Mojo Nixon (due Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, at the Lion's Lair) gained notoriety in the mid- to late '80s for his irreverent songs informed by an absurdist humor with partner Skid Roper. Nixon's exuberant, unapologetic persona won over audiences because even as Nixon would make seemingly over-the-top, crazy statements in interviews and in songs, there was an obvious intelligence and thoughtfulness behind it.
Nixon and Roper released beloved songs like "Stuffin' Martha's Muffin," "Elvis Is Everywhere," "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child" and "Don Henley Must Die" before splitting up in 1990. Since then, Nixon has released solo albums and records with his now-ex-band, the Toad Liquors. These days, he is officially in "un-retirement," meaning he plays one-off gigs now and then with various partners in crime. We had the good fortune to talk with Nixon, who was in high form, about his year living in Denver, Michael J. Fox, the Dead Milkmen, Don Henley, Tim Tebow and much more.
Why was Michael J. Fox the Anti-Elvis?
Mojo Nixon: Michael J. Fox always played a yuppie twit on TV, and in two movies, he pretended to be a rock-and-roller. Look, I don't pretend to be an evil yuppie twit. In Back to the Future and in that terrible Paul Schrader movie with the Springsteen song, Light of Day, Michael J. Fox desperately wanted to be a rock-and-roller. He's not! He is an evil yuppie twit, and he always will be an evil yuppie twit. He can't be a rock-and-roller. People think I can have sympathy for him now because he's sick. Oh, no! No! Fuck it, I know how to hate. You people don't know how to hate!
Obviously, you're familiar with the Dead Milkmen referencing you in "Punk Rock Girl."
That all came about because the Dead Milkmen were on the same label: Enigma Records. They were in Southern California on Thanksgiving, and they had nowhere to go, so I said, "You all come stay at my house, and you can sleep on the floor." Rock-and-roll band, they didn't have no money, riding around in a van, stinkin' all to be damned.
So they come to my house, and I went to the store and I bought thirteen Hungry Man, turkey pot pie dinners and three bottles of Wild Turkey, and we proceeded to have a big old time! And we became big buddies after that. Enigma put this big tour together, and we toured all across the country. At some point, they put me in their song, and the song was fuckin' huge on MTV. Maybe not every day, every other day, somebody mentions that damn song.
And Wesley Willis wrote a song about you.
Oh, yeah. We played with Wesley a couple of times up in Chicago. One memorable time down in Springfield, Illinois, there was a huge fistfight. A lot of people pretended to be crazy. "Oh, you know, I'm a crazy artist!" Wesley was crazy -- crazy-crazy. So I thought it was a great honor to be in a Wesley Willis song.
Though I was a little mad at Jello. Jello Biafra put out a whole Wesley Willis album. And I said, "How come you didn't put my song on there?" He said, "Well your song wasn't as good." I said, "They're all the same fuckin' song! What do you mean?! There's the Paul Westerberg one and the Mojo Nixon one. 'Paul Westerberg, he's a rockin' man...' They're all exactly the same!" Maybe Jello was mad about something I said or something.
You made all those signs protesting the Westboro Baptist Church?
Yes! Yes. They tie into the theme of the show, which is, "Tim Tebow is a liar. There is no God, and Jesus ain't comin' back." Those signs, though -- about two years ago, Reverend Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church were comin' to Coronado, which is where I live in San Diego, literally two blocks from my house, and I felt I had to do something. So I went and made these signs that look exactly like his but subvert his message. I was going to get me and my son and his friends up in there amongst 'em and, you know, cause chaos.
The sad part is the motherfuckers chickened out. They didn't come! These are the "God hates fags" guys. Their signs say, "God Hates Fags." My signs said, "Fag You" and "I Hate God" and all this other stuff. But they never came! Where I live, I guess they had about enough lawyers to scare them off or something. So I got these signs -- I literally spent $500 making those signs, getting them just right. And then I can't use the motherfuckers.
What is it about that group that you find especially objectionable?
They're really just, like me, people seeking attention. What they're doing, though, is using...The idea that someone is going to say, "God kills your soldiers" and this whole idea that America is damned because we've embraced homosexuality is just ludicrous -- loodicrisp -- beyond belief.
Did you change the name of the song to "Rick Astley Must Die" once on stage only to have Don Henley, the original target of the song, come on stage and sing with you?
No, no. Don Henley came on stage, but we didn't change the name of the song. We were playing in Austin in like 1990, maybe '92. We were playing in a tiny place, Hole In The Wall, across from the University of Texas, it literally holds a hundred people. We were in there playing, and everybody was saying, "Don Henley is coming!" His buddy from high school hung out at that bar, it was his regular joint, and a lot of times when Don would come to town to save the trees, they would go hang out at this bar.
So we're playing, and sure as shit, the motherfucker shows up. For once in my life, I was flabbergasted. I was like "homminahomminahomminahommina." So finally I said, "Hey, you wanna fistfight? You wanna steak?" He said, "Hey, I wanna sing the song. Especially the part about not wanting to get together with Glenn Frey." Cause you know, it's "Don Henley must die. Don't let him get together with Glenn Frey." This is before everybody had camera phones and cell phones, so no pictures. There's no evidence. He was belting it out: "Don Henley must die! Don't let him get together with Glenn Frey!" It was fuckin' funny.
Before that, him and his manager had been pickin' at me in the paper in San Diego and L.A. You don't want to get in a fight with Mojo. Don's big comeback was, "I sold millions, he's sold thousands." Hell, Titanic was a big movie, too, motherfucker! Still sucks! Nobody ever lost a nickel underestimating the taste of the American public.
On your most recent album, you have a song called "You Gotta Be Insane to Fly in Small Private Planes."
That's on Whiskey Rebellion, which is kind of a collection of shit that wasn't anywhere else. Here's the thing: Artists and sports figures and politicians, they want to get somewhere fast. They get in these small private planes, which don't have nearly the inspection process that a big commercial jetliner would have. And two, they're much smaller; they're affected by the weather a lot more. And people are just dying all the time. Can't you just wait to get on the bus?
That guy, I think it was JFK Jr., he died because he couldn't wait until the next morning. He flew at night to find an island in the middle of the dark ocean. You're off by one degree on the compass and you're nowhere. You're just riding around in the fuckin' darkness. Lynyrd Skynyrd at some point had their own plane. They had to make a decision: Are we gonna spend money on airplane maintenance or a brick of cocaine? What do you think they did?
What prompted your "unretirement"?
Oh, you know, I'm still officially retired. Really, what happens is we play every now and then. We usually play at SXSW. We played at my son's wedding. We played a John D. Graham benefit down in Austin; he's a buddy of ours. Two years ago, my piano player's wife ran off. Mojo Nixon and the Toad Liquors reunited to get the piano player laid. I'm here to say it was a successful tour.
Doug Kauffman, the promoter there, called me and said, "Hey, man, I want you to play at the Lion's Lair in Denver." I said, "We don't really play. I gotta have a reason to play." Then I started to hear about this Tim Tebow feller. So Mojo Nixon comes out of retirement to set Tim Tebow straight: "Tim Tebow Is a Liar Tour: There Is No God and Jesus Ain't Comin' Back."
In fact, I challenge Tim Tebow to show up at the club and produce either one of his invisible friends: Jesus or God. Produce one. You don't even gotta produce both of 'em, just one of 'em. What does Tim Tebow do? He leaves town! Because he's a pussy! He's afraid of Mojo! This had nothing fuckin' to do with Satan Manning. No! Who you gonna believe? The pompous, pious prick, or a drunk guy with a guitar in a bar late at night? I am here to set the world straight about Tim Tebow and his invisible friends!
That's why I'm comin', and we're playing at the Lion's Lair, where we had a legendary show. It was maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. It was August, it was a million degrees, and it was so hot that in the middle of the show I had to take a shit. The place is kind of small, and I literally walked the three feet to the bathroom and the band made a song up on the spot, "Mojo's Takin' a Shit," and they sang it while I was dumping. Then I ran back in and finished the show. I don't know if that'll happen again, but it might. You know, as you get older, you have less and less control. A young man can hold them motherfuckers in.
You are or were involved in or interested in the Church of the Subgenius?
When we played in Dallas, Reverend Stang used to come to our shows. Anything that makes a mockery of organized religion is fine by me. I used to say, "Religion is stupid but harmless." But I'm coming around to the opinion that it does more harm than good. For every nun that's feeding starving people, there's fifteen assholes preaching either hate or creating war. The cost-benefit analysis of religion is way in the negative column, as far as I'm concerned.
Maybe religion fills some psychological or emotional need that people need filling. I like to fill that with rock and roll and drugs and sex. Psychedelic mushrooms! On psychedelic mushrooms, my dick was six feet long. Oh, wait, this is a family paper, right?
Not really. They don't care.
At one point, you came out in support of Kinky Friedman for the governorship of Texas?
Yes. Kinky was a buddy of mine. I was hot for one moment, and I had a movie deal in L.A. I had a good title: "Citizen Mojo." That's all I had, and I gave Kinky Friedman $50,000 to write a screenplay. Most of that money went up Kinky's nose, and we got like twenty pages of gibberish, but we became friends.
I'll tell you a quick story. I go down there and interview Kinky for my main job, Outlaw Country on Sirius XM, and we eat some steaks and we took a walk around his ranch down there in Medina, Texas. He goes, "Mojo, when I get elected, I'll need good people like you to help me out. Maybe you can be like the press secretary or the Minister of Disinformation." Here's the key thing: He was only half kidding.
That was in the summer, and Kinky was at about 27 percent and everybody else was at 24 percent -- there were four people running. At one point, it looked like Kinky was going to win, so I bought a ticket to go, because what if he wins and I'm not there? If he wins, I gotta be there, so I can be the new press secretary. Well, he got his ass kicked. The vote was all split up. He lost, but I was there. I was ready! "The governor would like to comment on that. The governor would like to say you can lick his hairy ball sac. Any more questions?"
Other than just being a friend, what do you think Kinky stands for?
Kinky, even though he's crazy, he's a Romantic with a capital "R". I think Kinky, in the same way Bruce Springsteen believes in the power of rock and roll, Kinky believes in the power of the regular guy, the average person. Kinky Friedman is interested in the myth of Texas, not just the pain and the agony of the oil industry. That's what I'm attracted to. I don't give a fuck about the truth. I'm interested in the story. I'm interested in the archetype, the myth, the crazy overdrama. I'm interested not in what we're doing but what we could be doing.
Why did you want Debbie Gibson to be pregnant with your two-headed love child?
Well, you know, she was on MTV. It's similar to the Martha Quinn thing. She's on MTV, she's real innocent-looking, she's like teenage high-school cheerleader girl-next-door. Then she's right next to either the nastiest heavy metal or Madonna's sex-frenzy video. I just thought it was a humorous juxtaposition.
I wrote the song in Australia, and it was originally Kylie Minogue, this Australian pop girl, and she's still huge in Europe, but no one knew who Kylie was over here. So I changed it to Debbie Gibson. I also wanted to do a song that was based on the Creedence song "Travellin' Band," which is based on a Little Richard song. It all goes back to three chords and a cloud of dust.
I made a video of that with Winona Ryder playing Debbie Gibson, and it was funny. MTV wouldn't play it because we made fun of Debbie Gibson, Rick Astley, Tiffany and Spuds MacKenzie. Apparently that's how they was selling their stickers ads or some fuckin' thing.
You have a radio program called Lyin' Cocksuckers?
I do. In fact, that's my political talk show on Raw Dog Comedy on Sirius XM every Thursday night at eight o'clock eastern. Every now and then I get tired of talking about politicians, and we do "Turd Talk." "Turd Talk, you're on the bowl; men talk about takin' a dump." Last night, I had a guy who had written three books on farting. I had a fart expert, a fartologist, if you will, on the show. Apparently there's no supervision -- just do whatever the hell I want.
Are there particular politicians that inspired the show?
When Lyin' Cocksuckers came out, I just couldn't believe that George W. Bush lied us into a war in Iraq. Originally it was just me ranting for like forty minutes. There were no callers. Now, usually, I just rant for like fifteen minutes, and then I take callers. I've gone through Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, I've gone through them all. "Insane" Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann -- comedy gems, each and every one!
Lyin' Cocksuckers, a couple of weeks ago, "The topic is a word, and that word is motherfucker. Is motherfucker the greatest swear word of all time?" And most Americans agreed: Yes, motherfucker was the best swear word of all time. A few people said "cunt." But that's really an English thing.
Is it true that you actually have a degree in political science?
Yeah. Don't tell anybody.
I won't tell anyone.
You can tell them; I don't care. I lived in Denver in 1980, and I was in this thing, VISTA, and I was supposed to be organizing downtown residents into a community action group. I'm a community organizer, like the president. In fact, I read Saul Alinsky's book, and it's fuckin' nothing. Nothing! It's hardly radical at all. I was literally organizing winos to drink more wine. I was literally living out my Woody Guthrie dream. I was going to soup kitchens and playing Woody Guthrie songs on the acoustic guitar. I didn't really organize anybody, but I felt like I was doing something.
And then I was in a punk band there, Zebra 123, and we played around town and caused a little trouble. We were more kind of like the Clash meets Jerry Lee Lewis. The really hardcore kind of punk, that Black Flag thing, hadn't really happened yet, or it was just getting ready to happen. But they wanted bands that sounded more like the Cars. They wanted quirky pop bands, and we were more like three chords and a cloud of dust.
How long did you live in Denver, and whereabouts did you live?
About a year. We made a tape; there's a tape somewhere. It's not awful, it's not really good, it's not awful. I lived on East Colfax, right across from the big church there. There was a pharmacy downstairs and there were apartments upstairs. Ninety bucks a month. The bed fell out the wall; it was like I was in a fuckin' Raymond Chandler novel. That part of town was a little more cracka-lacky than it is now. It's probably been all gentrified and whatnot.
One night, I was going to the Malfunction Junction on 13th Avenue, and all of a sudden gunfire erupts, so I had to lay down in my car. I had a '69 Volkswagen, and I put my head down in the passenger seat well and put the car in reverse and got out of there so I wouldn't get killed. This was '79 or '80. It's excitin'! Livin' on the edge!
How did you end up working with Skid Roper?
Me and Skid Roper were hanging around here in San Diego. We were both in other bands, and I had this idea that I wanted to do this kind of a crazy blues guy, Mojo Nixon. I was gonna sit down and play guitar. Originally, I said, "Why don't you just play a snare drum and a hi-hat?" He said, "I've got this washboard on a stick, why don't we try that?" It just all worked out. For quite a while, we were both in a lot of bands and then the Mojo thing started taking off, and we made a record and went on tour and one thing lead to another.
Have you thought about working with him again?
I just saw him the other night. A friend of ours was getting married. We'll do it again. We're just waiting for the big payday. Mojo can be bought; it's just a big number. I'm a whore, I know it. I got a pimp, they call him a "manager." But, no, we almost played last year. There was a thing where the Beat Farmers and the Paladins reunited out in San Diego, but I was out of town and couldn't do it So something like that will bring us together here soon. And a big-ass check.
Tell me about Outlaw Country.
That's Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Hank Williams and all things related. That's on 2-6 Mountain Time. I have a NASCAR talk show Monday night on the NASCAR Channel. That's called Manifold Destiny. That's where the hillbillies gather to yell about NASCAR.
How did you get a talk show like that?
I grew up in Danville, Virginia, and I've been a NASCAR fan my whole life. My daddy was a fan, and I went to races when I was five years old, back in the '60s. In fact, there's no NASCAR race this weekend, and I'm starting to jones. I'm like a junkie over here. I'm gettin' itchy!
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music