Dammit! Here I thought I wouldn’t have to sweat through as much awfulness this year and one of my favorite artists from college had a heart attack and died during a celebrity cruise (Outlaw Country). Given how his final hours were described, Mojo lived to the end!
What a career he had too! For the uninitiated, the short, lazy version…Mojo Nixon was the R-rated, Redneck Weird Al even though he didn’t do parodies; covers, yes, namely his best being “Girlfriend in a Coma” by The Smiths. Morrissey probably despised it. Johnny Marr probably loved it. No idea about the bassist and drummer.
I remember when he hit my personal radar months before his first hit was on the radio as a novelty song in the Fall of 1987. I was at Atomic Records, Milwaukee’s most elitist and unfriendliest store on a Saturday in the Spring of 1987. They started playing a videotape of Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper (his original partner) singing “Burn Down the Malls.” The song’s bridge is when I became a fan! Mojo ranted about the double standard of American laws affecting 18-year-olds: they can’t have a beer. Meanwhile, banks could issue credit cards to them (indenturing them to debt), they can get married (mess themselves up real good) and when Reagan gets the war he wants, they’ll be drafted (and die) first! I didn’t have any luck finding a physical record or CD by the duo until I visited a nicer shop in the Chicago area during Easter break. It was their EP Get Outta’ my Way! and pressed only on clear vinyl which required covering the LED sensor on my roommate’s turntable to play it.
Fast forward to all the Mojo Mania on MTV circa 1988! Martha Quinn had already left the network for her career of Obscurity so I guess she didn’t need to fear him via the mean song mocking the worst VJ in History, go look it up. I don’t want to be cancelled. Mojo and Skid’s newfound popularity allowed them to do bumpers on the channel.
Then I got to cross paths with Mojo & Skid in the Spring of 1989! Why they agreed to play in Milwaukee was beyond me. I was an unpaid intern at WQFM and they showed up that Friday afternoon before their show! Downstairs Dan even put together a chicken drop for the duo to play with a couple callers. For a crappy AOR FM station, Dan was a creative and unappreciated DJ for the station and city. They also brought their gear to accompany their CD playing “Elvis is Everywhere” when Dan queued it up. I then had the honor to drive them back to the venue, Milwaukee’s main VFW Hall! No memory of what we discussed on the short trip. I was too star struck! I do remember it was a helluva show. Mojo couldn’t resist the VFW having visible basketball hoops, so he shot a few during his a cappella take on “Mushroom Maniac.”
The following year, Mojo and Skid parted ways and it was all Mojo via his solo breakout Otis which failed to continue the momentum he built thanks to the record label going bust, plus “Bring me the Head of David Geffen!” probably pissed off David Geffen. He toughed it out by landing minor roles in Great Balls of Fire, Car 54 Where are You?, Super Mario Brothers (1990) and Rock n’ Roll High School Forever. He managed to find smaller labels to distribute his music, namely 1992’s Horny Holidays, a 1994 team-up with Jello Biafra and finally 1995’s excellent comeback Whereabouts Unknown. We crossed paths again at Austin’s respected Antone’s and he remembered me! Told me about all the drugs he did with the promoter at the after show. Mojo hadn’t missed a beat in six years!
He went on to do numerous things as his music output began to dwindle. In the Nineties, I do recall he was a fixture at SXSW hosting a showcase of similar artists. Mojo was a great fit for SXSW long before it was destroyed by the shitty Music Industry. I missed his most famous show in 1992 too. He was performing at Austin’s infamous Hole in the Wall (it is hanging on by a financial thread now given it’s around the UT campus) when SXSW was just about music for a long weekend. Joining him on stage was a drunk Don Henley to sing along to “Don Henley Must Die!” I recall Marc Maron asking him on a live episode of the WTF Podcast about how it all came together; I only remember Mojo saying, Don staggered off the stage and tried to get into his car. Outside music, he did more low-budget movies, like the one in which his butt crack turned people into zombies. He provided his unique voice for a couple video games. He mostly found success as a DJ in Ohio, San Diego and finally on XM/Sirius.
I saw Mojo one last time over a decade ago at Austin’s Continental Club. He was mainly performing as part of a documentary covering his career so there weren’t any new songs. I liked how he made a self-deprecating joke about the changes in his appearance (we can’t help the ravages of time): I’m paraphrasing but it was mainly, “I used to look like a young Elvis, now I resemble your uncle who watches porn all day.” We talked briefly because hey I still have one of his original tour shirts: a gas-station, work-discouragin’ shirt so you can look like a bum…as it said in the liner notes of his records if you wanted to buy one via the mail. No web sites to give you instant gratification. Fan credibility was dedication then.
Farewell Mojo! Thank you for everything you did, especially broadening my musical tastes. Although you were humorous 90% of the time, you were my entry-level drug into the now established genre Americana, Country that Doesn’t SUCK nor is Jingoistic a la also dead Toby Keith. Your material showed me how awesome Lyle Lovett, Elle King, Lydia Loveless, Jason & the Scorchers, The Beat Farmers, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Webb Wilder, Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell, The Drive-By Truckers, Amanda Shires, Leftover Salmon, Raul Malo & the Mavericks and The Mastersons are! You were truly a Renaissance Man too. An actor, a generous host, Olympic luge team sponsor and a free speech advocate who was in the wiser camp: you need to take responsibility for the things you say don’t bitch about being cancelled, especially if it wasn’t truly funny. When I can move about more freely with a “negative” COVID-19 result, I will pour one out for you on my Mushroom Mania shirt…and wash it immediately because, cheap beer stench isn’t how I want you remembered.