Oxbow's Eugene Robinson chokes rowdy concertgoers

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

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 www.skullgame.com — 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.

Robinson (pictured here training at Fairtex in San Francisco) says, “Gil’s a tough SOB.”
Paul Trapani
Robinson (pictured here training at Fairtex in San Francisco) says, “Gil’s a tough SOB.”
Robinson is famous for stripping onstage and choking fans who get out of line.
Robinson is famous for stripping onstage and choking fans who get out of line.

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."

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