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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
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As open as he is about sex and violence — topics that inspire discomfort in most people — Robinson is fiercely protective of his personal life. When asked about his private life, he declined to discuss it.

When Robinson does get going, it's his ability to hop to and from so many different subjects that has helped to earn him the billing of Renaissance Man. "Funny, well read, an excellent writer, very loyal," Salvatore Russo says when asked to describe his friend. The pair met about four years ago at a basement fight club, the same night Robinson was knocked out by professional fighter Chris Sanford.

"It was like the Fourth of July," Robinson writes in FIGHT. "There was a silvery burst of light and then ease. And quiet. And tremendous ease. The mat was cool against my face, and as unseen hands lifted me upright I hear myself murmur. Almost whisper, even, 'I'm okay. I slipped. I tripped.'"

For Robinson, much of his life has been about fighting — which probably explains the nervousness at his recent reading at the SF Camerawork art gallery on Mission Street when an older man confronted him about his book. In the wake of several schoolyard stabbings in Britain, Robinson mentioned that he told HarperCollins that it could pull a section from the book about knife fighting, titled "While My Knife Gently Weeps." The guy in the audience, who said he was a hypnotist who trained fighters, seemed intent on grilling Robinson about the goal of the book, what he was trying to teach people, and what he was trying to say about fighting. He criticized the experienced competitive fighter for "going for the dollars" rather than being "a good example of the warrior spirit."

Tension filled the room. What would Robinson — who has studied arts like boxing, karate, Muay Thai, and Brazilian jujitsu — do? Would he choke the guy? Deliver a right cross with a grin?

Robinson began by defending his position — verbally. The two pages on knife fighting, he explained, were added only at the request of one of his publishers. "So, your question is, given an opportunity now to have a fight with British Parliament, wouldn't I take this fight, gladly engage in the spirit of combat to make a point?" he told his antagonist. "I don't know what the point of that is."

No one ended up dead after the confrontation. Robinson never raised a fist. In fact, he never even raised his voice.

Robinson may passionately defend his art, whether it be his music or his writing, but he proudly says he'll "sell out in a fucking second." Yet he, like Oxbow, has already been winning plenty of fans with his approach to music and success. While the band's members have joked about playing shows in front of a handful of people, their new album, The Narcotic Story, has been widely praised. The album's producer is nominated for a Grammy. And Robinson recently appeared at the London Jazz Festival at the invitation of Barry Adamson, where he read from his book and sang Tom Waits' "Romeo is Bleeding" to an enthusiastic crowd.

This month, Robinson begins a cross-country tour of clubs, bookstores, and fight clubs to perform and promote FIGHT. He had to take a break from fighting before the tour because of persistent thumb and finger injuries, but agreed to go up against a fighter on his first tour stop in Washington state last weekend. It was with a guy he beat in a fight club years ago and, Robinson says, "he's been chasing me ever since." But alas, the other man "begged off."

While Robinson seems unlikely to slow down anytime soon, there was something a bit different about Oxbow's most recent show at Great American Music Hall opening for Jesu in November. The sound was definitely Oxbow, and the music was played with a distinct level of sophistication and class. Yet while Robinson took off his jacket and shirt, he remained otherwise clothed throughout the set.

Could it be that Robinson was taking this selling-out approach seriously? Was San Francisco's most dangerous singer mellowing out or feeling self-conscious?

When asked if he was feeling shy that night, he bursts out laughing. "Me?" he asked. "Shy?" More laughter. "It was cold in there!"

About The Author

Mary Spicuzza

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