The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It's also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. "My Walkout Song" is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
Eugene S. Robinson
It’s easy to let everything fool you. If you’re open to being fooled by everything. The naked-guy-on-stage bit, the schrei theater, the "aggressive public masturbator/fist fighter" all make it sound more like a felony description than the cheap-seat take on some of the more lurid and infrequent excesses of a stage show mired in excess and the extreme end of just about anyone’s emotional spectrum. But Eugene S. Robinson, as singer for Oxbow, a band once described as an “art brut” quartet, swims in deep enough water to remove any sort of confusion about exactly what “everything” might mean: The New York native and now California resident has done films, TV, commercials, theater; he's worked with Gus van Sant, Bill Cosby, and Larry Flynt, graduated from Stanford, written for everyone from GQ to VICE (including, schizophrenically, what you’re reading right now), and even seen Oxbow’s 2007 release, The Narcotic Story, get nominated for a Grammy.
And that’s only the tip of a much more gooned-out iceberg that’s not only seen him singing duets with Marianne Faithfull and Lydia Lunch (not at the same time) and authoring Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass Kicking But Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked For Asking and a novel called A Long Slow Screw [translated into French as Paternostra], but being one of the first national reporters to write about MMA for both the mainstream (the aforementioned GQ) and inside-the-fence (for Grappling magazine, now Ultimate MMA) media.
Add to that the fact that he is also a lifelong fighter and martial artist and has a weekly video show called KNUCKLE UP on BloodyElbow.com, and it seemed like if Robinson wasn't suited to have an MMA walkout music article written about him, by him, then no one was.
Fightland: You fight, you write about fighting, and you make music, so we’re expecting your pick to be especially perceptive and insightful.
Eugene S. Robinson: Fuck that. If you want perceptiveness and insight, I suggest you seek out the counsel of your local parish priest.
A good walkout song doesn’t even have to be a good song, but it does have to cry battle in a way that sows confusion and fear in your opponent’s mind. So my pick I actually stole from another fighter who I saw fight at one of the Tachi Palace Fights. So I want you to clear your mind, close your eyes ... OK. When you hear this pick you will know it is, without irony at all, totally the greatest song ever for walking into the cage to.
Not only does it lull your opponent into a confused state of amusement, but you immediately, as it was when I first saw it used, create a soundtrack for every post-fight seduction scenario you could ever imagine. No one will ever forget it, and in my case there’d be the outside chance that it would eventually help me fulfill Wu-Tang and Nas' vision of being "the only nigga Sade dated.”
You think Sade is a fight fan?
I think Sade is a Eugene S. Robinson fan.
You take many shots to the head in your fights?
A few. But probably given the vast profusion of brain cells I have, not enough to make much of a difference. But “Smooth Operator” is a great choice for every single reason I can imagine and mostly for my number one reason: It’s relaxing. And the head-game portion of the fight game is still the biggest determining factor in who wins and who loses. I have fought much better when I have been a little smoothed out. I mean, no one can adrenaline their way through an entire fight. Ian MacKaye, back when he used to fight, told me, “I could even beat up a guy like you ... if I was angry enough.” Of course he was wrong, but this is a mistake a lot of non-fighters make. The reality of it is, I don’t hate the guys I fight. I just feel an emotional need to have my will obliterate their will. And I do this better when I am calmed.
How often are you training and fighting these days?
I train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/Luta Livre at Team Serao. Seven times a week. Sometimes 10 times a week, if it’s a good week. In the last 12 months I have competed two or three times in grappling/submission fighting events. I have not fought in MMA since being part of Fight Club SF about eight years ago, which used to have smokers once a month. I got knocked out my first fight but went on to win a bunch. My background is in Kenpo karate, muay thai, boxing, and wrestling. But I have been, with a wide variety of coaches, fighting for the last 23 years or so. But my interest is lifelong. I mean I started taking Shotokan at this church in Flatbush when I was 12. And I’m 50 now. Which, when you consider the fact that I am just a very solid blue belt in BJJ, is sort of fucking ridiculous. I mean, if I was playing the saxophone for 23 years I’d probably be pretty good by now.
Well, you’re probably good enough to beat anyone stupid enough to want to try.
Not always a guarantee.
Isn’t there something sort of disappointingly hackneyed about personifying the "badass Negro” stereotype?
You know, they once asked Obama when he was running for president if, given how “racist” America was supposed to be, he was worried about being assassinated, and he, seeming almost pained that he had to answer this, said something like “I can’t even think about that.” He probably would have gone on to say, “... and still get out of bed in the morning.” So instead I’ll quote Woody Allen here and just say, “The heart wants what it wants.” Even before certain life traumas that led me to believe that knowing how to defend yourself was good, I wanted to fight ... when confronted with situations you absolutely could not talk your way out of. And the reality of it is, if people are going to assume you are a badass’d Negro you might as well be a badass’d Negro. Preferably with a college degree.
Check out these other installments of our "My Walkout Song" series: