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Oxbow's Eugene Robinson chokes rowdy concertgoers 

So, how will he behave on his new book tour?

Wednesday, Jan 9 2008

Page 3 of 4

Robinson also dipped into acting. He appeared in the notoriously bad 1987 Bill Cosby superhero movie Leonard Part 6, playing a thuggish guard to the villainous Medusa Johnson (Gloria Foster), a vegetarian activist out to take over the world with the help of attack frogs and man-eating rabbits. From playing a tattooed dude in a Miller beer commercial (directed by Gus Van Sant) to a bank robber in an industrial video as well as an international arms dealer in the campy Las Apassionadas, a short film about mercenary soldiers who start fighting for art's sake, Robinson was cast, not surprisingly, as a tough bad guy.

Still, he hated the "touchy-feely" and fake aspects of acting, and contends that actors aren't real artists. Music, however, was a different story — as he insists, "Punk rock saved my life!" Robinson may have been surrounded by Young Republicans at Stanford, but "in the 1980s we had the hardcore explosion, and it was a good time to be in California. That's the only reason I stayed."

That decision resulted in a cult following for the nearly-two-decade-old Oxbow, which was named the greatest art-rock band in the world by Vice magazine. Robinson says he originally designed the band to be a solo project — or, more accurately, "a well-crafted suicide note" — but teamed up with Niko Wenner and the band. "There's so much to [Robinson] and Oxbow," says Mark Thompson of Hydra Head Records, which released the band's recent album, The Narcotic Story. "They've done lots of living, and I love that. That's what drew me further and further into them — they've got so much history."

Robinson's friend and former co-worker at EQ magazine, Matt Harper, says those roots in the punk scene may have contributed to Robinson's desire to defend himself. He suspects some of the rich white kids have a "look at the big black guy onstage" fascination with the singer.

While Robinson may not have been making much money during his early punk- rock and Birth of Tragedy days, it did give him the opportunity to publish work, and his magazine released a record featuring Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins. (It was called The Birth of Tragedy Magazine's Fear Power God Spoken Word/Graven Image.) Through Lunch, Robinson met and befriended Dean Kuipers, now deputy editor for The Guide in the Los Angeles Times.

Kuipers immediately noticed Robinson's gift for what he calls "incredible dramatic effect." Not long after they met, Robinson picked Kuipers up in a 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu (which he'd roller-painted black) and the pair drove out to a shooting range. Kuipers rented a gun and joined a row of 10 or so men, who he says looked like "upstanding white guys," and started firing. The relatively quiet, steady stream of gunfire from the other shooters was suddenly interrupted by an enormous explosion. Everyone looked over at Robinson, who had just fired six shots and was "laughing his head off."

"There he is with this long-barrel .44 Magnum," Kuipers recalls. "Totally Dirty Harry." He describes his friend as the worst nightmare of the other men, who also seemed disconcerted by the way Robinson wrote names on the targets with a Sharpie before firing at them. However, on the way home Robinson was as cheerful and smiling as ever and cooked the pair a huge pot of hamburger and peas for dinner. "Great day, yeah, great day at the range," Kuipers says with a laugh.

Yet Kuipers worries that Robinson's love of fighting may ultimately prove to be his downfall. "I'm trying not to encourage that side of Eugene; I think it has limited potential," he says. "How can that end well? Somebody is going to karate-chop his arm off ... or he's going to kill someone."

For every story Robinson's friends have about his abilities as a fighter, they have multiple (often more interesting) ones about the less obvious aspects of his life. They seem a bit bored by the stereotypical tales of asskickage. As Scott Kelly of Combat Music Radio — who met Robinson and Oxbow through his own band, Neurosis, nearly two decades ago — puts it: "He's the real deal, no doubt. But I've seen him fight viciously with his intellect. ... His physicality is incidental, really."

And Robinson's day job emphasizes his brains over his brawn. He is a senior editor at MacLife magazine, a rather peaceful aspect of his existence. In the Editors' Blogs section of the tech magazine's Web site, there's a photograph of a mild-mannered-looking Robinson gazing out under the headline, "A Neat Hard Drive Is A Happy Hard Drive." This particular entry details the steps Robinson used to organize the data on his laptop, citing another entry in which he learned a difficult but important lesson: Back up early and often. "They were all gone Johnson but it was not my fault," Robinson writes of the experience of losing all his files. "Like a hurricane or an earthquake or a record by Kelly Osbourne."

On a recent weekday, Robinson emerges from the elevator into the sterile South San Francisco office-building lobby where he works. It would be a stretch to say he looks at home amid the corporate office parks, but with his big smile and bear hugs — his muscles and tattoos covered by the professional attire (often a sports jacket or button-up shirt over black jeans or dark pants) he wears to his day job — it's hard to imagine why words like "dangerous" and "crazy" are so often used to describe him onstage.

In addition to editing, writing, and hosting a podcast for Combat Music Radio, Robinson also writes the "Ask Vinnie" sex column for — the most recent contribution to the sex-advice column genre. A virtual cultural ambassador of sex columns, Robinson has written "Guy Spy" for Mode magazine and "Avi Baby" for a Jewish newsletter in New York.

About The Author

Mary Spicuzza


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