Eugene S. Robinson - A Walk Across Dirty Water [Book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Eugene S. Robinson

A Walk Across Dirty Water [Book] (2023)

Feral House

If you were to run into Eugene Robinson on the street and he told you about just a quarter of his escapades, you’d say to yourself, “this guy is a Grade A bullshitter!”: He was involved in the early Bay Area hardcore scene; he was a male model; he was straight edge but also did a ton of acid; he is the focal point of the back picture of the first SSD record; he was an editor for a department of defense magazine; he formed a pre-FLAG band with Chuck Dukowski; he delivered food to Andy Warhol; he used to eat grass for food; he told the Manson family off; he was the head editor for an online publication whose owner is now facing very serious criminal charges for defrauding banks using a voice manipulation device; he was in a Bill Cosby movie.

But then, in his new memoir A Walk Across Dirty Water and Straight Into Murderer’s Row, Robinson not only details all his trials and tribulations, but also provides photographic evidence proving his sometimes far-out claims. My favorite? A picture of Eugene with Cliff Huxtable before things became… unsavory. (To his credit, Eugene does mention that Cosby was a dick on set, in contrast to his nicey nice TV persona).

This is a book those interested in punk and metal have been waiting for, for a long time, in part, because Robinson is such a unique figure. Robinson begins with his birth and traces his history through the beginning of Oxbow. He doesn’t pull any punches, talking about his turbulent relationships with his parents and his multiple step parents. He goes over the rigors in touring with his early 80s hardcore/art band Whipping Boy. And just as we all prefer, he doesn’t pull punches. He talks about infighting in Whipping Boy, he talks about his interactions with East Bay Ray and Rollins and Harley Cro-Mag and Lydia Lunch and Ian MacKaye and a bunch of other people, and it’s fun to hear him call it as he sees it. But also, to Eugene’s credit, he doesn’t overly dwell on conflicts. He might say he thought someone was a jerk, but he quickly moves on, which leaves room for more dirt to be thrown.

But, the memoir is not really a vehicle for dirt throwing or even just as run-down of “this happened and that happened and this happened.” It lets us get into Eugene’s mind both directly, such as when he goes his complex opinions on race or sexuality, and his straightforward opinions on owning guns. But, perhaps most interestingly to me, is that Eugene also reveals his psyche indirectly, and maybe in a way that he didn’t intend to. For a large portion of the book, he lives in a trailer with no heat. He becomes distanced from his Mom for no direct reasons. He mentions his many sexual conquests, but not in a Motley Crue can-you-believe-this way, but rather, as a way to diagram his own development as a person. Among that, one of the most interesting things is that despite women hurling themselves at him, he admits he is pretty bad with women and often fails to notice their advances until they have already advanced. That is, in his weekly missives, Eugene often portrays himself as a guy that has been around the block and knows the know. I like learning about him when he was still wide-eyed.

Dirty Water is kind of a perfect memoir in that it zips by, but unloads a lot of details while stitching the factual into the emotional. (I read the whole thing in two plane rides, without putting the book down during either flight). We learn a lot about Eugene, but maybe more importantly, we learn that the dude does not bullshit.