He's Got His Mojo Workin'
For the past thirteen years, Mojo Nixon has waged a butt-rockin' assault on some of the more significant ills of society while touting the pleasures to be found in America's underbelly. Once upon a time in the Eighties, this vision infiltrated the mainstream: The video for the song "Elvis Is Everywhere" became the first of several MTV hits for Nixon and led to numerous guest-VJ appearances. But today he says, "I'm obviously out here on the pirate-radio end of the deal. I'm a voice in the wilderness. I make a living doing this, but there's little chance of me having a hit. I'm insane."
Maybe so--but that's a large part of his charm. His clip for the 1989 ode "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child" may have ended his relationship with MTV (the network banned it), but it also epitomized his no-holds-barred sense of humor. Counting his latest release, Gadzooks!!!, Nixon has churned out ten records' worth of guitar-powered hillbilly dementia that ranges from proletarian protests ("Burn Down the Malls," "I Hate Banks," "Destroy All Lawyers") to jarringly funny attacks on the pop-culture elite ("Don Henley Must Die"). In addition, he's toured with acts such as the Pleasure Barons, a whiskey-soaked party band that featured the late Beat Farmers leader "Country Dick" Montana (whom Nixon calls his "de-mentor") and appeared in numerous movies, most memorably as a folk musician turned giant lizard in the box-office catastrophe Super Mario Bros.
But long before Nixon became a rock-and-roll rabble-rouser, he spent time in the Mile High City under his given name, Kirby McMillan Jr. "It was way back in time--back in 1980 and '81," he remembers in a smoky voice that combines a bluesman's down-home drawl with the enraptured fervor of a Southern Baptist preacher. "I had just gotten out of college. I lived in England for a while, and the Clash didn't want me to join 'em, so I took a job in Denver with VISTA. I had this job down in a little storefront on Stout Street. I was supposed to be organizing winos."
To do what?
"Drink more wine, apparently," Nixon bellows. "And I was very successful at it. I sang Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly songs in the soup kitchens, and I took the job seriously until I realized it was some sort of government scam and that if I actually got these guys to do something, I'd probably have been put in jail."
After quitting the VISTA program, Nixon formed a punk outfit, Zebra 123. "This was right before hardcore," he notes. "Back when people were still playin' songs instead of noise. Everybody else in Colorado had skinny ties and was playing New Wave, but we were out of the Jerry Lee Lewis school of punk. I lived on East Colfax, right across from the big church [the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, at Colfax and Logan]. I had an upstairs apartment over what was a drugstore then. It cost $90 a month and had an old Murphy bed that fell right out of the wall."
As Nixon tells it, he decided to leave Denver following a historic visit to the Ogden Theatre, the very venue he's slated to play during his upcoming appearance. "I saw Taxi Driver there the same night that John Hinckley saw it," he claims, making reference to the onetime local who insisted that he shot President Ronald Reagan to impress Taxi Driver co-star Jodie Foster. But whereas Hinckley subsequently headed to Washington, D.C., for a violent date with history, Nixon lit out for Southern California. "I was so crazy, I drove to San Diego to see this old girlfriend," he says. When he discovered that his old flame was fanning the fires of love with another suitor, he admits, "It's a wonder I didn't go shoot the president."
Instead, Nixon, an avid cyclist, opted for a more therapeutic form of consolation, pedaling from San Diego back to his hometown of Danville, Virginia. Along the way, he experienced the epiphany he refers to as "the Mojo Nixon Revelation--that what I should do was get a little front-porch boogie-woogie going, to make your grandma buck-dance. And I decided I would talk in such a way as to make your grandma blush and hit you in the head with her purse. That was my talent, and I figured I should stick to it."
Gadzooks!!!, issued by the Needletime imprint, does not deviate from this time-tested formula. The disc's seventeen ditties include hard-to-find and unreleased offerings from the past dozen years, along with a handful of newly recorded numbers. "It's a compilation, retrospective, gap-filling phenomenon," Nixon remarks. "Plus, if you wanted to buy all the different CDs, flexi-discs and movie soundtracks that these songs were on, you'd have to spend approximately $239 and a lot of time with people telling you, 'I ain't got that crazy record. Nobody would buy that thing.' So with Gadzooks!!!, I'm just providing a service to all the Mojonites and Mojoholics out there in their little pockets of resistance across America."
True enough, "The Poontango," "I Like Marijuana," "UFOs, Big Rigs & BBQ" and "I'm Drunk" should provide the perfect tonic for true Nixon believers. Such folks will also be drawn to "Bring Me the Head of David Geffen," a hilarious anti-corporate screed that remained officially unreleased until Gadzooks!!! dropped. According to Nixon, the tune's unique history has everything to do with the Geffen Records founder and his power in the music industry.
"I wanted to put it on my album Whereabouts Unknown, but everybody said, 'No, no, no,'" Nixon says in a tone quivering with exaggerated fear. "They all said, 'We ain't crazy like you, Mojo. We ain't burnin' all our bridges and peein' on them. No, no.' So I said fine, I'll fight this battle later. But it showed up on the advanced cassettes--and not even where I had it on the record. The gods of courage snuck it on there. Now, some people said, 'Mojo, you did that yourself.' Well, I wish I was smart enough to think of that, but I'm not that sneaky."
Today, Nixon is as opinionated as ever when discussing Geffen and the tired groups he and his peers at other major labels continue to foist on the public. "It's pitiful," he spits. "P-i-t-t-i-f-u-l-l--or however you spell it. I mean, there's lots of good bands, and every town's probably got at least one. But David Geffen wants to spend $100 million on Aerosmith again, and I already heard all that. I drank the bong water, and I heard rock over and over and over. I say take that money and give fifty new bands $2 million each. But no, it's all bean-countin', money and greed-head stuff. Good music is lost in the equation. There are good bands out there, like the New Duncan Imperials and Southern Culture on the Skids [which records on, believe it or not, the Geffen imprint], but they're not who you read about.
"The problem is," he adds, "that now, with things being more and more consolidated, either you sell thirteen million records or you sell fifty thousand. There's no minor leagues, no middle ground anymore. Pretty soon there's going to be just two record companies--one making large, ugly records, and one making giant, stupid records. And all of them will be owned by some secret Chinese tong."
Until that day comes, Nixon and his Toadliquors plan to stay on the road, where they can be found about six months out of the year. For his latest return to Denver, Nixon promises a show that's "pro-drinkin', pro-fornicatin' and pro-legalization. And if any of those damn right-wing survivalists want to come down there, we'll take 'em on one at a time, round for round and pound for pound, and we'll kick their little Christian-cult butts.
"Part of what I'm doing is celebratin' the weird and the wonderful in this world," he goes on. "But I'm also putting the magnifying glass on the ugliness of the giant hypocrites and the big lie-meisters who go on TV and tell us this highly polished turd doesn't smell like shit when it does. See, they think that if they say it long enough and hard enough and then get Michael Jordan and McDonald's involved, you know, we might just roll over. Well, I'm here to make sure that we don't."
Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors. 9 p.m. Friday, March 14, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $8, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-
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