by HAP MANSFIELD
The Tao Te Ching, that Chinese masterwork attributed to Lao Tse, says that we make a pot out of clay but it is the emptiness inside which is useful. Local musician Robbie Doyen knows a thing or two about the emptiness. Within a short period of time, he lost almost everything. In the process he found himself.
Doyen has been a colorful part of the patchwork quilt of San Marcos music for 18 years. He has hosted song swaps and acoustic evenings at local music venues and has delighted his fans with his band Robbie and the Robots. The band’s video for Doyen’s song “I’m The One” was directed by the critically acclaimed Randi Nguyen at Omega studio.
A life-long Texan and graduate of Texas State, Doyen is planning a radical change in his life, moving to Taiwan before the end of the year. We caught up with Doyen and asked him a few questions about his impending life, his martial arts training and his last gig at the Triple Crown on Dec. 21.
If you go …
What: Robbie Doyen’s farewell performance
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21
Where: Triple Crown, 206 N. Edward Gary
San Marcos Mercury: Why are you leaving San Marcos?
Robbie Doyen: I suddenly found myself completely unattached. When the economy in Texas crunched, bars started canceling live music. I lost almost all of my regular gigs as a solo musician and a sound engineer which was my main source of income. Since then I’ve been scrambling to work minimum wage and odd jobs to make ends meet. Then Sarah and I split up after almost ten years together. Then my landlord sold my house and the new owner asked us to be out in a week. This all happened in rapid succession. It hurt to lose so much all at once. But the upside to losing everything at the same time was that I could choose almost any path I wanted for my future. So I’m going to Taiwan to teach English and study Taijiquan.
Mercury: I know you teach and train in the martial arts. Is that a reason you chose Taiwan?
Doyen: Yes. In fact, I’d say that’s the main reason. Taiwan is like the Mecca for internal martial arts.
Tai chi is very misunderstood. Most people in America just do the slow forms for health benefits. That’s a big part of it, but Tai Chi is actually a martial art. There are two main schools of Chinese martial arts: internal and external. One of the biggest differences is that in the external martial arts which people are most familiar with like Karate, the student starts off learning how to use hard force and much later on in their training they learn to relax. In internal martial arts like Tai Chi you learn how to relax first and you actually use sinking and relaxing to make your body hard. Eventually there are faster forms and plenty of self defense applications. That part isn’t for everyone, but I love it all.
It’s extremely difficult to find people who teach Tai Chi as a martial art with proper internal principles. I was lucky enough to find a teacher like that in Sean Carney of Soft Answer Tai Chi in Buda. Now that I plan to travel, the next obvious step for me is to go to Taiwan. During the Cultural Revolution many of the Martial Arts Masters of China fled to democratic Taiwan to avoid persecution. That’s how the originator of my style, Cheng Manching, wound up opening up the original school for his style in Taipei. He called it Shr Jung, which means “Right Timing” in Mandarin Chinese. That is where I plan to study.
Mercury: Is there, dare I say, some spiritual or “synchronous” reason for Taiwan?
Doyen: Well, now that you mention it, the ideas in Taoism have been the wind under my flight to Taiwan. Ninety five percent of the population of Taiwan is some combination of Taoist and/or Buddhist. I have been studying the Tao Te Ching and other Taoist texts quite a lot for the last few years. Taoism is so calming compared to most philosophies. It’s always very focused on what’s happening immediately, and it encourages you to go with the flow and let life guide you along your path. And when you meet resistance, just go around it. So often I feel like I’ve struggled against the world to try to achieve my goals. That hasn’t worked so well. So now I’m letting the world help me decide what to do.
Mercury: Explain that a little.
Doyen: I just recently became aware of how selfishly I’ve lived my life. I’ve been in denial of it. Selfishness is a filter, and I have always put that filter of “me” between myself and others. I’m trying to learn how to be more selfless—how to have a filter of “you”. It’s hard. But in Taiwan selflessness is built into the culture. I really think it will be a great place for me to learn to put others first and grow into a better man.
Mercury: What about music? Do you plan to keep on writing songs and playing in Taiwan?
Doyen: Of course. I’m bringing my guitar. Nobody will know me there, so I plan to just start playing at open mics and see what happens. One thing I think I will love about writing songs in Taiwan is being around people who don’t understand English. I’m an insecure perfectionist about my songwriting. I don’t like people to hear me singing a song before I feel ready to perform it. Usually I have to find someplace totally secluded to write. But if I’m not worried about people listening to what I’m saying and judging me, I’ll probably feel more free to create. Hope so anyway.
I also plan to take some SMTX 78666s [a compilation CD of San Marcos musicians] with me. It’s a new market, and who knows, maybe they’ll fall in love with San Marcos music. It’s worth a try. And I also plan to try to use the miracle of modern electronic networking to make a new recording with my bandmates here in San Marcos while I’m in Taiwan. I have apps like Viber and iMessage that will allow me to talk and text internationally for free on my iPod Touch, and I can video message for free with Tango. Even though I’ll be in Taiwan I hope to still maintain an American presence with Robbie and the Robots and my wonderful bandmates James, CJ, Junior and Stan. It truly is becoming a small world.
Mercury: What is the music like in Taiwan?
Doyen: I hear that rockabilly bands are big there. I know that there were a few bands from Taiwan that played at SXSW last year. I also read that Dinosaur Jr. played there a couple of months ago. But really I have no idea what to expect from the music scene.
Mercury: Any plans to master the two string lute? Or have you done that already?
Doyen: I’ve been thinking about taking up some traditional Chinese folk instruments like the Guqin and the Pipa. The Guqin is a long seven stringed instrument that is played horizontally on one’s lap. It’s the instrument the old man plays during the imaginary fight between Donnie Yen and Jet Li in “Hero” before his strings break. The Pipa is kind of like a cross between a banjo and a guitar.
Mercury: What do you think you’ll miss most about Texas?
Doyen: You know, aside from my friends and family and fellow musicians and martial artists, I think I’ll probably miss Mexican food more than anything.
Mercury: Where are your last few gigs?
Doyen: The gig I’d like to focus on is the last full band show I have scheduled in America. It’s at the Triple Crown (206 North Edward Gary St.) on December the 21st. The day the world is supposed to end. We’re headlining. First up is Sp_aces. Then Spilt Milk.
Mercury: Have you any final words or thoughts for Texas/San Marcos?
Doyen: Wo ai ni men. Tsai jian! That means, “I love you all. See you later!”
Music video for Robbie and the Robot’s “I’m the One (Extended Cut)”