Music

Mojo Nixon: The Lost Interview

Mojo Nixon was absolutely himself right to the end. The cult hero died Feb. 7 on board the Outlaw Country Cruise, where he’d performed and caroused in signature fashion the night before (“passing after a blazing show, a raging night, closing the bar, taking no prisoners,” according to a statement from his family).

Less than a year before that, he was in peak form as well, speaking with Rolling Stone about the making of his 2023 documentary, The Mojo Manifesto. It was a wide-ranging, side-splitting conversation, going over the wildest early years of his career and his undiminished perspective at age 65, and talking far more than made it into the story we wrote then. Here, never before published in full, is one of Mojo Nixon’s final interviews.

Matt Eskey, the director of your documentary, described it as a parade of freaks.
It’s just one weirdo nutjob after another.

What was the hope for the movie?
It was Matt’s idea. I said, “Yeah, I got a bunch of footage. You gotta find a little story in there to tell. I’m not going to interfere or say, ‘Do this, don’t do that.’” My goal was it should be funny, it should be short, it should make the fans happy. I’m a cult artist — make the cult crazy. Make the cult members buck dance. Don’t try to make civilians love Mojo. “Why is that fat hillbilly saying ‘motherfucker’ too much?” Those people, I can’t help them, but the people that come to the shows? Make the movie for them. That was my advice.

Were you more or less thinking that you’re not going to win over the mainstream, so why try?
Right. People dismiss me as a novelty artist, or “He’s a cartoon.” And that’s fine. I don’t want to be taken seriously. I don’t want to inject [a new] spirit of anarchy and freedom and psychosis in rock & roll — I just want to keep it there.

Are we missing that spirit today?
I think it’s always happening, but sometimes you have to look harder than other times. As soon as it gets successful, then The Man wants to water it down. The Man is a low motherfucker, to quote Richard Pryor. The Man is the devil and he’s interested in commerce. I’m not interested in commerce. I’m interested in chaos.

Even today, at 65?
Even today. It is shocking, completely incredible, that I’ve been on Sirius for 18 years. You’d have thought I’d been fired over some of the shit I’ve said.

Let’s go back to the first solo album. The movie starts with a focus on Otis.
Yes, and that’s when things got really crazy. I wanted to have a band, and I wanted to compete with the Replacements and the Blasters and Los Lobos. I made Otis and I had my first … I called it the first post-cowpunk supergroup. We had a bunch of money and it all went great — except Enigma Records went out of business as soon as the album came out. But this is a common tale of woe in the music business. We made a really good record and then … I wasn’t trying to make a major-label record, then things got wild and free.

Who inspired you at that point?
A lot of it was comedians: Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, and fuck-you iconoclastic comedians like that. And political [people] too, like Abbie Hoffman and Joe Strummer and social anarchists. The thing that bothers me the most is hypocrisy. We can disagree over how big the defense budget should be, but the thing that drives me crazy is that people get on a sanctimonious high horse and say one thing, but in their private life do another. I was put on the planet to expose that.

One of the things that irks me, people talk about the war in Ukraine. Look, the Russians are wrong to invade Ukraine. But all war is murder. All war is torture and bombing and killing and raping and burning. It’s going back thousands of years. We like to think that there’s a good war, but there’s not. All war is hell; Sherman was right. The phrase “war crimes” — war is a crime! There are no official rules to killing people. It’s OK to kill them this way, but not that way? If you want to win the war, you have to do whatever it takes to win. And this is part of the whole looking into the abyss thing. If you want to defeat the devil, you may have to become the devil.

I’m glad you brought up the devil. Around the time of your first popularity, we were in the throes of the Satanic panic.
None of that was proved true at all! Zero. My 90-year-old mother died recently, and I had to go to church. After going to church at my mother’s funeral, my big comment was “I can’t believe Christianity is still a thing.” I know I’m at odds with a lot of people, but I can’t believe it’s hanging on. To me, if you do a cost-benefit analysis of religion or Christianity, it’s gonna come out in the negative. For every good thing you do, you do two bad things.

Going back to Otis, what do you recall about the studio vibe when you made that record?
I was very happy to have my buddies there: Country Dick Montana, John Doe, Bill Davis, Eric Roscoe Ambel, Jim Dickinson … We were all live in the room in the studio in Memphis that Chips Moman put together in this old fire station off Beale Street. We had plenty of money, I had a whole month to make the record, and Dickinson always was trying to give me the secret history of music. There’s the official history and then there’s the secret undercurrent of crazy, psycho hillbilly shit. I felt like he was trying to impart that wisdom onto me, so that I might impart it on someone else. It went great. Dickinson never told you what to do. In my case, a lot of times I’d try too hard. I’m not that great a singer, songwriter, musician. I’m at the outer limits of my talent trying to make a really good record. He’d trick me into doing something I couldn’t do. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it.

You infamously required that a go-kart be covered in your budget for the album.
We had 100 grand for Otis, so we’re gonna use the big studio, and get all the best musicians. We wanted to have the go-kart in the budget. They said, “You have to call it something else!” We went, “No, no, no.” To me, the essence of Mojo is it has to be in the budget. Some accountant with a green visor has to see it and go, “Huh?! Go-kart?! $2,000, what the hell is this?!”

What was the biggest blowback you got in your career? The most shit you caught? Was it Don Henley, Debbie Gibson …?
It’s not in the movie, but it was “Bring Me the Head of David Geffen.” It was recorded for Whereabouts Unknown, but left off the record and then showed up on a vinyl version of the record in Spain and then we rerecorded it. Everybody — everybody at every label, ever distributor, every PR — was scared shitless of David Geffen. On a flatbed truck, we played “Bring Me the Head of David Geffen” in front of Geffen Records. He was a power broker and a bigwig, and I don’t know if him and Irving Azoff got together and said, “We fucking hate Mojo!” But nothing ever came of it. I never met David or talked to him, and it’ll probably never happen. That was the thing where everybody in the music business said, “Hey Mojo, this song is funny, but I ain’t putting my name on it.”

But Don Henley did join you onstage for “Don Henley Must Die.”
There was some back-and-forth in the L.A. papers where he said something like, “I sold millions; he sold hundreds.” Proving my point. But he showed up at the Hole in the Wall in Austin, a tiny place, and sang “Don Henley Must Die.” He sang that line OK, but “Don’t let him get together with Glen Frey,” he was belting that part out!

How’d you approach the stage in your wild days?
On Elvis’ passport, it said “Entertainer.” I’m not a great singer or songwriter, but I am a fucking entertainer. You turn on the red light and the monkey will perform. I will do whatever it takes to get you on my side. Paul McCartney is a great musician; he doesn’t have to jump around. I do!

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Do you think we’re too politically correct today?
I firmly believe you can make fun of anything as long as your joke is funny. And I also believe that you can say anything, as long as you’re willing to suffer the consequences. I don’t like any kind of censorship at all; if you don’t like what somebody is saying, you don’t have to listen to it. You don’t have to shut them down. Just leave them alone. We don’t need a thought police. I’m a firm believer in complete, unlimited free speech. And I think all of this will pass.

What do you hope people who stumble upon the movie learn about Mojo?
Maybe they’ll listen to a couple of songs or come to a show. I just hope it inspires somebody to be wilder, crazier, and freer. Just one 13-year-old, give him hope that life is not a shit sandwich and there are other nuts out there.

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