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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Featured Stories

Mojo Nixon: Too Far, Too Fast, Too Much All the Time

by Steve TaigMarch 2024

Mojo Nixon in 2012. Photo by Dan Chusid.

I know what you’re thinking. You thinkers of your own thoughts, authors of your own intent, brothers, sisters, friends of the revolution. You’re not that hard to get a read on.

If you’re an indoctrinaire of the Mojo Nixon Forn-I-Cation Nation, you’re probably pretty sure you know what’s coming and you wait in anxious glee to be delighted with the same spread you’ve already seen a hundred times. You can relax into your own and drift off to your golden slumbers as we regale you with the classic fairy tales about the days of old, when knights were bold and Martha Quinn got her panties in a twist. Maybe you’d feel safer with a tale of redemption—the one about how a bombed-out-of-his-gourd superstar got up on stage one night to duet with Mojo on “Don Henley Must Die,” as if to tell the world that sometimes pretentious, uber-rich, ultra-famous artists CAN come down off of their imaginary pedestal, mix with the regular swill, and, in a moment of pure vulnerability, laugh at themselves.

Then, there are those of you who are woke, yet not yet awoken. If you’re thinking right now, “What the hell’s a Mo-Jo Nick-sun?” it’s time you got a taste of the ride this cat has been on.

The story begins where all great stories begin—at the end; the end of a time, the end of a place, the end of an era. On February 7, 2024, aboard the Outlaw Country Cruise as it was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after a night of rambunctious rabble-rousing and cacophonous caterwauling, the King of Sleaze dropped dead in his sleep at the age of 66, leaving in his wake a family, a legacy, and a vacuum of silence that will be impossible to fill.

Kirby McMillan from Danville, Virginia.

There may be now multiple generations of folks who only equate the name “Mojo Nixon” with the DJ on the SiriusXM Outlaw Country channel, where he had been broadcasting for almost 20 years as the Loon in the Afternoon. Beyond that, public appearances from ol’ Eye Gouger McGillicuddy had been few and far between, with hosting the annual Outlaw Country Cruise being the most regular. Lots of press and interviews accompanied the release of the documentary The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon that premiered at South By Southwest in 2022 (it’s showing on Amazon Prime these days, definitely worth checking out), two years too late to coincide with the release of the 10-CD box set, also titled The Mojo Manifesto, which was overshadowed by a world-wide pandemic and global shutdown that some conspiracy theorists have speculated was a plot concocted in the umbras of a secret cabal of fascist-communist right-wing leftists, infecting the record industry in order to trap people indoors so they would have nothing to do but listen unendingly to all 10 CDs on a loop until there was nothing left of their brains but a syrupy pudding that would drive them insane every time they turned their heads and heard the sound of the squicky liquid sloshing around inside their skulls.

Cindy Lee Berryhill & Mojo Nixon, late 1970s. Photo by Harold Gee.

Beyond that—and maybe the Whiskey Rebellion release in 2009—Nixon had been flying under the radar for two decades, seemingly by design as it appeared he rather enjoyed the ability to not be found if he didn’t want to be, punctuating this time with moments of his choosing when he would jump out from the shadows in the most unexpected places, pimp-slap us all like a cockfight in a looney bin, and then recede back into the darkness with that horse-toothed cackle he had, leaving us to question whether that had just really happened or not.

There are items and blurbs all over the place right now that gloss over his life in a couple of paragraphs to such an extent that the purposelessness of rehashing their contents would be superfluous, unessential, extranumerary, and redundant. I’ll save you the trouble. 99% of them say the same shit: Elvis Is Everywhere, Don Henley Must Die, Debbie Gibson blah-blah-blah, something-something David Geffen, hate banks, burn malls, kill lawyers, MTV, Bigfoot, UFO’s, Skid Roper, Dead Milkmen, maaaybe Country Dick, Kinky Friedman, Jello Biafra, Crossfire, and one ill-fated run for president. There. You just read most of them. There were a few that did stand out though.

George Varga did a great article in the San Diego Tribune. There was a touching piece by Holly Gleason for Paste Magazine that gives good insight into the man behind the myth. The report from Michael Corcoran gives details about the final hours from a writer who was on the cruise as it all went down. The Los Angeles Times did a pretty good job, and the write-up from the New York Times was the one that was the longest and went into the most detail. Until now….

In order to process what it will mean to live in a world without Mojo Nixon we will all have to come to terms with what it meant to have him when he was here. If you are writing him off as that raving, cussing, hootin,’ and hollerin’ redneck that had his 15 minutes and flamed out, you’re going to miss the point of what he was all about. Was he profane? Yes, but he could also be profound. Did he give a fuck? Seemingly no, yet conversations with anyone who really knew him reveal a man who gave all the fucks he had to give to the point of taking out loans for more fucks he would freely give to those for whom he cared. The persona didn’t give a fuck about anything. The man, however, while also not giving a fuck, only didn’t give a fuck about things he didn’t give a fuck about. If that makes any sense, you may be starting to come around. Was he ridiculous? On the surface, yes, but there was much more going on underneath that belied an intelligence that you might not encounter by merely wading into his shallow end…with your flippers and snorkel, goggles half-full of water, swim trunks falling down your ass because you couldn’t tie the string right, waiting for Suzy from second-period homeroom to get in the pool so you can take a dive and try to cop a look, pointing your finger at a guy people call Satan’s Co-Pilot and calling him ridiculous.

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper in 2013. Photo by Dan Chusid.

The man some labeled the “Perry Mason of Love” is a textbook case in the study of duality. Agent of chaos but house kept in order; bulwark of bullshit but as real as it gets; person, persona; born, created; literal, satire; a question with no answers; none that would matter anyway. He went against the grain every single chance he got, challenged the most powerful entities in the entertainment industry and had them eating out of his hand. Went too far, too fast, all in, right now, no thinking twice no looking back and for some insane reason, it actually worked, which only feeds into the chaos because if you really look at it there is no way in hell this pathway to success could ever lead to the same by anyone stupid enough to try to emulate it.

So why did it work for him? Because he was pure. His heart was in the right place. He had a very pointed view of what he wanted and, more important, what he didn’t want. He counted on his fans to be able to see past the ennui of existential bullshit and understand that he can be just a guy hanging out in the alley behind the club, bumming smokes and talking about what it all means just moments after being onstage beating on a five-gallon water jug, wearing a TV on his head, playing a set he may or may not have even been invited to play to an audience that may or may not even get it, taking great joy in entertaining his fans, and even greater joy from the looks of uptight pearl clutchers, horrified by the sound of the (gasp!) f-word, televangelical theatrics proclaiming pride in his surely imminent eternal damnation as he reeled off a list of things he did to their mama last night, with the only apology they could ever hope to get being of the two middle-finger variety.

Mojo, when he was just starting out.

Many got the joke. Many did not. It is no accident that many of the foremost disciples of the Mojo Nixon World Empire were lowlifes, flunkies, bikers, and, shall we say, folks of a lesser societal value with ever extenuating rap sheets coupled ironically with uber-intellectual college students with mid- to upper-level GPAs who were not getting invites to those raucous jock parties and maybe tended to have issues integrating with the opposite sex…and the punk rockers who were back then a rather healthy mixture of both types as they consisted of the freaks, the outcasts, the doomed, the damned, the weird; the confused and directionless, while not necessarily having any criminal intent but probably getting caught up in some kind of criminal intent regardless, and all, et al., etcetera, etc.

Probably the greatest aspect of the story of Mojo Nixon that will live on is that throughout his life he never sold out. When push came to shove he was the guy to stand up and double down, even if he was wrong. To him, it was never about making as much money as you possibly can; there was always something more behind everything he did. He played by his own rules and bowed to no one. His two stints with mainstream success are testimonials to that fact. When MTV came to him to use him in order to garner some much-needed street cred they had been sorely lacking, he made a whole slew of ridiculous demands in the hopes that they would shoot him down and leave him alone. When they acquiesced to literally every single one of them, he had no choice but to take the gig.

It was a short-lived tenure, of course, but that was basically the plan all along. The Corporate Pigs he railed against in many of his songs had let the Big Bad Wolf walk right through their front door. Nixon knew it was only a matter of time before he went so far, he would get kicked back down the ladder. It was in his very nature to go too far; it was only a question of when. The “when” in question came to be known in certain gossipy circles as the “Debbie Gibson Affair.” It was the lampooning of their sacred teenage cash cows and calling Rick Astley a “panty waist” that was all just a bit too much for the suits up top. We have to set the record straight as to what actually went down, as there is the misguided assumption that MTV fired Nixon because of the video. What actually happened was that they asked him to change it. When he wouldn’t they refused to air it, and Nixon walked. He could have continued his relationship with the mainstream, but to him it was a matter of principle.

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “Elvis Is Everywhere.”

Fast forward 15 or so years to around the early ’00s and we find Mojo Nixon back home in San Diego beginning his DJ career at KGB-FM, where he got some of his earliest breaks. It seemed like it would be a good fit, but things just weren’t vibing right. First of all, he had to watch his language. He also had to edit his content; Clear Channel gave him a long list of things that he was not allowed to talk about. He’s trying to make this work, toeing the corporate line and being a good respectable employee while feeling small pieces of his soul wither away every time he has to play a fucking Journey record again (we feel ya, Moj). He’s a chained up mad dog and not sure how much longer he can handle it.

DJ Mojo on SiriusXM.

When SiriusXM called with an offer he jumped at it but was wise enough to negotiate stipulations in his contract that allowed him the freedom to do, say, think, and feel whatever the hell he wanted. The Outlaw Country Show on SiriusXM ran for about two decades, and he not only got to play whatever songs he wanted from old classics to long-lost relics to new up-and-comers of many genres, but he also got to meet, sit down with, and interview at length many of his boyhood idols from the music world—and also NASCAR, which he was equally passionate about to the point that they gave him a whole other show where he got to talk specifically about that.

It’s the show he didn’t do that tells the real story though. There was originally a third show on SiriusXM in which, perhaps against what might be construed as the wiser doctrines of better judgment, the ol’ Hillbilly Idol talked politics (not a divisive subject at all /s) and as if to tempt fate right from the jump, if for no other reason than just to make a statement so everybody knows exactly where everybody is coming from, to try on his new bosses just to see if they flinch, he named the aforementioned show Lyin’ Cocksuckers. You wanted an outlaw, you got one, motherfucker. And for quite a few years the show went off without a hitch. Everything was fine throughout both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Mojo & Kinky Friedman at the SXSW premiere of the Mojo Manifesto in 2022.

Then two things happened that started to make the “guys in the ties” a little jumpy. Up until eight or nine years ago, Mojo had been broadcasting from his long-time residence in some craphole called Coronado. For reasons pertaining more to family matters than anything else at the time, the Nixons packed up and moved to Cincinnati, which wouldn’t affect the SiriusXM deal at all, as he could do his shows from anywhere. But Cincinnati is not exactly San Diego. Cincinnati claims it is South Ohio, but it is basically North Kentucky, not exactly, shall we say, the shining exemplars of higher education we all think of when we talk about all of the esteemed intellectuals that hail from that beacon of progress and hope we call Kentucky. Now, if you were one of the rubes tuning in to the political show by the new guy in Cincinnati to hear him talk about all the things you want to hear without listening to what he’s saying, you might think the owner of that voice is another fine, upstanding member of the Confederacy. But Nixon’s politics leaned decidedly left, while his convictions leaned not at all, right alongside his propensity to say whatever he’s got to say, except he now had zero degrees of separation between his family and a whole swath of the nation with lesser than average book-readin’ skills that are just itching to have something to get fired up about. Not the greatest combination there.

The second thing that happened was that this was also right around the same time that a certain rich, orange guy was announcing his first run for president. As the bean counters upstairs were doing the math, the projections were producing a most volatile situation that could end up having some potentially ruinous/downright dangerous results.

When SiriusXM decided to pull the plug on Lyin’ Cocksuckers, they were reminded of a certain contract they gave to a certain hell-raisin’ loudmouth that gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted, and that he had no intention of canceling anything. When you’re dealing with a guy who calls his lawyer “Dragonslayer,” it’s probably smart to tread lightly. In the end, the show did end up being cancelled in what may have been the only time in his life that Mojo “You Can’t Cancel Me” Nixon allowed himself to be just that. The punchline is that with all the cards in his hand regarding contract negotiations, he was able to have his new agreement drawn up such that the kibosh would only be put on the show itself without any changes made to his bottom line, i.e. money, such that for almost a decade and right up to the day he died, he was making a healthy chunk of change to NOT do a political talk show strictly out of fear of what potential shenanigans might ensue.

Those of you anxiously awaiting the day when you would see the man put on a pair of pants can rest easy in the knowledge that it’s now officially never going to happen. His ashes are, as I write this, in the capable hands of Bullethead, on their way home to Cincinnati, his wife Adaire, sons Rafe Cannonball and Ruben, and granddaughter. He’s also survived by sister Jane and brother Arthur.

Mojo with Dave Alvin & the Farmers at the Belly Up, 2013. Photo by Dan Chusid.

He said you can’t kill him, and he was right. You can’t. It required an immortal like Nature to take him out. He said he’s not gonna die and depending, I suppose, upon your beliefs, you can entertain the argument that death—as we mere mortals call it—is only a transformation into another form of life. Another time, another place, another realm altogether perhaps that had an opening for one wild, rambunctious no-limit musical, comedic, batshit crazy yet straight arrow sane, frantic, manic, maniacal minister from the Screamin’ Church of the Epileptic Jesus to extract them from their velvet coffins, to be the Cheez Whiz in the caviar of their lives, to come to them and hit ‘em in the head with a doo doo log so they can learn how to relax, cut loose and have some goddam fun for a change. He’s not dead, he’s moved on to someplace else that just needs him more.

I’ll let the man have the final word on this. He always seemed to have something to say:

I’m not gonna die. I’m too ornery to die. Too crazy to die. The fucking non-smokers and joggers die every day. Mojo Nixon thrives! Fuck you, I’m living out of spite. Spite’s a great motivator.

Hm. For a guy so alive, he did seem to talk about death a lot. Here’s what he had to say after the loss of the great Country Dick Montana:

Rock and roll ain’t dead. The great American, wild frontier, Davy Crockett, living legend, fuck you ‘up tight blue-bellied Christians,’ rantin’ and ravin,’ psycho on the edge of town will never die! You can kill the body, but the spirit just jumps into the next fearless nut job. Country Dick lost 20 years of this life being that nut job. He didn’t care; he did exactly what he wanted to do. He traded longevity for FREEDOM. He was happy he got to stand at the vortex for a moment…Now swashbuckle forth with manly comportment and make Dick proud. Let the drinkin’ begin!

Because of the sheer volume of audacity that permeates throughout his entire catalog, my personal favorite song from Mojo Nixon seems to not even get on the radar. Perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much. It’s the one song that shows him in a light completely the opposite of everything you think you know about him. It’s his one moment of sheer serenity where he does drop the act and be who he really is when the lights go out. “Positively Bodie’s Parking Lot” may be the one song he has that isn’t sung by Mojo Nixon, but Neill Kirby McMillan Jr….

Be young, be foolish
Be happy, blasting out of the jukebox
2 a.m., lights are on,
Nobody can stop, nobody’s going home
Can’t leave, can’t go anywhere
Because you know you’re already there

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