Sunday, 3 May 2009

Eugene Robinson talks about Fighting

I’d been building this gig up in my head for weeks, assuming it was going to be an evening of intense battle. I’d enter the room, the walls already drenched in blood, and a cage door would slam shut behind me. Immediately I’d have to face a pack of hyenas armed with my own arm which I’d have to sever just to get in (on top of the £5 ticket fee).

All I knew about Eugene Robinson was he was the singer in a band and he’d written a book, Fight, which he was coming to Manchester to talk about. I was certain I’d have to fight someone at this gig, either Robinson or a member of the crowd. No one else will be ready for this, I thought. I’ll sit there alone and when push comes to shove and some cretin tries to kick off I’ll break every bone in his face and walk out whilst Eugene alone applauds and says seminar concluded whilst, at home, I drink the blood of a lamb I just killed.

As may or may not be already clear: I have trouble assimilating violence into my “worldview”. I want to be a smart, noble, good guy. But I also want to throw a motherfucker through a table and I haven’t been able to reasonably marry these different approaches of style, which troubles me.

I wanted Eugene to have all the answers.

But I was also expecting him to be completely out of his mind, after a brief conversation with Tom about how I was going to go see him, Tom telling me he often appeared on stage in kind of nappy looking things, screaming whilst waving his dick at members of the crowd. Tom went to great lengths explaining the pun of “dick” and “members”.

Before Robinson began he asked if we could hear him without the microphone and I noticed this annoying hum coming from the speakers. I thought it’d be really jarring and bug me all night but as he continued with these melancholy stories I thought the hum would add a sense of poignancy in the moments of quiet. I got so sucked into the stories and the guy and I didn’t notice that hum at all.

By the end he wasn’t even using the microphone.

If I took any of the stories Robinson told us that night out of context he would sound like a complete psychopath. I never felt a direct threat from him though. He did seem distant during a couple of the more somber stories he told, involving his childhood, but he was eloquent, funny and just softly spoken enough to basically have me at ease.

He did tell us how he’d offended/threatened both members of the Manson Family and some kind of mafia and I began wondering if there was any way they could track him here and kill all of us in the room just to get back at him. That was a brief moment of uneasiness, but at the same time I thought I would have to kill a hyena that night, so what do I know?

Writing this article has been difficult, taken a couple of days and involved actual drafts.

This is partly because of my own view of violence, the main topic of the night.

It’s partly not wanting to retell Robinson’s stories, as I wouldn’t do them justice and I’d just be stealing his act.

It’s also because I just didn’t know how to take the guy. He began the night, sort of, talking about this. People are always asking about him.

Pointing out someone in the audience he said “I stayed with you, right? People ask you ‘how was Eugene’ and you said…”

“He was nice,” the guy replies. “Yeah he was nice, he was alright," Eugene continues, then he goes on to talk about this crazy fucking shit that he spent a long time doing, including working as a debt collector, flying round the world to threaten people. "I'm a nice guy," he says, "but maybe not a good guy."

It was more like an evening with Eugene Robinson than an analysis of the book, which is what I’d really been expecting. It was the background to the book, how Eugene came to be.

He told us these fucking crazy stories, really interesting, funny and well told and then we all applauded. It was exactly what I wanted but I left trying to figure out what the fuck to make of it.

Why was he telling us this stuff? What was he getting from it? And what were all these fat dudes and Haircut girls doing here listening to it? These are not fighting people.

It was like he was there as a spectacle: articulate tough guy here to make us laugh.

I asked him one question at the end: what sort of questions do people ask him at these shows?

His said it was divided into two camps: those who say he’s glorifying violence and want to see if he will and can defend it and those who’re interested in fighting technique and things, people from the fighting community. I think I’m a little bit of both, though I’m not part of any fighting community.

We had a guy there who asked “what was your favourite fight?” and made the whole discussion seem fucking ridiculous.

And we had a girl there who, in a stilted, self conscious manner tried to press him on defending violence and wanted us all to know she had firm opinions and thought it was wrong for him to glorify violence the way he did.

But I don’t know. He told us stories involving violence, and they made us laugh and think and all that, but I didn’t leave wanting to fight and, in terms of him glorifying violence, that feels pretty key.

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