Interviews

Eugene S. Robinson (Whipping Boy, Oxbow, Buñuel, Black Face, Author, Podcast Host)

Photo: Stephane-Burlot

For the latest entry to his A Hardcore Conversation interview series, Anthony Allen Begnal chats with Eugene S. Robinson, a musician, author, actor, podcast host, fighter, and many other things that make him one of the coolest motherfuckers to ever come out of the punk scene. —Carlos Ramirez

You are Eugene Robinson, singer of Whipping Boy, Oxbow, and Black Face and world renowned author, correct?

I am Eugene S. Robinson and all of those other things as well. Plus singing for Buñuel, too. And about 26 other side projects if memory serves.

I know you’re from New York City but I don’t remember which borough?

Brooklyn. Flatbush specifically though I spent a year in Crown Heights. And before then Cobble Hill. And before then? Westchester and before then, Queens.

OK, so how did you end up getting into punk and hardcore? And what did your mom think of all this stuff when you were first doing it? Was/is she supportive of your music?

My (now ex-) stepfather wrote for the New York Post and one day in the newsroom he saw a record by Eddie and the Hotrods called Teenage Depression. It had a kid with a gun to his head on the cover. Since I was sort of a depressive teen he thought I'd think it was funny. I mean I did as well, but I also thought it was cool and since I was about 13 I had been seeking out harder music. KISS being the first band I latched onto. They were from Brooklyn [drummer Peter Criss was Brooklyn, ed.]. That was 1975. The Eddie and the Hotrods record came in 1977 I think though.

Then punk rock hit New York around the same time I got to high school and I was on the subway and could go places and see and do things so that's how it started. I mean how could you not see a guy on the train with a Hitler mustache, a walking cane with a monkey skull on it and a mohawk in 1977 and not follow that guy to wherever the fuck he was going?

That guy was Stephen Ielpi and I followed him to CBGBs one night. I never told him this though he and I later became pals. And my mom? My mom has never wavered in her support of anything I was interested in. As long as my grades didn't suck. You know at one point she was working for probation or parole, I can never remember which. And she asked me to meet her at work. Mohawk and tattoos and the whole bit. I told her I could meet her downstairs because I didn't want to cause her any disruptions at her job and she scoffed and almost got angry with me. Forced me to come up.

Our family motto had always been pretty much "Fuck the World" and it was in ways like this that my mom showed us that it was US vs All of Them. A good thing to know and hear.

One of the reasons I ask about your mom is because she was of course in the Decibel magazine “Metal Muthas" column and she seemed pretty proud of you and what you do. 

Always. Even when we've never gotten along. My father is another story. But he's a coward and so there was that. My ex-stepfather was pretty good guy to me too. They had a bad marriage but he was always good to me.

What music were you into when you were growing up, before you got into this whole hardcore punk thing?

Everything. I mean in those days you could listen to the radio and hear the Rolling Stones, the Doors, James Brown, Hendrix, and Pink Floyd. Of course when disco hit big, and I was totally into this and still am actually, radio bifurcated and everyone who couldn't dance made with the disco sucks shit. But I listened to everything. The first thing I can remember listening to? Elvis, the Beatles, Fats Domino, and Ray Charles. The first record I bought? The Temptations' Psychedelic Shack.

But R&B started to rub me the wrong way when I was 12 and 13...all of that "baby baby" shit wasn't ringing as emotionally true for me. So I started searching. I also started listening to hip hop in 1976-77 as well. I was a lifeguard at a kid's camp and one of the counselors is the guy that later became Jimmy Spicer with that "Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)" hit...which is what he called himself when I met him: Dollar Bill.

You are front and center in a pretty “famous” pic from the SSD/Dead Kennedys show on Staten Island (used on the back cover of Taang Records' SSD Power LP). What can you tell me about that show in terms of your memories?

Well, at this point, you know, there was a huge riot there that night. It was at the Paramount and I was with Bubby and he drove his station wagon onto the Ferry and that's how we got there. I also remember Sam from Fang was there, which was a big surprise. And Al Barile (SSD mastermind and guitarist) and I had already been communicating through this thing called MAIL and so I felt like it was a big mellow family deal. Plus, I knew the DKs would be there and Klaus (Flouride, DKs bass player) had already produced our first cut on the Maximum Rocknroll Not So Quiet on the Western Front comp so I knew those guys would be there.

I didn't know that the Paramount was in the middle of Cugine Central and while the show was phenomenal, afterward I remember standing on the sidewalk in the front as Lazar was being hit on, badly, by some cugine. She told him to fuck off. He called her a cunt. She whipped off her chain belt and put it across his face and he ran off. This happened very fast. Also what happened very fast: him coming back from the pizza parlor with a baseball bat, which he threw like a spear and it missed us narrowly and stuck in the window of the store next to the Paramount and like someone hit a switch, it was on. Running battles. Which we all won. By which I mean none of us got hurt badly and some of them did. I remember jumping up and down on the hood of Bubby's car as we drove through the streets back to the Ferry.

Phil n Phlash photo of Eugene tearing it up on the back cover of SSD's Power compilation album

For those that don’t know, Google defines a “Cugine” as, “Someone who dresses like a stereotypical Italian from Brooklyn. Used to describe someone that has slicked back hair and wears a lot of gold. The look is reminiscent of John Travolta's role in Saturday Night Fever”. Can you tell us who Bubby and Lazar are? 

Bubby used to drum for Anti Warfare. Now he's a pretty well respected doctor of Chinese medicine and used to own a few acupuncture clinics, I think. Now he just teaches, I believe. Lazar, sadly, is dead. But she was early NYHC, used to live in Chelsea. I remember very little else about her but what she looked like at this point.

And how did you know Klaus Flouride from the Dead Kennedys?

I met his ex-wife at the Mudd Club and had sex, very badly I might add, with her. I was 17 at the time so that's going to be my excuse. But she said, “If you're going to move to California and you're near San Francisco you should look him up." So, like people used to do in the old days, that's precisely what I did. I started asking around and he came up to Whipping Boy's first show, which was never supposed to be Whipping Boy's first show. We went to see the Circle Jerks at the Farm in San Fran....The Effigies were playing support. I said to our guitar player, “We're all here, they should let us play too." He told me to go ask and I did. The Circle Jerks said, “Sure. I mean you can't use our gear but go ahead." So we asked the Effigies and they said sure. After they played the announcer said...."Next up from LA....the Circle Jerks!" and out we came....to a fusillade of spit and bottles....and me laughing my ass off. People were trying to pull us off the stage.

It was chaos. But we played three songs and left. Totally crazy that that happened that way. But after that Klaus and Darren Peligro (DKs drummer) came up to us and were like, “Who the fuck are you guys?" and I was like, "Klaus! I been looking for you!" He didn't reveal until he was in the middle of producing [Whipping Boy's] Muru Muru that he knew I had slept with his ex. He just turned to me and asked "Hey....you remember Lorraine don't you?" And I started stuttering....and he said, “You should! You slept with her you little bastard!" [Laughs] But he was joking, or at the very least he never mentioned it again or tried to beat me up. I guess she's a respected photographer now. So, I'd like to publicly apologize for being so bad in bed when we were together [laughs]. In my continued defense I had also taken some pills then that night, for sure that was not helping.

Photo courtesy of Eugene S. Robinson

So, given that Whipping Boy had already started up I’m going to assume this means you were already moved to California and you were visiting back east for the DKs/SSD show?

Oh yeah. Once I started touring with Whipping Boy, I was all over a lot. I remember once seeing X in Chicago, Boston, New York, and by the time I also saw them in DC, they were like looking at me like, "Why?" [laughs].

Who, in your opinion, was the better band, SSD or Dead Kennedys?

Well, the DKs were better musicians but their whole thing was more a treat for the head and much less visceral. Also Biafra had some aspects of his schtick that were very Jagger-esque, by which I mean I always feel like I'm being put on by Jagger....and there's something about the self-conscious mimicry that Biafra gets into that I find distancing. Like fucking someone who is just staring at you. but man, they were great those first few records. And for a period of time they were even great live. But SSD? I still listen to SSD. I'm still trying to get someone to get me one of those SSD shirts. That picture of me on the poster was me during not their first song of the set but probably their last. I was a massive SSD head and still am. Could they play as well as the DKs? Probably not. But they moved me way more.

I hear ya on that! You cannot deny how good DKs were musically but I too still listen to SSD on a regular basis and DKs, not so much. I even like “Rock SSD”. What’s your stance on that? I’ve always said that How We Rock is technically still a hardcore album. If it would’ve had a Pushead artwork album cover, and possibly a different title, instead of that Jersey Shore airbrush monstrosity, people would revere it as much as Get It Away

Yeah, the artwork laid bare their influences way too much but I loved them enough to allow that and I still really dig that record. Also, every one was doing some variation of that too. The Necros' Conquest for Death...even Whipping Boy's The Third Secret of Fatima....definitely metal infused.

Do you have any other memories from any shows in New York before you left?

Well the timeline is confusing, because when I was going to shows in '77, '78, and '79....I knew no one, no one knew me and I made zero social contacts with the exception of Jack Rabid (The Big Takeover zine, Even Worse) who had been friends with a friend of mine from high school, Dave Satz. I dressed like Travis Bickle back then but I wasn't in a band then so I was a pure consumer. When I left to California in 1980, I was in a band where I played sax and it did nothing. But then Whipping Boy and I came back (to NY) with Whipping Boy on a few different tours and then people wanted to know me.

Funny thing...I remember the people who were shitty to me before I came back with Whipping Boy…and after I came back with Whipping Boy and we had all become friends I asked them all about it [laughs]. To a person they were apologetic (not what I was looking for though) and explained (more what I was looking for).... But I remember Dave Wyndorf's (Monster Magnet guitarist/vocalist) band Shrapnel and I knew he was going to be big. No idea he'd still be doing music in 2019 but there you are. I also knew that Johnny Thunders was never going to make it. But I loved that guy. I also remember seeing Harley playing with The Stimulators and was shocked. Made me feel like I was wasting my time going to high school and all if that little kid was doing shit a million times cooler than algebra. 

Did you know Harley back then at all?

No. I wasn't personally associated with him until I came back with Whipping Boy...and he and Doug Holland (Kraut and Cro-Mags guitarist) took us to some dance club....maybe Danceteria to see Agent Orange....Doug got us in for free. He was a great hype man so who knows what he said. And then I watched Harley terrifying new wave cats on the dance floor. It was when the punk rock remnants were realizing that hardcore was a completely different animal.

When and why did you move to California? And were you in any bands in NY?

I got into Stanford. When I left, all of my cugine buddies at my gym in Ridgewood, they all thought I was going to Connecticut. I had to tell them "No...that's Stamford." And, no bands in New York though I knew and were friends with guys in Nekron 99, Urban Blight, and one of my better friends was in a polka band that was probably the first band I ever knew that had recorded a record and toured.

Photo courtesy of Eugene S. Robinson

Did you know Mackie from Urban Blight, who of course later went on to join Cro-Mags?

Whoa! I did not know that. Yeah, Jamie Carse went to my high school. I didn't know him well. I knew his girlfriend Odette quite well. And his trumpet player was on the swim team with me....Falzone I think was his last name. But Mackie was in Urban Blight? Fuck. Weird to be finding that out now. I wonder if he went to Stuyvesant too.

On the first Whipping Boy album you had some fairly typical hardcore topics in your lyrics (“America Must Die”, “Roach Motel”) and musical styles but then you went way more esoteric, even psychedelic on Muru Muru. What happened? And the music obviously took on more influences as well, including some blues, reggae, psych, etc. 

I still listen to hardcore. Like daily. But making the music I got to a point in the road, like I got with R&B and it wasn't answering all of the dictates of my soul in the same way. I mean music is a conversation and the tonality of hardcore was inflexible and not full of a lot of emotional coloration. I was in IT because I was chasing the real....not the costumery of the fake. So when I started to change, so did the music I make. Muru Muru was widely reviled by people into hardcore but I didn't care, though I did learn a valuable lesson and that's that truth in advertising is very important. I mean if I bought sandpaper thinking it was toilet paper I might be justifiably upset with the outcome.

How did you feel about Black Flag’s My War album when it first came out, and how about all of these years later?

Great record by a great band at their height. I remember Barry Henssler (singer of Necros) making fun of it when we were skating with those guys in the Midwest after some shows. I couldn't figure out why. I might even make the claim that Henry's never flown higher than that record.

Can you tell us some of your favorite hardcore bands and albums? I remember my brother and I arguing with our English professor father about how this crazy hardcore stuff was actually going to go down as classic music in the same sense that the Beatles and the Stones were and are classic music and he just laughed but I’d say time has proven him wrong [laughs].

Funny... I just saw a list that Rollins put together (of his favorite punk albums) and I disagreed with 50 percent of his picks. Why? Because that Brit shit always frosted me with few exceptions. Jack Rabid was also totally into it and I just....couldn't....Oxbow's drummer has told me I'm crazy and one of the Stiff Little Fingers records is the best record he's ever heard he says but....I just couldn't. Though I dug Sham 69...and the Sex Pistols....it starts to thin out after that. I used to argue with Ian (Mackaye) about this too...he tried to convince me how good a band like The Damned were....ugh....and then we played with them and they were assholes to us besides.

So yeah, no patience. But I was a huge Midwest hardcore fan....Die Kreuzen, Mecht Mensch...Negative Approach...The Necros, a band that my mother always used to call The Negroes....SSD as I mentioned...The Germs....Bad Brains....all the usual suspects. Then there are a few bands I slept on at the time that I regret having done so....Youth of Today maybe being the primary one. I just remember thinking of them as “Those kids from Connecticut" and never took them seriously. But now I listen to them all the time and I see I fucked up by sleeping on them.

Minor Threat too. Void especially. I mean the list has healthily/easily 20 or 30 bands on it. Urban Waste...and I love Roger but there was still a great rawness about Agnostic Front when John Watson was singing. I was sleeping in their rehearsal spot on the Lower East Side for some of those early rehearsals. I don't want to leave anyone out but there was a lot of great shit being played out there back then. and great for different reasons.

On the first Whipping Boy album you also have a song called “Touch-n-Go” and you wish a “Fireburn” on Bobby Vermeulen, who, is of course Tesco Vee (Touch and Go Records/zine founder, singer of The Meatmen). What was the story there? 

He was super-helpful in setting up the first Whipping Boy tour and I loved his magazine and his sense of humor and we hung with him when we were heading through the midwest. But on a parallel track, this article I had written about being there the night Doyle almost killed that kid standing next to me at a Misfits show right before me and Steve and Dave from Whipping Boy drove the Misfits from the stage with fists and boots came out, and I guess he felt some need to express allegiance with the Misfits. So he started making fun of us. So that's what that was about. I had him on my radio show years later though and we were perfectly cordial, as we should be. All of that shit was a long time ago now.

Holy shit, I didn’t know you were there and involved with that! That’s some major Hardcore History right there. Did that kid really hit Doyle in the face with a full beer can? And do you remember that cartoon, that if I’m not mistaken was in Flipside (possibly MRR) where the Misfits all had Dicklocks instead of Devillocks? 

Timmy didn't do shit. He was just standing there smoking a cigarette. Funny that there were days when people smoked in clubs. But when the Misfits got a little SF ribbing....like we got when we played before the Circle Jerks, they lost it....and when they ratcheted it up, so did the audience. But in my memory it was all business as usual and then they started in with the whole, “San Francisco FAGS" thing and that was that. People were throwing shit at them and what they should have done is just let the music do the talking but you know....as a guy who also attacks misbehaving audience members I sort of understand reacting like they did...but, and maybe this is because I've been a competitive fighter....I never deliver more than is situationally appropriate.

But when a guy Doyle's size standing on a 4 foot stage brings his guitar down, two handed, like an axe, on to the head of someone who never saw it coming....well he's very lucky Timmy didn't die. And very clearly could have. My understanding is that Timmy hasn't been right since then. But he was not even more guilty than the rest. Me and the rest of Whipping Boy were just watching. Our sympathies are always with the stage performers but we were watching to see how they handled it and it was clear to us that they handled it very wrong. So yeah, don't do that. I regret writing the article about it though since my attack was poorly focused and emotional. And I maligned them as artists and this was totally wrong.

I wrote Danzig a letter later saying very much that and apologizing for it. I had come to the conclusion that the Misfits were super artistically viable and were significant and were doing something really special. They were assholes that night but as a band and musical artists they did not suck at all, even if they might suck as humans. He never responded but in general my belief is that people are more likable the less they talk. Which is another way of saying he would probably benefit by saying less, since every interview with him I read he totally has me and then inevitably he says something in like the last two paragraphs that just kills it. But I have listened to him and them over the years and am not blinded to how great some of that music is.

What’s your opinion of the recent OG Misfits reunion shows?

Totally sensible and it makes me happy that they're doing so and taking the Cro-Mags out with them. Someone recently wrote me to try to get me to dog them again with the story about what happened back then and I just told him I wouldn't. Listen, if they had killed Timmy and went to prison for it they would be out by now so I am ok forgetting. Timmy? Maybe not so much. But I can.

You know I interviewed that guy Danny who knocked Danzig out on video, and he's a great guy too. But right after that, Mark Thompson from Hydrahead Records called me and asked me if that had happened to me would it ruin my whole "tough guy persona"....? I told him no...because when I am talking or writing about fighting I'm usually talking about me getting my ass kicked so getting caught on video getting my ass kicked wouldn't change that narrative. That being said, I'd also never push someone and then leave my hands at my side in the belief that they were going to be terrified of my devil hands or something.

Eugene's sister made this Whipping Boy shirt when she was 8-years-old.

On the second Whipping Boy album, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, you thank David Bowie. Was this just for inspiration or did you know him?

No, he was friends with friends of ours and we actually were working to get him on this last Oxbow record but he died. Which is what happened with Lou Reed before him. He was supposed to be on The Narcotic Story but he let Metallica kill him, and so that was that. Metallica had had a habit of stealing our ideas and usually nothing happened but we got cheesed off. But in the case of Reed it clearly killed him. The shame, I mean [laughs].

Did Bowie know about the Thin Black Duke title? I know the album came out after he died…

He must have. It was with the lyrics and the whole pre-release package. And [Bowie producer] Tony Visconti knew.

Did you check out Bowie's Blackstar album? There’s some really great songs on there. 

I can't yet. I listened to a bit of it but it made me too sad. After having kids everything sad makes me really sad as it speaks to the finiteness of this part of the game.

I hear ya. Getting back to Whipping Boy’s Muru Muru album. At the end of Side 2, you have that locked groove, similar to the first Lords of the New Church album and the Faith record. Who’s idea was that?

Maybe Steve's. Or maybe Klaus Flouride. Or maybe mine. I don't remember at this point sadly. But I remember having distinct ideas about infinity that I wanted to get across so that's what that was about.

The song “Vision” from Muru Muru has a sort of twisted reggae kind of vibe and your vocals remind me a little of HR on that song. Was that song inspired by Bad Brains?

No. but I loved those guys. It was tough going there after the Austin shit but at this point, yes, a long time ago.

Did you ever play any shows with Big Boys? Or Bad Brains for that matter?

Never the Big Boys...I sang a song with Gary Floyd from The Dicks on a Dead Kennedys record. And we played with the Bad Brains once, in Oakland. It was the worst show I ever played. Ever. I was just too shook.

Who are Amba, Gediya, and Dena?

The secret message in the vinyl? I think it was the same language that Muru Muru is....some polynesian pidgeon english thing. It's a sentence actually.

Yeah the whole thing reads, “allo, allo, Amba, Gediya and Dena”, which I thought was saying, “hello, hello…” to three names or whatever. What’s the meaning of Muru Muru

If memory serves it was a greeting but one of those ones that works as a salutation as well. So both coming and going.

Whipping Boy on the back cover of Muru Muru

You have (415) 324-9483 (I will redact, don’t worry) listed as your phone number on the Sound of No Hands Clapping LP lyric sheet. Is this still your phone number? And can I still call you if I’m interested in organizing a show? 

It's not my phone number anymore but no need to redact anything. I still put my phone number on all of our CDs. It's 650-714-4891. I got this from Henny Youngman. He was always listed. He was open to the world, good or bad. I mean what's someone going to do? Crank call King Crank? Nah....and with cellphones it's gotten even easier to not deal with assholes but very few of them find their way down my neck of the woods. For probably a complex series of reasons. However, if you want to organize a show those are calls better suited to my man Erik Jarvis at Tone Deaf Booking.

There’s a semi-famous story that you were trying to get Chuck Dukowski to revive Black Flag with you singing at some point, probably in the '90s, is this true? And how did you end up knowing Chuck? 

Yeah. I read that and had to try to remember because it sounded like bullshit at first and then I remembered it was true. I put out a magazine called The Birth of Tragedy and the first issue had an interview with Black Flag in it. They were cool but they were also a skosh snarky and I printed it up as it had happened. It was Henry's first show with them in San Francisco. But I think they remembered this and you know how you all had your favorite Beatle? Well my favorite Black Flag dude was Chuck. Then Dez. Then Robo. Then Greg. Henry had friends from DC in Cali who turned me on to him and he and I were friends for a period of time. But I stayed in touch with Chuck and he dug The Birth of Tragedy and started to advertise in it when he was doing SST....and then SST put out Oxbow....and so we were in touch regularly.

At the point when we were on SST I had started to realize the discreet charm of Greg Ginn as well. But before I go any further I think I must say that these cats, to a person, are not just acting crazy [laughs]. They're really strangely wonderful. I know people hate on Greg for not paying royalties and being sue-crazy and so on, but he was always nice to me, always paid us and I think he's a genius in a very specific kind of way. And most of all, I like him. But I still liked Chuck most of all. And then Dez. So naturally at some point it made sense to think about them with me singing [laughs]. Like Cassius, I was one with a lean, hungry look if you remember your Shakespeare, so yeah, I think I did try to get them to consider this. I probably should have pitched it to Greg first if that's what I really wanted but Chuck has always been my dude. 

There's this whole category of people who I just love regardless of whether they've done anything to me to justify it [laughs]. I mean, some are people I don't even know. Like my most favored nation's folks. some would be totally surprised at the depth of my feelings around this but just like there are people you automatically might hate and you don't know why? This is like that. Chuck was one of those people. Tom Mallon—who used to drum for the American Music Club—was one. Richard Kern the photographer. Todd Swalla (Necros drummer). Springa (SSD singer). Earl from the Bad Brains. I have talked to Springa once so this is not based on anything but emotion but what else do you need?

You know It still happens to me and I have to remind myself that I don't actually know these people. Like it's shocking to me that I don't actually know Sade [laughs]. It seems like I should and would. But you know, given that I am a journalist I have opportunities, so I felt this way about Billy Bob Thornton and when I got to interview him I was glad that he was just as crazy as I thought and great to boot. Samuel Jackson? Actually really was an asshole to me, so disappointing. But he was never a most favored nation status for me either.

So you guys actually got paid by SST? I always heard that only Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth ever got paid from them because of their major label lawyers. How did that happen with you guys, and was it actually on time without you having to hassle with them? And how did you guys end up on the label?

Well, Serenade in Red had already been released on Crippled in Europe….SST released it a year later. And it was Chuck who wanted it I believe. But they paid us upfront. $5000 or $6000, I think the latter. If there had been cellphones back then I’d have taken a pic of it. But it was effortless and easy. Never saw anything post-release but that was/is often the case, though I must say Hydrahead has been the dream of dreams of a label. Always on time, always correct and over communicate versus under communicating. I loved them as people and as a label. But SST? I know there’s been a swelter of trouble with them but they, like Charles Manson, was always square with me.

What about Greg Ginn, what are your thoughts on him? 

I like him, as I said. Though I know why people who don’t, do not....but in most things he's been right. I mean I remember when Black Flag broke up. Henry was going to stay at my place and then came by and said he couldn't because Greg was breaking the band up. I asked why and he said because he thought Rollins was disrespecting the band or some shit like this.

I remember taking Rollins’ side at the time but it's only through the eyes of Oxbow's guitarist that I've been able to see/feel how much of a drag it is to be the guy who writes all the music and to have everyone glide by you to talk to the singer. I mean it's what frontmen are there for, especially good front men, but it only really works if the frontmen are sensitive to the calculus. I have gotten more sensitive to it and really believe in the value of a group being understood as a group, but Greg only articulated that recently that I knew. But it was this that I think he was trying to articulate.

How did the Black Face project end up happening? 

For every one of my books I have done readings and I started liking to have friends show up and do music behind me as I do them. Scott Kelly (Neurosis) has done this. Bruce Lamont (Yakuza). I think Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu....and you, yourself, sir. Chuck did this for me in LA and I think we started talking about it after that.

Anthony and Eugene at Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY, circa 2008

Yes indeed, in Brooklyn. That was a good night, good jam. Black Face was supposed to have been a longer lived thing, correct? 

Yes, it was. Hydrahead was very excited about it. So were all of the booking agents. We got offered the Iggy Pop support slot at the OFF Festival in Poland.

Who came up with the name? 

Chuck did. As a joke at first. But it was a totally genius name and I was onboard immediately!

Black Face (Photo found on Discogs)

Were you guys inspired by the success of Off! to form a Black Flag-inspired sort of band?

Black Face came first, bro [laughs]. Never forget that [laughs].

I did not know that! Why did the band not continue on?

I'm not sure I know. The kindest way of putting it was Chuck was uncomfortable with it for reasons not well understood by me. He tried to explain but I shut him down...like a woman trying to explain why she wasn't going to let me fuck her, all I needed to hear really was "no" and then no other explanation was needed as far as I was concerned. Because that was the truest answer. Anything else would have been diplomacy. But I still have great feelings about the project and Chuck...and when all of that shit happened with Flag, and OFF!, and Black Flag and Ginn, I was seeing the wisdom in the road Rollins took by choosing to not be involved really....it's funny...in our dotage the bands that work so hard to undermine "legacy"....maybe one day it'll make sense to me but right now it doesn't really.

You and I both know that outside of self-sabotage these bands should have been huge....I spent many years of trying to get John Joseph and Harley (Cro-Mags) to reconcile before I realized it was a fool's errand. In my mind it would be huge and hugely significant if they could choose to make art together again but you know....horse meet water....I guess that's what marked our scene right? We will not! Sadly, true.

You are absolutely correct! I remember Doyle saying, before the OG Misfits reunions that he was trying to make it happen for years and he said this was the only industry where people can’t just put aside their differences and go out and make shit happen together. Wasn’t there some kind of thing about how Ian Mackaye told Chuck he didn’t like the name or something? We, of course, don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to…

Yeah. According to Chuck, it was Ian who told him to drop the name. I said, “To what?” and he said that Ian had said “Black Velvet." I laughed and said that I thought Ian was wrong. I guess a very different Ian who argued with me in Tesco’s backyard about “Guilty of Being White."

If I’m not mistaken, at one point Harley Flanagan was going to replace Chuck Dukowski and Black Face was going to continue, what happened with that? 

Well we had a supergroup lined up, post-Black Face. It wasn't even going to be called Black Face necessarily as the appeal of that was Dukowski songs for Black Flag that never got made into Black Flag songs. Nah, this was a follow on with Harley on bass, Scott Kelly on guitar, Tom Dobrov on drums, and me doing vocals. But Scott, busy under the best of circumstances, had some family health issues that had us table it. It would have been mighty and it grew out of a fundamental desire to do some hardcore/heavy shit like only guys who had been back there could do. So a look back but informed by our present realities. Still a dream I dream of having. I mean it's like fantasy league shit: if you could play with anyone who could/would it be?

In Summer, 2017 I went to a lecture/spoken word thing by Mugger and Joe Carducci in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They were mostly talking about their history with SST Records and all that but Mugger also talked about his band the Nig Heist. He said that you were the inspiration behind the band name because you two worked together and you were always bumming cigarettes off him. He also said you were a rich kid from Stanford U. Thoughts? 

There’s been this weird confusion about this but it amuses me. First off I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Ever. Secondly I only have a memory of meeting Mugger once and as far as I remember we stole nothing during this meeting. I also have always only worked as a journalist. So unless he worked at Hustler with me (one of only 2 LA mags I worked at) this is wrong. I did go to Stanford but I wish I was rich. Back then and now.

In fact I wish I was rich every day. And especially back then when after 8 months my mother told me that she couldn’t afford Stanford and I should come back to Brooklyn College. Same time as my father disowned me. Nah, I finished my last 3.5 years of college solely because of this woman named Rita Scoren who worked in financial aid at Stanford and worked on a formula that only took until I was 32 to pay off completely. But I really like Mugger, so I’ve done nothing to stop the story.

What kind of articles were you writing for Hustler and Hustler’s Busty Beauties?

I did mostly the tough guy stories for Hustler. Murderers, fighters, mafia, drug dealers, knife fighters, thugs. For Busty Beauties, I interviewed Kitten Natividad, the Russ Meyer actress, Annie Sprinkle and so on. 

So, as opposed to Whipping Boy breaking up would you say it was more like it morphed into Oxbow? And how did that happen?

Technically Whipping Boy is not broken up. Sony tried to use that against us when we had legal against them for that Irish band trammeling our copyright and naming their band our band name. But Oxbow was going to be my solo project. I started to record drums and some rudimentary bass parts, that are still around. But it was taking forever and I knew I needed help so I asked Niko and he agreed. Tom, Oxbow’s first drummer, drummed on the first record and so did Greg, I think. Dan had played drums for Whipping Boy in the end, right off of a gig with that other band, The Ugly Americans. For Oxbow, though, I decided he wanted to move off of drums and play bass and that’s sort of how it worked.

Our last show as Whipping Boy involved mostly Oxbow tunes so it was pretty effortless. Besides which, we got to go on a tour of Europe on the Fuckfest record, so that worked out real well. The first record was going to be my suicide note, but it was so well received I figured killing myself was pointless.

Obviously, Oxbow music is even further detached from hardcore than Whipping Boy got but, you do you still feel a connection musically at all (other than as you said, still listening to hardcore regularly)? According to a Pitchfork review of Thin Black Duke, Oxbow’s music encompasses: free jazz, high-concept chamber pop, noise, neoclassical and metal.

Well, that’s the weird thing, I don’t hear that Oxbow is that detached from hardcore. But trying to find labels for it I’ve been told that. Well, that and the fact that for my hardcore friends I stopped making music after The Sound of No Hands Clapping….funny…. One time we were playing the Dour Festival in Belgium or wherever the fuck….and we’re in the food tent and Roger (Miret, Agnostic Front singer) is sitting across from me and Vinnie (Stigma, Agnostic Front guitarist) is sitting next to me. I say “WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING HERE?!?!” And like they had just seen me yesterday they were like “Oh. Hey, Eugene.” I mean my question was stupid but I just hadn’t seen Agnostic Front on the bill. But then they asked me what I was doing there and when I said “Oxbow” they just stared at me [laughs]. I could have said John Philip Sousa’s band, you know? [laughs]

You recently wrote the intro to Steve Bergman’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins bio. Do you feel an affinity to Screamin’ Jay?

I love Screamin' Jay Hawkins....in the same way that I love Little Richard, probably my biggest rock and roll love affair. I mean I've toured America in 1981, before the internet and cell phones and MTV, so I remember when there were "regions" that didn't share any kind of uni-culture and you actually might get your ass handed to you for sporting a Mohawk in Mississippi back then. So I can only imagine what it must have been like for these black cats from the South to jump in a bus and tour the Chitlin' Circuit. These were bonafide bad asses. Add in the Little Richard cross dressing and it's no denying that their balls were the size of bowling balls. Gun toting, razor sporting fearless men....Wicked Wilson Pickett, Chuck Berry...these were no Plan B cats. No fall back plans. Nothing but straight ahead. A lot of the bigger hardcore bands trod similar paths.

There was no turning back and if you think about it a vast majority of them have written their own tickets, for good or ill, for upward of three decades now and that's some balls out shit. I mean yeah, the Beasties? Makes sense. Because they made cents, you know? But Ginn, Rollins, Ian, Danzig, a lot of these people have marched one way and that's largely without deviating and without getting out the boat, to quote Captain Willard. Artistically that might not be so interesting. I mean, what I've heard from Ginn the past few years I have not found interesting but I love that he's still beating that drum. Same with all of them. So, Hawkins rode that thing further than most for longer than many. And, yeah, I'd aspire to that. Even if I have been a Plan B guy.

I mean I have always worked a 9 to 5. Can't afford that kind of toughness. Not with kids. Not with a family. And sure as fuck not in America. But running hard and fast when you got your hands on that brass ring? That's good offensive strategy and that's just what Hawkins did.

Oxbow (Photo found on Bandcamp)

Nice! I’ve been reading your novel, A Long Slow Screw, and the Boston Phoenix described your writing as “Bouncer Lit”. As a former bouncer I find this term a bit condescending, how do you feel about this quip?

In regards to the bouncer lit thing I didn't mind it. It amused me more than anything else but it gave a sweet marketing name to a thing that I definitely don't feel part of but which I think would help sell the Fight book.

But you have to understand that as a large guy, people have thought I was stupid my whole life. Add that to the whole Black thing and I have been quite comfortable having people underestimate me. It gives me an edge. In this instance? I think it was harmless marketing stuff.

I’m obviously not black, but the "big dumb guy" thing, I too have gotten that my whole life so I hear ya. What are you currently up to and do you have any sites you want to post up?

Presently doing brazilian jiu jitsu 6 days a week...obsessed and a brown belt but still shitty at it [laughs]. Ozy.com is where I work and they're funding this podcast...Oxbow is in the studio this October-November to record two albums worth of material...Oxbow and the Peter Brotzmann live record is being released in early 2020...I start recording on the new Buñuel record this winter as well...and yeah....if you're into MMA? Subscribe to The Eugene S. Robinson Show Stomper on YouTube....fun times for fight junkies.

I was looking for it throughout your novel, A Long Slow Screw, and I finally found the one direct punk/hardcore reference in the book! On page 236, Joey Bag O’Donuts says, “Goddamn motherfucking sonuvabitch!”, which is of course a song by Bad Posture, who were on the aforementioned Not So Quiet on the Western Front comp, along with Whipping Boy. Did I miss any others?

[Laughs] Good eye....no, that was the only one.

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Tagged: a hardcore conversation, black face, bunuel, eugene s robinson, oxbow, whipping boy

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