RIP Mojo Nixon
We were very sad to learn of the passing of the mighty Mojo Nixon. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed. This is a reposting of our interview with Mojo Nixon from 2012.
(Warning: For those of you who are easily offended, this article on Mojo Nixon is not for you. But if you dig the wild banshee of rerock and roll and his own brand of psychobilly overalls-wearing guitar rock, then pull up a stool. It’s Mojo Time!)
In the 1980s, MTV discovered a kindred spirit in the weird cool of Mojo Nixon [and partner Skid Roper]. With his unfiltered manic tirades, Mojo delivered songs about the King of Rock and Roll and lambasted other pop culture targets. Mojo and MTV sparked up a mutually beneficial relationship full of guest DJ responsibilities, but that ended abruptly when he targeted Debbie Gibson, Tiffany and Rick Astley in his song “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child”. Now, having found a home twenty or so years later as a DJ on Sirus XM, Mojo doles out “Outlaw Country” every weekday afternoon, his NASCAR show on Monday nights, and a political talk show called “Lying Cocksuckers” on Thursday night. We caught up with the Wild One after a three-night Southwest stint where Mojo was, true to form, hocking a personalized Mojo bobblehead.
So how was “The Bobblehead Tour”?
“The Bobblehead Tour” is now over. My son pointed out, “you used to do three months, and then three weeks, and now you can only do three shows!” And the bobblehead is sold out! You can’t buy it! They made 500, and I guess I was more popular than they thought. They misjudged the power of me just hammering away on the radio every day – “bobblehead makes a great Christmas gift for your drunk uncle!”
You have a long tradition of sticking it to the politicians. Your appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire” is up on YouTube.
Me and Pat Buchanan! Jello Biafra was supposed to do that, and I was a last minute replacement. Jello claims he hurt his leg or something, but I think he got afraid. He got nervous. And I’ll do anything. Call Mojo, he’ll do anything.
Your period in the 1980s you had quite the run on MTV. “Elvis is Everywhere” [with Skid Roper] was our first exposure to you.
Well, the first video we did was “Burn Down The Malls”, and this director might have been going to USC or something, and I think we spent about $2000 on it, and for “Elvis is Everywhere” we spent $5000. It was all on 16 millimeter film. Nothing was synched up, we didn’t have the time code gizmo, and the other thing is that I’m talking, especially in “Burn Down The Malls”, which is much harder to lip-synch to than to sing it, so he had to find creative ways around that. “Elvis is Everywhere” was the first one that was seen a lot, back when MTV had “120 Minutes” and USA Network had “Up All Night”, and they played it, as well as a lot of college and public access shows. Back then, “120 Minutes” was like a national alternative radio station, so people all over the country would see it, and people still talk about it. Those things were shot for nothing, and I had my friends in them. Country Dick is in “Burn Down The Malls”. We shot that at a beach just off the 405 up near Los Angeles where there’s some old oil wells. Southern California used to be covered in oil wells. Well, there were still a few out in a field that you could see from the freeway. We went out there with no permits, no permission, no nothing. (laugh) We shot for about eight hours. I had a bunch of crazy ideas, and so did he, and come to think of it, that thing has a lot of subliminal messages in it. My face keeps turning into a monkey or something. And we edited the song, because at that point, all my songs were too long – it was six minutes and I needed to get it down to four or three. “120 Minutes’ played it every weekend for a year.
There was no video for “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin” [Mojo’s ode to MTV VJ Martha Quinn], and then “Elvis is Everywhere” showed up about a year later. Someone had made a documentary about Elvis fans and Elvis impersonators, and we were able to get a whole bunch of footage for five hundred bucks. No actual Elvis, just fans and impersonators. Then, we rented a go-kart track here in San Diego – the same go-kart track where me and the bride of Mojo got married! A lot of San Diego musicians are in it. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun.
There for a while, MTV really embraced you. You did many promos for them and you even served as a reporter for them at various events.
I did Spring Break, Mardi Gras, and twenty promos – Ted Demme and Mark Pellington worked on those things too.
What do you think it was that caused MTV to want to do that?
MTV was using me to appear hipper than they were, same way they were using Randy of the Redwoods. I was just another weirdo character they were going to use, but I thought since they were using me for all this stuff, they were going to play my videos. But when I made fun of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany and fucking Rick Astley, and Skittles, and Budweiser, when I made fun of all that, they wouldn’ t play my video [for “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two Headed Love Child”]. The creative team that wanted MTV to be hip were hip to Mojo. The evil fuckfaces who decided what videos get played? Not so much!
Now before that I did one for “619-239-KING” that went mainstream. That one had a real director, Bill Fishman, who had just done Tapeheads. We went to a screening of Tapeheads, and they were there, and he said “Sure, we’ll do it,” and fucking Kris Kristofferson is in my video! My mother goes “That’s not Kris Kristofferson, he’s a big star, he’d never be in your raggedy ass video.” (laugh) And it was all because I said something political in Rolling Stone. He’s an old commie. And Billy Swan is the one playing the piano in the video because I met him on the set of Great Balls of Fire. He was Dennis Quaid’s piano coach, and he was in Kristofferson’s band. Yeah, that video got played on MTV, but much more on VH1.
Anyway, I figured the next one would be even bigger, “Debbie Gibson” and all, but oh no. We shot a video, and they wouldn’t play it. They’d moved on.
Your director on that one was Scott Kalvert, who went on to direct The Basketball Diaries.
I didn’t know him at all, I flew to New York, I gave him a few wacky ideas and he looked at me like I was from outer space. (laugh) I like the video. I thought, we’ve got Winona Ryder playing Debbie Gibson, it’s gonna be perfect, it’s gonna be through the roof.
How’d you get her to do it?
She was in Great Balls of Fire, and I was on the whole shoot, we were there every day for three months, eventually shit’s gonna come up.
The thing is, in hindsight, I succeeded way beyond my talent. I was good at working the game and exposure and being a loudmouth. In hindsight, I sold more records and made more money – more everything – than I really should have. At the time, though, I didn’t believe that. At the time, I believed I should have jumped to the next level. I wanted to be in the same conversation as the Replacements. I wasn’t just happy being funny novelty Mojo, I wanted to jump up a notch! (laugh)
When the Dead Milkmen name-checked you in their song “Punk Rock Girl” with the lyric “if you ain’t got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin’”, that must have felt good.
That may actually get referenced more than “Elvis is Everywhere”. At least once a week, maybe even every couple of days, someone mentions that. That video was even bigger! Let’s say you’re a punker in Sioux City and you don’t know anything. The Dead Milkmen mention Mojo Nixon, he must be cool. (laugh)
Did you ever hear from Martha Quinn concerning “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin”?
I never did hear from Martha, but I have gotten a few people from my songs to come play. Don Henley got on stage with me to sing “Don Henley Must Die”, I did a radio interview with Debbie Gibson, and I played “Bring Me The Head of David Geffen” at Geffen Records on a flatbed truck. See, I’m good at the bullshit! (laugh) In fact, Martha works at Sirius XM like me. You know, I heard a story, secondhand, that she was going out with Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys. I guess she was secretly a bad girl – so I was right! (laugh) Anyway, they’re down in the East Village in the 80s, and two Mojo fans see them come out of a restaurant and start screaming, “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin! Stuffin Martha’s Muffin!” at which point Martha runs but Stiv is laughing so hard he can’t chase them. Now I wasn’t there, but that’s a good story!
When you look back on that period in your career, are there any highlight moments?
All the original VJs just read cue cards, usually written for them, so they were good at cue card reading. When there was a live event, they couldn’t do it because there was no cards and no prompter. And you know me, you want me to talk at the top of the hour, I can bullshit all day long. So I did a bunch of those, and in fact I was doing one of those at spring break in Daytona, and I had a terrible toothache, and I was yelling, “I’ve got a boner in Daytoner!” thinking they would take me off the air. Oh no! “Mojo, we love it! We love it!” I did one at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and we’re up on a cherry picker with two cops escorting us everywhere. There’s this cop who was with us all the time, and I asked him, “what do you have to do to get arrested in New Orleans at Mardi Gras?” And he said, “you gotta kill somebody I like right in front of me.” (laugh) Also, Peter Zarimba, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, and I did a bunch of pilots for early MTV shows, a bunch of pilots that never got on the air. I did, like, five of those pilots, none of which went anywhere. It was a few years later when something happened with that. Here’s the big problem: I can’t act. I can be me, and you put the story around it, that’s fine.
You were MTV’s sports reporter at the Super Bowl.
That’s because I was in San Diego. So the producer of that says to me, “You do this for us, we’ll either buy you two tickets to the Super Bowl, or at least give you enough money to go buy tickets from the scalpers. “ So that’s how I’m going to get paid. So we do it, and he gives me, like, $700. That wasn’t quite enough to buy two tickets, you know? Even in 1990. So my wife’s friend is a union organizer, and knows the vendors at the stadium. She has two wristbands, and she gives one to me and one to my wife, so I pocket the money, put on the wristband, and walk in the back of the stadium like I know where I’m going. Here’s the big problem – I don’t know where I’m going. I walked so far, I ended up at the bottom of the stadium where the caretaker sleeps on a cot. He sends us to the elevator, we get on it, we get off, and BAM, we’re in! That was the one when Denver got trounced by the Washington Redskins. There was nowhere to sit until the Redskins scored, like, 30 points and the Denver fans cried and went home.
What is it about the Sirius XM radio shows you do that really lights you up?
Three things. I can say anything I want. If I want to say [expletive about Rascall Flatts deleted for fear of giving you nightmares], I can . I can play anything I want, and I have little to no supervision. I’m here in San Diego, and hell, they’re in New York and DC! They don’t know that the fuck I’m doing! (laugh) And on top of that, there’s no commercials. It’s perfect for me. On the Outlaw Country show, in the Steve Earle-Lucinda Williams world, I know half these bands, and if they’re not friends, they’re friends of friends. That also makes things a lot easier.
I see here you did a record store commercial for a place in South Carolina. Was there anything you said no to?
No! That was one of the secrets of Mojo’s success. I rarely said no. In 1987, we played 322 shows. Wait, it might have been 287, but anyway, it was a huge number. We’re going to Europe? Okay! We’re going to Australia? Okay! Alright, we’re going to open for the Pogues, and then go on this other tour! And then a movie, and then we’ll shoot this other thing. You’re in the whirlwind!
What is it about pressing people’s buttons? If one was to go through a collection of your song titles, there doesn’t seem to be anyone you haven’t offended.
I just recorded a thing with Cody and Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi All-Stars called “Kill Dr. Phil/Fuck Starbucks”. That’s why we don’t do any big tours too. I only know one way to do this, with complete insanity. A real “fuck a goat” kind of way. I don’t think anyone is interested in seeing the exercising, eating-healthy, family-friendly, safe nice Mojo. People come for the chaos, and we deliver.