Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

No Borders, No Boundaries: Eugene Robinson On His Favourite Albums

The Oxbow frontman, MMA prize fighter and occasional guest writer for tQ, presents a stunning 13 LPs for your perusal, ranging from baritone vocal jazz and noise rock to ecstatic easy listening. John Doran takes notes

Portrait by Phil Sharp

Eugene Robinson is the front man of rock band Oxbow. He is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He is also a prize winning martial arts fighter. His new true story podcast, the OZY Confidential, launches today. Get the first episode here.

“As soon as I finish this interview I’m going to the barber’s because I have a regular guy who does my hair. My guy was shot and went to prison and learned how to barber in prison and now he works in this frou-frou kind of fancy hair place. But the guy who taught him inside told him, ‘I’m not going to teach you if you’re going to be right back in prison because it cuts into my business and it’s a waste of my time.’ When the guy got out he went to Vidal Sassoon on a full scholarship. So he’s gone from being a former drug dealer who got shot to doing hair on Hollywood sets.

“He’s the kind of guy I’d have on my new podcast, the OZY Confidential. He’s a short, wiry guy and a hairdresser but he’s a former boxer and I guess you would not expect, looking at him, that he was the kind of guy who had been shot and had experience fighting and going to prison.

“OZY – which is short for Ozymandias, don’t blame me, I didn’t name it – is an online magazine which was started in Mountain View California by Carlos Watson and Samir Rao in September 2013. Both of these guys, who met at Goldman Sachs, had a hard on for media, they said it was all terrible and they were going to start their own media laboratory. And it was like something out of one of those Lord Dunsany fables, ‘Everything everyone else does, we’re not going to fucking do. Everyone else does 800 articles a day, we’re going to do eight. If it’s the same story everyone else is doing, we’re not going to do it, or if we do we’re going to try and do it a different way.’

“I was employee number one. I got the job because of my Oxbow-ian sense of hyperbole. A woman I knew in publishing was going to a conference at Stanford to meet these young Turks who wanted to change the face of media and I said, ‘Tell them I’m a genius’ [LAUGHS]. She said, ‘Yeah, yeah’ but she did. She met them on the Monday, they called me on Tuesday, we met on the Thursday and by that weekend I was writing articles for them. I was initially the Deputy Editor, then Editor at Large but I’ve done a bit of everything bar tech and finance. Now I’m primarily doing true stories and it’s out of that the OZY Confidential has grown.

“I found I was always leaving stuff on the cutting room floor. It was kind of fucked. I’d go, ‘If only I had the space to let these people talk in their own voices’ so that’s where the podcast comes from. I don’t have any good kind of borders or boundaries so when a guy tells me he’s suffering from PTSD, everybody – in my experience – has previously been too cool to actually ask, ‘What does that mean?’ I know it means the guy is psychologically suffering but what does it actually mean.

“So one of the first podcasts is with the former Marine Corps medic Max More, ‘Gun In Mouth Blues’. He tells me very specifically how he got PTSD and it’s shockingly surprising. It wasn’t from being shot at on the battlefield, it wasn’t from shooting people on the battlefield, it wasn’t from dealing with guys whose legs had been blown off on the battlefield. It was from his one week out of three on rotation working in a German hospital. So there wasn’t anyone shooting at him, he wasn’t shooting at anyone but working in that hospital fucked him up deeply, permanently and tragically. And I wouldn’t have gotten that from another podcast.

“Another early episode, ‘I’ll Go First’, is me talking about my history with steroids. When I was a weightlifter I was a purist for a very long time. I competed as a bodybuilder as a teenager in high school and I thought guys who used steroids were full of shit but on the other hand I was taking all kinds of off the shelf lunacy from health food stores – things like pituitary gland extract, adrenal gland extract – there’s no way this stuff was approved by anyone with any bona fide medical knowledge at all. One time when I was 25 I was doing the California Naturals which is a big weightlifting show in San Diego, which is very close to Mexico.

“Some guys I trained with said, ‘Let me give you a shopping list and a bunch of money. Pop over the border to Tijuana and get us some steroids.’ I went and got their meds on the way to the show. The way that they ‘drug tested’ Big Naturals was to give you a polygraph or lie detector test – no blood test and no urine test. So when I got to San Diego I was sat there with a fanny pack full of illegal steroids from Mexico and passed the polygraph and entered the show where I was blown off stage by guys who were not by any stretch of the imagination ‘natural’.

“I never competed again but I started using steroids and it was my thing out of all drugs. You can be a casual heroin user for years but if it’s not your thing it won’t catch you. Steroids were the thing that caught me. It was as hard as shit to stop. If you thought you’d felt good before in your life – you’d never felt this good. [LAUGHS] Honest to god – I’m not apologising for it, I’m not advocating for it but it was perfect and perfectly dangerous. I didn’t hit a bottom with it or have a moment of clarity though, probably what saved me was I started training in mixed martial arts and I needed to stop to do that seriously. But from the very start steroids fucked me up. I was doing this ‘research’ on my own because I didn’t want anyone to know about it. But I found myself taping together two syringes so I could get way more than 4 CCs into one shot when injecting it. Hormones are super powerful. To inject yourself with more than 4 CCs of synthetic testosterone is absolute lunacy. But I guess you should realise you’re taking too much of a drug when you’re taping two syringes together. [LAUGHS]

“The withdrawal effects are terrible. In short you’re supposed to build slowly up on them and then taper slowly off but of course, because I was completely power mad I didn’t slope gently up, I just went straight to max until I ran out. For the next three weeks I would be sobbing, manically depressed and dangerous. I didn’t have ‘roid rages’ but with personality deformation, I was right on the edge of a precipice. I ran out of meds, my body wasn’t producing anything and California gun culture being what it is… I was paranoid, depressed, crying while the owner of a gun.

“Once I was watching the Bill Murray movie Scrooged. At the end when they’re singing ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’, I remember standing in front of my TV naked with a firearm, sobbing [LAUGHS]. Just crying and crying and crying but also I knew it was ridiculous, so it was at that point I was like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got problems man.’”

Sign up for the OZY Confidential podcast here

To read about Eugene Robinson’s 13 favourite albums, click on the photograph below

First Record

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