs, prison, etc. Like dudes in prison, they aren’t all MMA fighters or special operations guys, they are guys who made the choice and committed to the path. Some willingly and some not. I mean anyone with a basic knowledge of human anatomy and a willingness to commit to that path can fuck a person up. Spec Op guys, fighters, they can take a step back, breathe. Others can step back and assess ok I’ll lose some face and walk away but it’s better than the alternatives. And some just wanna see the blood flow. So coming up on 57 years of age what do you think of violence? From on the street to the stage to the mats to the cage?
ER- Violence seems to me to be the inability to accept the inevitable outcome of loss. By, I guess, choosing to gamble it all/double down on a flying chance that things will end up differently. And yet Vietnam is a vacation destination for college students now and Berlin is a kicky place to go for those with some disposable income and a willingness to learn a language (Maybe…I mean English is so damned ubiquitous). The accretion of real consequence usually falls on those who were unwise enough to stick around or who desired to argue the point beyond usefulness. But it’s in your blood and being an opinionated SOB with a loud mouth when relaxing (At base root I’m an introvert and not the lampshade on the head guy at the party in public) I’ve learned a few things. Number 1 being that when you’re at your most relaxed you will be tried most sorely. Because people believe they have a chance. And keep in mind I’m only speaking a man’s language here. From a man to men. Women will read this and think it’s total foolishness since their world is a world of much more subtle measures. So coming up on 57 years of age this August my attitude is still largely…Defend the defenseless…Correct the corrupted…And create fear-free environments insofar as possible. A few weeks ago some street hassle had me telling the hassler that talking to strangers he would find, if he lived long enough, had highly questionable returns if you come with hostility and that he was liable to get hurt. And that I was not talking about feelings. Was I prepared to snuff him to make my point? Of course. But only in the course of defending my right to proceed hither and yon unmolested. I didn’t do it for me as much as I did it for the afraid, the nervous, the undeserving. He declined to continue our conversation and I bid him adieu. Me and the murder I had planned. This is crazy talk I know but there’s a force afoot in the world that will take things as far as they can go and they all start because someone didn’t want to make the unpopular choice of saying NO. Weird superhero shit and really pointless in the long run but if you’ve watched superhero movies one thing should be really clear at this point: From Spiderman to Jesus only a crazy man gives a fuck about “Humanity”. And yet I do. Specifically, my daughters, my wife, my mother and my sisters, my grandson. You’ll notice that this list is absent any men. Yeah….Maybe that’s part of the “Problem”.
DW- So it being 25 years ago today that Kurt checked out, What is the state of rock and roll in 2019? Is it alive? Hiding under the bed? Is it coming back?
ER- Rock and roll? Made for the wrong reasons by, a lot of times, the wrong people. And still it perseveres. To what end though? I mean I’m very clear on music being paint and painting for me. Not blowjobs and beer. But we’re not super popular and those who are, to a person, seem to enjoy it very little. So your question seems to cut to business and market factors and so I don’t really know. I DO know that it’s a very convenient avenue for people like me, for example, who are not especially good singers in a traditional way. But rock, and here I mean all variations of it, probably means more to the people who make it than the people who take it and realistically speaking I don’t believe it will ever be as significant for future generations as it once was for earlier ones.
DW- Ok, let me try to rephrase. I completely get what you said about it being the paint and painting for you. That makes total sense. I wasn’t asking about it concerning business and marketing factors because it just seems like it was here one day and now it’s gone. Yes it is a convenient avenue for the unconventional or else we wouldn’t have what we do. Yes, much is made by the wrong people for the wrong reasons but what you said about it still perseveres leads me more to what you said about it meaning more to the people that make it and how realistically speaking it not being as significant to future generations as it once was. That’s what I personally don’t understand and was looking for your perspective. Why the shift in your opinion?
ER- The shift? Because it’s been clumsily and gracelessly commodified. I mean I didn’t start to enjoy what I was doing until I destroyed any careerist notion I had about “Making it”. Now? Now I’m the most successful singer in the world because I write the words that I sing to music my friends make and we record it and have a permanent record of what we’ve recorded and even on odd occasions get to play shows. So: Success. But how are you going to sell my personal satisfaction to people who just want something to listen to while they wash the dishes? I don’t know. So it all escaped from the barn and what’s being sold is the promise that there’s still something cool in the barn. And the audience is also partially to blame. Guitars cost money, drums cost money. But music incidentally doesn’t cost much for most people and we don’t really ever esteem or honor that which we get for free or nothing. And TV is too good. Drugs are too good. Porn is too good. Lots of other stuff is too good to get people geeked about a specific style of music that maybe, just maybe, has passed its sell-by date. I mean jazz music used to FILL venues. Today? Not nearly so much. But why? Well like they say with suicides: There’s probably not a single one reason.
DW- You know, I’ve had this discussion many times but you really summed it up with “There’s probably not a single one reason.” So how do you feel about streaming services like Spotify? Me personally, I can’t get behind it. I miss the thrill of the hunt, going to record stores looking for albums. I’m lucky that I have friends who have their finger on the pulse and are always throwing new shit my way which is the main way I discover new music. It seems like between Spotify and Bandcamp there is so much out there it’s hard at times to find what’s good. I think Bandcamp is great because it’s a viable avenue for an artist to get out there in this day and age but Spotify and Pandora and their ilk….Something about it rubs me wrong.
ER- My wife is all over Spotify. But she’s younger than me and I can’t get out of my head the fact that the execs at Spotify go to work in Benzes and I never got a check from them and yet they play my music. So screw them. People tell me what to listen to and so I do.
DW- I laughed out loud at that because I came up under guys with the “Fuck You, Pay Me” mentality so I get where you’re coming from and pretty much what I thought you were going to say but had to ask. What are you listening to these days? Also what are you reading?
ER- Right this second I am listening to Pharaoh Sanders, The Creator Has a Master Plan….And I’m reading the third part of Ellroy’s American trilogy, Blood’s A Rover. Before that my newest favorite is Master and Margarita by Bulgakov…I hate myself that I took so long to read it.
DW- Ellroy and I screamed at each other at a reading for that. I asked a question about character development and he just went off. To this day I still can’t figure out why. But you respond to me like that and I’m coming right back at you.
ER- Yeah. He’s kind of an ass and this book is not as nearly good as the first 2. He’s got a schtick. Martin Amis is still my favorite living writer though.
DW- I’ve been following your writing for a long time. What got you started as a writer? Biggest influences? Hardest/easiest pieces to write? This subject is most likely going to sprawl a bit because it’s one of the bigger things I want to know about. Side note- I’ve read enough interviews done with you in the past that…All due respect seem to go down similar roads. You as an individual impress me on many different levels…I’ll freely admit I did not have a set plan for this. My intent was to just get the ball rolling and see where it lead. Only thing I was certain of was to get the conversation started.
ER- Ginsberg once told me dharma gates are endless….So yeah…Here we are! I started to write as soon as I learned to write…So when I was 6 or 7…I wrote my first query letter to a magazine when I was 9. I sent it to Esquire. They actually wrote me back. My mother’s husband, from when I was 6 to 18, was an award-winning journalist but his input was zero and amounted to scoffing and belittling my efforts. A habit that continued through the publication of my FIGHT book, which Harper Collins published and which I think he dismissed with “Yeah…You’ve got a cute little style going there.” This from someone who has published zero books. Now please don’t confuse my commentary for bitterness. I love him and am not bitter about this at all. It is the way he is and is borne out of a frustration with his own unrealized plans I would guess. The reality of it is my audience for my writing has always only been me. And i’ve never EVER needed validation regarding my writing. While my mother was very supportive even this had little effect on me. I loved doing it and felt an overriding need TO do it. The hardest piece for me to write remains unwritten and it’s a memoir, which I am forever being asked to write. But while I pride truthfulness, truthfulness and perception can be deadly. Everything is easy compared to that. and one piece I refused to write…I was on assignment for Feral House Press and it was going to be a chapter in the Apocalypse Culture book but it was about a bestiality survivors group. And whether or not the people were telling the truth it was so unpleasant and unclean that I had to beg off. My kids were small then and I just couldn’t with my new found sensitivities spend any more of my life or time in that cesspool of human shittiness to other humans, never mind the animals involved.
DW- Now your books Fight and A Long Slow Screw are each beasts of their own nature. How did you go about writing Fight? How did you get people like Kevin Weeks to open up (albeit he’s a special case but the one I pulled off the top of my head)? What was your hope for the book to be? A Long Slow Screw always struck me as a Selby B-side and I mean that as a compliment. But you go dark in there. How did you tap into that? What inspired the book?
ER- Mostly I wanted it to read like the world’s longest magazine article. In some place other than the New Yorker. Judith Regan and her top lieutenant Doug Grad wanted me to come to NY to talk about an article I had written for the LA Weekly about fighting. At the end of the meeting she was like “Do something like that ….But as a book”….So it was up to me. But fighting/interpersonal conflict is so complex of a thing, especially if you’re smart, that I was pretty sure it would have to be done exactly like it was done to be any good. In full contemplation of everything it could mean. I was very happy with how the book turned out. I mean I view it as a philosophical treatise and wrote it as such without forgetting the cheap seats. Weeks? With cats like this it’s always “Who recommended you?” and in this instance me being recommended by people with some juice, specifically Doug Grad from Harper-Collins, got him to listen. Especially when he heard about the book I was writing. I mean he’s a lifelong martial artist himself so he could appreciate it from that angle as well. Even if we spent more time talking to him about organized crime. But I hoped the book would not have been banned in the UK, which it was. Harper Collins UK refused to release it there because of the chapter on knife fighting, and them being in the middle of a knife problem. Had it been released in the UK with the proper level of promotion I believe I probably wouldn’t be writing this to you from my day job. I call A Long Slow Screw my New York love letter. But I used to work out at a gym that was frequented by a lot of mafiosi and weirdly enough retired cops. I was 16…17…And even a little bit of being 18 before I came to California and it was so rich in lore that the shit stuck. Delivering it as fiction with, of course, great fictional flourishes was a wonderful mating of reportage and imagination. But I also consider this book to be a treatise. On? On the nature of capital, clearly. Besides that I’ve luxuriated in sunny places for shady people as long as/as soon as I was able to protect myself around said shady people. But there was a big difference from the petty larceny guys I hung around when I was young and the strong arm muscle I hung around in my 20s.
DW- I understand perfectly what you said about writing a memoir. I think for anyone who has had any skin in the game, that’s a loaded gun. Stevie Nicks had a great quote about why she didn’t write one and paraphrasing she said “If I wrote a memoir and did it the way I wanted, empires would crumble”. Interviewing people is fucking strange because I feel there is no singular approach due to whomever the subject. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it’s like passing a kidney stone. How do you approach interviews?
ER- With a take. I mean when I was set to interview Halle Berry I knew very much what I NEEDED to do…And that’s to NOT generate a 20th article extolling her hotness. In fact I wanted to do the interview specifically because I was not a fan and was pretty impervious to whatever charms people thought it made the most sense to talk about. But before interviewing Billy Bob Thornton I actually had NO take as I, in general, dug him. However in the first 5 minutes of meeting him there was so much cool strangeness I knew I had a hit on my hands. So what Ginsberg told me about Dharma gates? And them being endless? Meaning you can find meaning anywhere? I bring that to the process. After that it’s anything goes. Over the years the only interview that sticks in my mind as a horrible non-revelatory experience was an interview with the churlish Mr. Matt Groening from The Simpsons. Just wearying and a drag. No take would have saved that.
DW- What were some of the hardest/easiest/weirdest?
ER- Samuel L. Jackson was hard and weird. On account of his thin skin and a perceived insult (I described his outfit as pretty or some shit like that)…He tried to stonewall me until I asked a mean question that cut to the quick and short-circuited his attempt to fuck my interview. Lydia Lunch was the easiest. And the coolest since at the end of it I very much got the very real sense that we could be friends. So, in other words, it was a real thing happening in a real place in space. And some 32 years later we are. Friends that is. Weirdest? When the my second most hated interview subject happened to, I discovered midstream, have been married to my first most hated interview subject.
DW- Now the topics you’ve written about cross the widest spectrum possible. How do you pick your topics? Has there ever been pieces you could not complete for whatever reason?
ER- I try to, as much as possible, only write about things that interest me. The glorious thing is even if it doesn’t interest me at first by the end if I have done my job correctly I end up being interested in it. Like a piece I had done years ago on municipal solid waste. Shit, in other words. Seems boring. Until you go all freakonomics on it. But I have not finished two articles in my whole time writing. The one I previously mentioned on the bestiality survivors group (People who were forced to fuck animals as part of wider sex abuse) and a totally diametrically opposed piece on this vet in this religious community in Utah. The first I didn’t finish for reasons I set out before. The second? Just got a better paying gig and got way too busy to do it (It was for some Australian veterinary magazine).
DW- I know you must want to do more books. What are areas that interest you? Are you going to do more fiction?
ER- I want to write my California story which will be a novel called “LOVE? LOVE!”….But I’m waiting. Mostly to be able to figure out how to get paid for it. The OXBOW memoir “Death Do Us Part” will be done this year I hope. And the Italian language version of A Long Slow Screw is due this winter as well.
DW- I am very much pro education. And I’ve had god knows how many people tell me I should go to school for writing. I’ve always felt fuck that, writing to me is punk rock and if I can’t teach myself…..Just no. Do you thinking writing can be taught or is just something an individual has in them, either a voice or not?
ER- Well you can only really find yourself open to learning something from someone if you believe that what they have is valuable. So learning to write from someone who can’t write? Pointless. But the best way to learn how to write is by reading great writers. I know some writers who haven’t read much and I always think it shows.
DW- So concerning writing I really feel like I could pick your brain for days but you’ve already given me more than enough to think about for myself alone. To land this line of questions…. Who are writers you recommend are to be read? Need to be read books? And I gotta ask, what advice would you offer writers?
ER- Martin Amis….Have read like 6 of his books and haven’t been able to see the strings yet. I think he’s a genius. Cormac McCarthy started out so well for me….Blood Meridian….then Child of God fucked it all up. But between those I read The Road and All the Pretty Horses. Worthwhile reads. Harry Crews…The Gypsy’s Curse….Body….James Ellroy…American Tabloid, LA Confidential, The Cold 6 Thousand….New writers? Adam Smyer’s Knucklehead….Great book…Djuna Barnes…Knut Hamsun….Used to LOVE Ishmael Reed…And then sadly met him in person and he was an asshole…But Yellow Back Radio Broke Down…Great book even if I didn’t the title exactly right…. And advice to writers? Strip yourself and deliver YOU unto wholly unguarded moments of clear and descriptive story telling that means something in an immediate way the way things you FEEL mean more to you a lot times than things you THINK. Actually….This is what it should say…. “The way things you feel mean more a lot times than things you think.” And Anton La Vey once told me “Popularity has killed more people than anything”…And this has resonated with me over the years. I mean the compulsion to be liked will ruin your writing for sure.
DW- Fuck dude….OK….In 2005 you wrote a thing about steroids for Vice which I read a long time ago and did re-read for this. I also saw you wrote a piece for Ozy on the subject and spoke about it on the podcast. I have not read or listened to either of those. Now full disclosure, I use them. I got as educated as possible on the subject from guys in the game long enough to know what’s what not to mention lots of research. I’ll also say sex with a woman who’s using them is fun as a motherfucker as long as you don’t mind the giant clit which I don’t. Now in that article back in 2005 you say they rule. 14 years later, do they still rule? There is so much misinformation out there that I want to know the thoughts of someone with the level of education you have.
ER- Yeah, the giant clit weirds me out and so I’ve managed to not tarry with any women users. But 14 years later they’re a non-factor in my life. Mostly because my jiu jitsu problems won’t be solved by being strong. And I can ratchet up endurance by running more. The only reason ever to take any drug recreationally though is just because you want to and while I loved the way I felt when I was on they clearly are not a long term solution for anything. That’s not a public service announcement that’s just reality. I mean my doctor tried to put me on Prilosec. I asked her for how long? She said “Forever.” Get the fuck out of here with that…..I don’t, philosophically speaking, need much. And certainly nothing recreationally speaking. Doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in “The Edge” and getting it. I’ve paid attention to Xenon, SARMS and a few other post-steroid stuff but all I’m taking now is Milk Thistle and Fish Oil. Sometimes CBD.
DW- I would like to know everything about your history of training from lifting to BJJ/MMA. I know the hardcore scene you came up in was very physical for a lack of a better term. What got you started?
ER- A lot of that is very specifically in the FIGHT book. This is a blood question though. in other words, it’s in the blood. So partially can’t be explained. I have all daughters so seeing my genes play their way through my offspring is pretty informative on the whole nature/nurture count. But seeing my grandson do his thing, I can see he has, already at the age of 1, affinities. He’s obsessed with balls. Walked before he was a year old. Could do push ups then too. So really physically gifted. Me? My first/earliest memories of interacting with other humans my own age were glorious afternoons in Elmhurst, Queens wrestling/fighting in a side yard. Blame/credit the Green Hornet and Bruce Lee who I was watching on TV or a desire to make a stand in a very specific way, but I’ve always done it, even if in actual fact I was a pretty contemplative kid. And just because the race politic is what it is these days I’d add this: My father when he was married to my mother was a translator (He became a professor), my mother was a social worker and an educator, and her second husband, my ex-stepfather (She has remarried a third time but after I was an adult) was a journalist. So what I’m describing is not a product of the GHETTO. I have no desire to play at poverty. I was a middle class kid with middle class proclivities but I also knew that what I could do would protect who I was. And who I was, was fundamentally a sweet kid. Who refused bullies and fear. So as soon as I could (9 years old) I started lifting weights and buying Muscle Mags. At 10-11 started taking Shotokan Karate around the corner in a church basement on Fenimore Street in Brooklyn. Then boxing at the Boy’s Club. I was a swimmer in high school but wrestled for a semester until my mother, in a burst of grade concerns, forced me off the team. Then Japanese Jiu Jitsu…Then heavy on the weights and nothing martial arty until after college. Nine years in Kenpo Karate…Then two at Muay Thai….Then straight into what they called then “Combat wrestling”….which mutated to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is where I am now…As a brown belt. I went through a few years in there of street fighting a bit…And losing most of those, most aggressively a few days before I left New York for Stanford. Me vs. three guys out in Bay Bridge…An engagement that landed me in the hospital where they did a terrible job of reattaching my left ear which, to this day as a result of being badly done, I have trouble with. The hole is way too tiny….Which is why I started using the duct tape on stage. Earplugs don’t want to stay in it. I can’t use ear buds really and well you know…. But losing is instructive and taught me a lot which is why the times I have lost since then have been few unless I was fighting MMA against other trained fighters. When they interviewed me on NPR they tried to pry me away from fighting…Deriding it as a pastime for the uninformed…And I refused to deny fighting three times before the cock crows you know? There’s a force afoot in the world that requires more than turning the other cheek and I like the idea of being prepared to meet it in the best shape possible.
DW- In regards to the question I just asked you, this is probably the most complex thing I’m going to toss at you because I’ve already seen hints of it in previous responses to questions I’ve asked on other topics. This line of questions is going to take a bit to work through because at the root of it….It’s not at all about fighting and violence…I mean yeah that’s part of training. But it’s more about…I just turned 37, you’re coming up on 57….It’s about aging gracefully while staying active and in the game and being physically able to do everything from play with your grandson to protecting you and yours. I’m trying to learn something for myself here that hopefully someone who reads the end result will take something away from. I fucking hate phrasing it this way but we all get old, I want to get old like you. So I have to go back through what I already have and pull things to get clarification on. It’s not about being a badass, it’s about being a man who will not/has not surrendered to mediocrity that comes with age, it’s about not going quietly, it’s about doing it with grace.
ER- I’m obsessed with this and it seems science supports this idea that you can trick your body into slowing aging but creating a circumstance so that it thinks it’s needed….Running, exercising…Which is really basic. More importantly I like the Theory of Ruin….Sadly made more noticeable by Albert Speer but the fundamental premise is that buildings should look as good in decline as they did when they were first built. So if you level set your weight…And keep your mind un-sludge-y I think it’s possible to slow the slide….A large portion of which is mental I think. But I’m also a competitive lunatic and the idea of expiring before my enemies drives me crazy. So I’m playing and I’m playing as hard as I can. Not shows, necessarily. Just life. And if “they all” want to fail? good. I don’t.
Photo by Kasia Robinson
DW- So while most is covered in the Fight book I asked for a few reasons…1- Because most people, outside select people in our own personal circles, don’t read enough, if at all. 2- I’m genuinely curious about this for my own reasons. And 3- It ties into things we’ve already touched upon but I want to expand on. I’m going to pull some of what you already said to try to illustrate what I’m asking. Everything in the coming sections, particularly what I emphasized in bold, Those are all things I firmly believe myself. And in a way they are linked together.
So coming up on 57 years of age this August my attitude is still largely…Defend the defenseless…Correct the corrupted…And create fear-free environments insofar as possible.
ER- A few weeks ago some street hassle had me telling the hassler that talking to strangers he would find, if he lived long enough, had highly questionable returns if you come with hostility and that he was liable to get hurt. and that I was not talking about feelings. Was I prepared to snuff him to make my point? Of course. but only in the course of defending my right to proceed hither and yon unmolested. I didn’t do it for me as much as I did it for the afraid, the nervous, the undeserving. He declined to continue our conversation and I bid him adieu. Me and the murder I had planned. This is crazy talk I know but there’s a force afoot in the world that will take things as far as they can go and they all start because someone didn’t want to make the unpopular choice of saying NO. Weird superhero shit and really pointless in the long run but if you’ve watched superhero movies one thing should be really clear at this point: From Spiderman to Jesus only a crazy man gives a fuck about “humanity”.
And yet I do. Specifically, my daughters, my wife, my mother and my sisters, my grandson. You’ll notice that this list is absent any men. Yeah….Maybe that’s part of the “problem”.
DW- In regards to training…. This is a blood question. in other words, it’s in the blood. so partially can’t be explained. I also knew that what I could do would protect who I was. And who I was, was fundamentally a sweet kid. who refused bullies and fear. There’s a force afoot in the world that requires more than turning the other cheek and I like the idea of being prepared to meet it in the best shape possible.
DW- Let’s start with these. In regards to how they formed you as a kid to who you are today and how they influenced your training and outlook on life. For a slight bit of context, there is a top strength athlete that trains at my gym. He asked me one day, “Dude you bust your ass in here but you don’t compete, why do you train like you do?” I look at him and said something like to look good naked and to never not be ready to throw down for a righteous cause which would be defined by much of what you said above. And he responded “I love that”. This is something I could ramble on about but I’ve just seen too much with my own eyes at point blank range to know that not doing anything when something is happening right in front of me…It’s not in my DNA to do nothing.
ER- It all has to do with how you see yourself and how you want to be seen. And what you can live with and how you want to live. Also I think in life there should be at least ONE thing that you’re really good at. To your tastes and your interests. You can be a piece of shit in many regards but one thing, even if it’s not my thing, makes it redeemable somehow. But really I just want to be left alone and be able to be left alone comfortably. Raising the valence of what it takes to get to me seems a reasonable use of my time. I remember a story clearly. Out at Coney Island during the bad old junkie days. An old lady got her purse snatched and a father of two chased the junkie who had snatched it, catching him finally. The junkie stabbed him in the chest with a sharpened screwdriver. The father of two died. The newspaper thought it made sense to mention that she only had $2 in her purse. I think they mentioned it to say that if the guy had been caught he wouldn’t have faced serious time anyway. But now with the murder charge….But that’s not what I took away from it. I took away from it this: Choose your battles wisely. Read the chapter in the FIGHT book called I Killed a Man….That cat works at a high tech company now but has to carry that shit with him forever. An unforced error of significant proportions. But yes, in general, being prepared makes sense. Every day. And every minute of every day. Like Netanyahu once said, “Given the history of my people on this planet if I have the choice between under-reacting and overreacting I’m going to choose the latter.” With a Eugene proviso: But don’t get stabbed to death for $2. I’m not choosing passivity out of fear. I’m also not getting killed over a property crime. But there’s a lot of leeway. Fortunately when you move out of a city, the opportunities to play hero are fewer. I mean I’m probably a bit more prepared than I need to be given my current locale but I’m ok with that.
DW- So what is Oxbow’s state of the union in 2019? What do you guys have on deck? What other musical related projects are you working on?
ER- We’re working on the next record. Our objective is, in general, to do things differently than we’ve done them before in the reasonable expectation that we’ll be more dialed in if what we’re dialed into is the frayed edge of our abilities. Put another way we’re not JUST trying to put out great records, which we have done. We’re actually trying to break ourselves over the creation of something that was super difficult to do but which we’ve managed to do anyway (Through luck, pluck or perseverance): Be as wholly there as we are in the best parts of our lives. And realistically all of the agita of past records, lyrical documents of our fights against life, have given away to all that’s now left for us. Possible fulfillment, contentment, love and just in time to make sense of it all: a cold and mouldering grave. So this will take 2019. If we play any shows at all this year they will be super special, since that slows our progress and none of us wants to wait another 10 years to do this again. In the interim I’m going to write DEATH DO US PART….an Oxbow memoir. I also just had released CHAPEL IN THE PINES with Phillippe Petit, Percy Howard, Chris Haskett and others….After that will be the long awaited LEISURE HIGH record I did with Bevin Kelley, also 10 years in the making. A third BUNUEL record and a tour next year (If not early winter of this year)…And a new record with Francois from L’Enfance Rouge tentatively called LOW HOUSE….and the second Strangers By Starlight record will get recorded this year. That’s it, that I can think of. And that’s probably plenty.
DW- I remember seeing Oxbow with The Takers (Whom are still one of my all time favorite bands) in 2001 or 2002 in Boston. That was a great show. The contrast of anarchy in Oxbow combined with The Takers was something to behold. I don’t know how to describe it to anyone who will read this who hasn’t listened to either band. Fuck, lol, you did that Walkout song series for Vice. I always thought Crash Safely by The Takers would be mine. This to me is a perfect description of creating art…. Our objective is, in general, to do things differently than we’ve done them before in the reasonable expectation that we’ll be more dialed in if what we’re dialed into is the frayed edge of our abilities. Put another way we’re not JUST trying to put out great records, which we have done. We’re actually trying to break ourselves over the creation of something that was super difficult to do but which we’ve managed to do anyway (through luck, pluck or perseverance): Be as wholly there as we are in the best parts of our lives. I’ve known you guys to be very selective of the hows/whens/whys of your shows. I think I have an idea why but can you elaborate?
ER- OXBOW, and this is one of the reasons why I actually feel fortunate to have OXBOW, played the Moers Festival in 2018. But part of the Moers deal is that any idiot can put on a festival where performers do what they’ve done dozens of times before. But the organizers approached us with the kind of stuff that we, and they apparently, love. “Yeah, yeah, you can play like you usually do but what do you think about THIS?” and they presented us with an opportunity to play with Peter Brotzmann… Not just the same festival, or on the same bill but on the stage at the same time. A great artistic challenge/opportunity and we said yes, of course. It was fantastic and because it was SGG/Trost will be releasing it as a double record set toward year end. All of this while we work on the next record. Which will be a very conscious attempt to embrace how we got here, to where we are now. You know Life can be a bitter sandwich sometimes but in the end I draw inspiration from the animal kingdom and I’ve seen that if a dog loses a leg, this dog doesn’t sit around and mope about it. This dog as soon as possible is back to doing dog things…With JOY. So the hysteria that fueled the first 30 years of our existence has given way to the quiet acceptance of self and a kind of blissed out OK’ness. I think this new record represents a cliff dive into release. Not saying there’s no fight left in us anymore. But I AM saying that it’s a spirit world we’re facing now. And everything else pales in the face of our impending mortality. Everything but love and the nuclear impact it has had on our lives and on our consciousness. For good or ill.
DW- Now you have tattoos. Some of which could be considered controversial in nature. How have they impacted your life? Do you regret any of them?
ER- I would guess that you’re speaking of Satan with a swastika halo? Is evil controversial? In any case I regret them about as much as I regret the body parts that they’re on. Which is to say, I have bigger fish to fry in regards to regret.
DW- What it like being an East Coast transplant on the West Coast?
ER- I miss, at this point, only 2 things: The seasons, which climate change has taken care of, and the people. West coast people DO do something well, and that’s leave me the fuck alone, in general. But I bemoan the lack of edge. Or rather, I dig less being the edgiest guy in any room like I am in every room on the West Coast. Unless I’m in a room with a bunch of speed freaks. Then totally different story, hahah….
DW- What are your thoughts on social media? Me personally I struggle with it. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable but for various reasons is a necessity in the 21st century.
ER- If I wasn’t doing music I wouldn’t be on there. But no one is putting up flyers or handing out handbills to get people to come to shows anymore. And if I didn’t write books and novels, I wouldn’t be on here anymore. But it is a great way to meet people who are not dumb asses. though I hate how it changes language and attitude. It’s like being stuck inside of a complaint sitcom…And instead of having to listen to a cast of 5 complain mornings start with thousands of people complaining about everything. I realize that this is also a complaint but, And this is important here, I’M NOT POSTING IT.
DW- It seems like women have had a huge impact on your life, in a positive way. How have women helped build you into who you are?
ER- My mother was and is a relentless positivist, at least in regards to me. I’m 8-10 years older than my oldest sisters so there was lots of time with just me and her and initially my father and then my step-father. But while, even at a young age I was at loggerheads with my father (In regards to that the divorce was the best thing that happened to our relationship. It made it easier to mythologize him. A mistake I didn’t realize until I was 19 when he disowned me), my stepfather’s personality worked much better with mine and so I could be who I was. Which for large chunks of my life was a young man surrounded by women. Aunts, grandmothers, great grandmothers, female cousins, then sisters…Men married into my family but we’ve had very few born into it. Me…Then like 56 years later my grandson. But how have they helped? My mother in the belief that all things were possible. My sisters for their energy, creative and otherwise. I just have had overwhelmingly positive relationships with women for the most part and on any given day would rather spend my time with them than men. Some guys tolerate women. To some men women are non-factors. To me it’s been great being let into their ranks when I have been. And not just women I’m related to, but women I’ve known. Romantically things haven’t always worked out but there are very few I hold a grudge against. So I’ve traditionally been very open to their input. All of this might seem strange given how my proclivities seem to trend toward “macho” pursuits but even these have been informed by the women in my life. I mean my last few street fights grew out of me reacting like women would if they could: So if a guy on the street is going to flip me some random shit I know he would do it with ANY one so I’m all about teachable moments.
DW- What’s it like having a family, being a father, grandfather, husband?
ER- These are some of the greatest and most difficult things I’ve ever done. And one of the things I’m most proud of doing. My daughters are the lights of my life. Also extended to my grandson. I’ve written about this a lot at OZY. But I can’t overstate how magnificent it’s been. Being a good husband is much harder though. Maybe mostly because of all of the time I HAVE spent around women. By which I mean I react in a lot of ways in ways that are primarily feminine. Specifically I listen very well AND I’m paying attention. So stuff that would just roll off of some guys, well, I’m holding on to that stuff. Which is probably not the key to the healthiest relationships but I’m trying to change. Or at least change enough to be able to sustain a relationship, haha…My wife now realizes this and has developed work-arounds for getting through the week with me I think, hahah….
DW- I said earlier, it’s clear you have a giant heart and are capable of love. What does that mean to you?
ER- There’s no other game in town. And I don’t know any happy/contented person who is so in its absence. I mean I am pretty solitary if left to my own devices but living in the world and being part of the world is ok, even if the world is a toilet bowl. My fellow travelers make it much nicer. And I’m talking about everyone I love, men and women, kids, old people and animals. They sharpen my blade against the assholes who make life not so cool. The thing is that OXBOW was born in and out of extreme sorrows, and has been an earmark of the whole song cycle that played out over all of our records, but what we’ve realized now some 30 years later is that sorrow, though inevitable, is also accidental and when you’re not involved in such like accidents, there are bright, shining moments of joy that you must be open to. And insofar as possible we are. So at the very least despite our beginnings the real challenge is to articulate that change, both musically and lyrically. Why others are interested still sort of baffles (And pleases) me but I imagine it’s because they’re on a similar road and need a soundtrack and I’m glad to be part of that. For them and us.
Listen to Eugene’s Podcast OZY CONFIDENTIAL Here!