Biography

This guy’s from … Maine? Brian Who?

Now pay attention here, folks: if you landed here looking for Brian Robbins the film actor/director/producer, it ain’t me, babe.

Or, if you’re searching out the musician Brian Robbins who is best known for the underground hit “Marijuana”, you also have the wrong guy. (And in both cases, I’m sorry for the confusion and invite you to come back and visit here any old time you’d like.)

But if you’re looking for the tall, white-haired fellow who:

  • lives in Maine;
  • writes about everything from lobster boats and salmon farming to Keith Richards and Keith Jarrett;
  • draws the occasional cartoon – including “The Adventures of Filthy the Snowman”;
  • and wails away on the guitar, mandolin and bouzouki while bellowing, blowing on a harmonica, and stomping his foot, then …

BINGO – welcome!

Me when I was about a year-and-a-half old and my dumboldgirlcousin Julia. Although I was trying to put on a brave face, I was scarred for life.

I might look older, but I was born in 1958. (There were a couple years there when I didn’t take my vitamins; let that be a lesson to you, boys and girls.)

I grew up in a family (and a community) chock full of storytellers. It was one of those things that folks simply did; it was part of who they were. So was playing music; it was something to do. But as far as making some sort of a living out of that sort of stuff? Well …

Nobody ever told me I couldn’t be a writer, but if you were a teenage boy growing up on an island off the coast of Maine in the early 1970s, you just didn’t tell anybody you liked to write. Admitting to that would’ve gotten about the same reaction as telling your buddies that you liked wearing your mother’s dresses, too. And that’s just the way it was. (I didn’t talk about the New York Dolls albums I used to listen to in my room, either.) 

I did have two teachers in high school that I shared my little secret with. They both encouraged me to put words down on paper, even if another soul never read them. “Write,” was the best advice they gave me. (Thank you, Mrs. Grindal and Mrs. Vaughan.)

Other than that, I assumed anything I’d want to go to college for wouldn’t pay many bills in the real world. When the time came, I traded my high school graduation gown for a set of oil clothes in 1976, figuring my place was out on the waters of the Gulf of Maine, offshore lobstering with my older brother Stevie.

The Brothers Robbins circa 1981, home in between offshore lobstering trips. My brother Stevie (left) has always made me look little (no small feat). Me, I’m grinning because the liquor store opens in five minutes.

We worked hard and we played hard in between fishing trips – a period of life backed by a soundtrack of the Stones, Tom Waits, and Waylon Jennings. We couldn’t be cowboys or join the French Foreign Legion, so offshore lobstering was the next best thing.

The road from there to here is a long one, but I’ll try to make the telling of it quick:

Getting married and having children – who you had to say good-bye to on a regular basis when you left to go offshore – made me think about trying to make a living on dry land. Of course, I’d blown off any offers to go to college, so I really was nothing more than a lobsterman who liked to write.

A letter to the editor of Commercial Fisheries News in the mid-80s about a fisheries issue led to an invitation to do some occasional freelance writing for them. (Thank you Robin Alden, Susan Jones, and my brother-by-another-mother Rick Martin.) And by 1988, I was hired by CFN full-time and began wearing shoes to work rather than boots.

In the years since, I’ve worked at a number of different things – all related to the commercial fishing world in one way or another. The one constant in the years since I came ashore to stay has been my “Bearin’s” column in Commercial Fisheries News – a monthly opportunity to flush things out, whether it be a personal thing that I just need to write about or some foolishness that’s showed up in my brain. People have asked me for years if it’s hard to start from scratch each month and where I get my ideas from. I’ve always maintained that I’ve been lucky to have a place to put it down … those stories show up whether you want them to or not. In the case of the fictional stuff, all I’m doing is watching the movie in my head, writing it down as it happens, and waiting to see how it ends.

In 2008 – a little burnt-out and beat-up from some long years on the road – I closed my eyes, stepped off the edge, and took the very, very scary plunge into full-time freelance writing.

If it hadn’t been for my wife (and best buddy) Tigger, I never would have dared to do it. I believe what she asked me was, “You’ve always said you’d like to do more writing when you got older … how old do you want to get?” Good point. I love that gal. (You can read up a little on our story by clicking right here. Plus, there’s music to listen to!)

The original photo that was cropped for the cover of “Bearin’s: The Book”. Me, I would’ve kept Bonnie the Chesapuppy having her belly rubbed in the shot, but what do I know about publishing?

An essay I wrote about taking my daughters Jessica and Cassie to see Wilco at the little teeny tiny Camden Opera House back on the 3rd of July in 2000 (imagine it) unlocked the door to some music-related writing opportunities. (Thank you, Dr. Dean Budnick.) By fall of 2008, I was doing regular music reviews and feature pieces for Jambands.com and Relix magazine – and since then have also written for Glide.com, GuitarWorld.com and Hittin’ The Note magazine.

On the saltwater side of things, Commercial Fisheries News remains the home team and always will. These days I’m senior contributing editor (I’m not sure what that means, but it makes me sound old) and I still write the “Bearin’s” column, along with regular features on boats and people. I don’t know a thing about f-stops or shutter speeds, but give me an outboard and a camera set on rapid-fire and I can take a decent boat photo. (Check out DownEast BoatPorn while you’re here.)

My other marine-related outlets include CFN’s sister publication Fish Farming News, Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors and National Fisherman.

And in 2011 Bearin’s: The Book was published (you can buy it here on the site), gathering up my favorite CFN essays and fictional stories from 1988-2008. Most of the stories are set along the Maine coast, but I feel the emotions are universal.

So it’s a funny life these days. One week found me out in South Dakota with Tigger to do a feature on Hutterite fish farmers raising tilapia. The day after we got back home, I was doing a phone interview for Relix with David Johansen of the New York Dolls – who laughed when I told him how he’d screwed with my head many years ago.

I hunkered down in a skiff with my camera early one morning to get running shots of a lobster boat for CFN and then talked with Merry Prankster Ken Babbs for a Jambands.com feature that afternoon.

It tickled me to write about 80-years-old-and-still-going-strong Faye Wells, a veteran tuna fisherwoman – as it did to chat with Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia (Jerry’s wife).

How many folks do you know that are married to their best friend? Well, now you know at least one: me. That’s my sweet Tigger on the left.

I’m a lucky guy and I know it, believe me. I have three wonderful kids – the aforementioned Jessica and Cassie, plus son Jeremy – and a growing roster of grandchildren. I’m married to my best friend. We have the greatest critters in the world (Bonnie the Chesapuppy, plus Stella and Pearl the Siberian kittysisters). Heck, I even get to play music with The Horseshoe Crabs – in fact, you’ll find a Crab section here on the site.

(And if you want to know some more about the Brothers Robbins and the world of lobstering, I invite you to pop up a big bowl of popcorn and head on over to http://saltthemovie.org/ where you can watch the documentary movie “Salt Of The Earth” for free. Thank you, Randy Olson – otherwise known as “Dr. Urchin”.)

So, welcome to my little world of tales, ‘toons, and tunes. Take a look around: there are links to various writing pieces; there’s stuff to buy in the store; there’s – aw, heck … that’s enough. Go see for yourself.

And thanks.

You can always give me a holler at greysoul@tidewater.net – but don’t be sending anything weird, okay?