How many people can you name that have been named Honorary Captain of a US Olympic Team, been name-dropped in song by the Dead Milkmen, recorded with Jello Biafra, debated with Pat Buchannan, portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis’ drummer in a film ( Great Balls of Fire ), and appeared on the covers of Future Sex and The Wall Street Journal in the same week? There’s only one guy that can answer to all of that, and that’s the one and only Mojo Nixon. Over the course of 12 albums (initially as a duo with washboard player Skid Roper, and more recently with his band, the Toadliquors), he’s built an amazing reputation (some would call it infamy) on the back of witty, intelligent lyrics and a solid, underappreciated blues and rockabilly background. His newest record, Sock Ray Blue , is destined to add to this rep, with songs like “Drunk Divorced Floozy (The Ballad of Diana Spencer),” “Orenthal James (Was a Mighty Bad Man),” and “Rock n’ Roll Hall of Lame” sure to garner their share of attention and outrage.
For someone who proudly declares himself “a good bullshitter,” there’s very little bullshit about Mojo. Don’t get me wrong, he’s every bit the jokester that you’d expect the man behind such classics as “Jesus At McDonald’s,” “Elvis is Everywhere,” and “Don Henley Must Die” to be, but the key to good humor is an element of truth, and that definitely comes through when you’re talking to Mojo. He’s honest, fearless, and sharp as a tack — or a switchblade. In conversation, you get the feeling that everything he’s saying comes straight from the gut. Don’t forget, for every “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My 2-Headed Love Child” or “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin” in Mojo’s songbook, there’s a “Burn Down the Malls” (a scathing criticism of conspicuous consumerism and the political atmosphere of the mid ’80s).
I spent a rollicking hour on the phone with Mojo bright one Saturday morning, and he was in classic form from the get-go, riffing on everything from Clinton jokes and past targets like Henley and Morrissey to serious issues like censorship and the failure of the two-party system in America. Here’s what he had to say.
First of all, whatever happened to Skid Roper?
Mojo Nixon : He’s in prison in Arkansas. He was crossdressing in a Liberace tribute show, and you know they don’t like that in Arkansas. Naw, he’s OK, still in San Diego. I see him once in a while — we’re not close friends. He didn’t like touring, and he was tired of being the second banana, and I wanted to do the band thing, which is why I started the Toadliquors about 8 years ago. He didn’t drink, or do drugs, or screw around, which kind of limits the fun you can have on the road.
What did you think the first time you heard the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” (the storyline of which had the titular girl and the singer going into a record shop, where they “asked for Mojo Nixon/They said, ‘he don’t work here’/We said ‘if you don’t got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin'”)?
[yells] Where’s my money, you Yankee Shrimps? I called ’em the Dead Milkmidgets, because they’re all so short — those Yankee Midgets owe me money! No, I was really pleased. The song got a lot of airplay, and was on TV a lot, so it’s another way to spread the word around. It’s not unlike that record I did with Jello Biafra; at every show, there’s always a giant Dead Milkmen fan that’s come out because of that, and there’s always a giant Jello Biafra fan that’s come out because of the record we did. It gets new nuts out into the crowd.
Who has taken the most offense to your jabs at them?
Well, if Princess Di were alive, I’d imagine she would [laughs]. Don Henley took the most offense at first, but then he realized he didn’t want to get in a bullshit match with a guy named Mojo. He knew about it before the song even came out — there was a writer in San Diego that was interviewing him, [and] when he came to town that played it for him. He reacted like I thought he would have, as a pompous twit, talking about how he’d sold millions of records and I’d only sold hundreds — he said, “look, I was in the Eagles ,” which is about like saying you were in the country Monkees of the ’70s, if you ask me. But then he got up on stage with me and shut me up. It was probably the first time I was ever speechless.
How did that happen?
He was in Austin, hugging a tree or something, and showed up at our show all liquored up — not to say that I wasn’t. The thing that irked me about it was that I thought I’d have to keep my audience, the Mojoholics, from ripping his arms off, but they went from being Mojoholics to starstruck in about a second and a half — “God, that’s really Don Henley! Fuck Mojo!”
How did you end up doing talk radio in Cincinnati?
Originally I was doing talk radio, now I’m only doing it once a week and I’m the third voice on the morning show, the Dawn Patrol, which is kind of like Howard Stern or Don Imus. I’d thought about it for years, but I always got the cold shoulder in San Diego. Then I went and did this interview in Cincinnati, and they offered me the job right there on the air! The talk radio didn’t really work out, though — they’re a very conservative station and I’m a Libertarian Communist — if you get in my face and try to tell me what to do, I’m not only not going to pay attention, I’m going to kick your ass! Like at the time, the Clinton thing was at its height, and everyone was very serious about it, talking about the President has to be a “moral leader” for our country, and I was saying “I’m pro dick-sucking! I’m married, and if a 21-year old was sucking my dick, I’m not telling anyone!” It made me realize that “morals” is a code word for sex. It has nothing to do with killing or stealing. People get killed all the time, we’re killing people in Kosovo right now, and there’s no great outrage over it. We were killing people in Iraq at the time. As for stealing, I don’t know if I have to explain this to the — I call ’em the Republican’ts — but the cutting edge of business is lying and stealing. The Republican’ts get mad if “liberals” try to control business, they say “we don’t want anti-trust laws, we want a monopoly!” So when they say “morals,” they’re really talking about sex. They still believe that sex is dirty or wrong. It’s part of life, just like taking a dump. Put that in your paper, “Mojo says sex is no different than taking a dump!” But the station I work for is a Jacor station, and they’re this HUGE corporation; I’ve been trying to call myself “Jacor’s new whore,” but they wouldn’t go for it.
What made you decide to cover the Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma”?
It was a blatant attempt to get on the radio. I knew Morrissey was a nutjob, but I didn’t know much about his music, I just knew [that] poetic little girls like him. I thought I’d deconstruct a classic alt-rock song, and I was talking with a friend of mine, Mike Hallorun, who’s in radio in Los Angeles now, about what to do. We were talking about doing some Nine Inch Nails song, then he suggested “Girlfriend in a Coma.” I’d never heard it, so he played it for me, and I immediately knew that this was the one. I turned it into a George Thorogood/Bruce Springsteen kind of thing, which has got to be killing Morrissey. I saw the head of Sire Records [Morrissey’s former label], Howie Stein, and gave him a copy, and he said “oh, he’ll be very mad.” He takes himself way too seriously. Musically, we turned it into “Wild Weekend” by the Rockin’ Rebels, which is a song NRBQ covered. If we stick around long enough, we’re going to become NRBQ — once you’ve been around for a certain length of time, you become this “elder statesman” kind of figure. We’re not quite there yet.
Is there anyone you wish you hadn’t targeted?
No. I’ve never sat around wishing that someone hadn’t heard something I did. It’s a joke! Quit taking things so fucking seriously!
Do you think people take you seriously?
I don’t know. I don’t care. Lots of people like it on a frat boy, fuck buddy, poop joke level, lots of people like it on a Libertarian Communist level, people like it as a desperate attempt to save the soul of rock n roll — if you don’t like it, that’s fine. I’m a good bullshitter — I’m not gonna pretend to be a brilliant singer/songwriter, I’m just a good bullshitter and I like to hear [makes backbeat rhythm sounds] behind me when I bullshit. I could have 3 monkeys and a Casio behind me — people come to hear Mojo bullshit.
Your new album is called named for Sock Ray Blue. Who is Sock Ray Blue?
I dunno, he’s lost! He’s out there with Madalyn O’Hair, that woman that was trying to get prayer out of schools that disappeared with $500,000 dollars! I’ve had a lot of albums with crazy titles — Root Hog or Die , Gadzooks , Bo-Day-Shus — so I was looking for another one like that. Also, on half the songs we did the old folk thing and put new words to old songs — “Machines Ain’t Music” is Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin’,” “Drunk Divorced Floozy” is a combination of two Chuck Berry songs, “Orenthal James” is in the style of an old murder ballad, “John Hardy.” I’m always imitating — I’ve had maybe three original ideas in my whole life.
How did you become the Honorary Captain of the 1998 US Olympic Luge Team?
Gordie Shear, the guy that put that together, just called me yesterday. Those guys all live up in Lake Placid, New York, when they aren’t on the World Cup circut, and they’re all big Mojo fans. I think it’s 9 guys that are together all the time that have 3 CDs between ’em, and 2 of ’em are Mojo! They wrote me a letter on the official stationary asking me if I’d do it, and I wrote back saying “hell, yeah!” They stopped in San Diego on their way to Nagano and played on the song, “Arctic Evel Knievels,” and then went on to win the Silver and the Bronze. It was the first time the US had ever medalled in luge. Gordie came to a party at SXSW last year and let everybody touch the medals.
What are you most sick of being asked?
Stuff like “what are your influences?”. When I’m doing an interview like this, where the person obviously knows where I’m coming from, it’s not a problem, but occasionally, some newspaper will send some really straight, Billy Joel fan to do the interview, and I’ll get stuff like “what are your influences?”. Some woman asked if it was all about funny hats and Vaudeville — which it is, partially, but it was obvious that she just didn’t get it.
Is there anything you wish someone would ask that they haven’t?
Naw, I think I’ve been asked just about everything.
I wanted to talk about the censorship issue, since you’ve been so outspoken about it through the years. First off, what do you think about Tipper Gore being a heartbeat away from being First Lady?
I think Bubba and Mrs. Bubba must have sat her down and said “look, if you mention this once, you’ll never be President.” She just stopped talking about [the PMRC, the organization she founded to censor rock lyrics], and almost acts like it never happened. I was on Crossfire with Pat Buchannan, talking about this woman with the unfortunate name of Jean Dixon, who wanted every record to have a warning label, even like Frank Sinatra — what’s Frank Sinatra about? Drinking and fucking! Anyway, I was on Crossfire yelling about Tipper Gore, talking about how she looks like an ugly housewife. She looks like Celine Dion or something — I call Celine Dion the Horsefaced Housewife Hollerer. I think Gore will probably fuck it up, because he’s such a dolt, but who knows what’ll happen? The Republican’ts may have given Gore a chance. You don’t impeach someone unless you think you can win. Clinton is the winner here — he won BIG! They couldn’t even get more than 50 votes! It’s like smoking crack — the Republicans knew they shouldn’t, but they did it anyway. It kills the Republicans — and I know, because I’m surrounded by them in Cincinnati — that they had Clinton on the ropes, down on one knee, bleeding, and they still lost.
Have you ever felt like you needed to censor yourself?
No. All you have to do is tell me not to do something, and I will. I’d cut off my head to spite my neck. Sometimes we’ll play at fairs and stuff, and we’ll do a PG17 show where we don’t say “fuck” and “shit” as much — where if you’re listening closely, we’re still doing the same thing, but if you were just walking by and not paying attention, you’d think it was just some hillbilly yelling.
Have you ever been censored, and what was your reaction to it?
On the new record, in the Country Dick song [“The Ballad of Country Dick,” about the late Beat Farmers drummer – Ed.], it’s supposed to be “Mister Mike Curb” [referring to the former Lieutenant Governor of California and head of the huge country label Curb Records-Ed.] — he buried the Beat Farmers by signing them to his rock division and not doing anything with them. Country Dick wanted to pull his head off and shit down his neck. I figured that while he’s playing cards with the devil in hell, he could hear the song, but the guy from Shanachie asked me to change it — he said “look, Mojo, this guy’s got millions of dollars, and we really can’t afford the lawsuit.”
Everyone freaked out over “Bring Me the Head of David Geffen,” but it eventually came out. The funniest thing that came of that was the gay magazine, The Advocate , interviewed me, and the guy wanted to know if it was because of his sexual preference. I said “I don’t care who he fucks, it’s the bands he signs that suck.” That was all they were interested in — they never ran the story.
Why are you a Libertarian?
I believe that people should take responsibility for their own actions. I believe in freedom — you should be able to do whatever you want, as long as you’re not hurting anyone. What you do is not anyone else’s fault, it’s yours. If you smoke, and you think it’s not going to kill you, you’re an idiot! This suing thing is retarded — the way to solve all these frivolous lawsuits is to make anyone who sues [without grounds] and loses pay all the court costs. We don’t need all these social laws. Making drugs illegal hasn’t stopped anyone from doing them — I’m proof of that! It’s just made gangsters rich. I have a drug problem, it’s called supply! Oh, boy, when my kids read this…
Do you worry about that?
No, not really. People keep talking about “family values.” You know what “family values” are? Family values [are] more fucking. How do you make a family? More fucking. They make it sound like normal, healthy sex is perverted and dirty. [There shouldn’t be this] denial that sex happens — it’s part of life, just like taking a dump. Yeah, I’m against baby rape, but I’m pro-fucking.
Would you ever consider running for office?
No. I’m interested in politics, but with the two party system, everything is blanded. We should get rid of the Electoral College. You should be automatically registered to vote at age 18, and you ought to be able to vote over a 5 day period whenever you want at ATM-like stations. Sure, most people would wait until the last day, but you’d have the option of going whenever you want. The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that they’re trying to sell you the same sack of shit in a different colored bag — one has a donkey on it, and the other has an elephant. The two party system doesn’t work.
Do you see a groundswell of people moving away from the two party system, with people like Jesse Ventura getting elected to major offices?
I think Perot was a sign that the two party system isn’t filling [people’s] needs. Not that he’s brilliant, but he was a definite sign that people aren’t satisfied.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Nah, I’ve ranted long enough.
Mojo Nixon’s newest album, Sock Ray Blue , is out now. What are you waiting for?