(Author’s note: Due to the length of the interview, I considered publishing this in two parts, but Mojo said so many good things, I felt it would be best to publish the interview in its entirety.)
Mojo Nixon is a true American original. He has given us such songs as “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child” and “Destroy All Lawyers.” He has railed against the evils of MTV, McDonald’s, Disney, and republicans, and sung the praises of good barbecue, NASCAR, and rock and roll. In this phone interview, he proved to be a fast-talking larger-than-life personality while discussing politics, Don Henley, and his wife’s inability to find her keys.
You studied political science at Miami University. I grew up in Toledo and I’ve been to Oxford. It is hard for me to imagine Mojo Nixon in that town.
It’s hard for me to imagine too. I had a lot to rebel against. I didn’t fit in, but I got used to the idea of being the crazy guy. If I went to Oberlin or one of those liberal artsy-fartsy colleges, I would have been one of many, but at Miami I was the lone nut on the grassy knoll. I grew up in a small town in Virginia and went there. Just imagine my roommate telling people that he’s rooming with a hillbilly who thinks he can play guitar. My freshman roommate is probably in a mental institution.
If you were going to run for president, what would be your platform?
I would legalize all drugs, even prescription drugs. I know what I need and what I like. There’s no need to advertise on TV. I know what I want, I just don’t want to go to the doctor. We need to eliminate the middle man. That would balance the budget.
I’d have a flat tax. You hear the statistics about how the richest two percent own so much of the wealth. Their tax rate is higher, but there are a million loopholes. The guys you see on the freeway every day are paying more taxes than millionaires and billionaires.
I’d also get rid of the electoral college. The electoral college ensures a two-party system and the winner takes all. If you get rid of the electoral college, that opens it up for a third, fourth, and fifth party. That’s the mushroom party. It’s at your mama’s house this weekend.
Obama got what, 50 million votes. There are 330 million people in the United States. Now a lot of those aren’t 18, but more people didn’t vote for Obama. Most people don’t vote because they feel like the system is rigged. Your choice is a s— sandwich or a s— sandwich with peanuts. The one that wins is the one that raises the most money, hires the slickest sleazeballs, and runs the worst campaign ads. Even idiots realize that Bush lied us into a war. He didn’t win the election in 2000 and the only reason he won in 2004 is because people didn’t want to change horses in midstream.
If you were writing “Don Henley Must Die” today, who would it be about?
The thing is Don Henley was in a band I like to call the country Monkees. It’s not bad music but it’s not great music either. There are better versions of that, Flying Burrito Brothers or even Poco at the same time. Then all of a sudden he wants us to take him seriously. He buys a subscription to The Nation magazine and he thinks he’s Bob Dylan. I got news for Don Henley. Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan. He wasn’t in the country Monkees.
There’s nobody musically sticking in my craw. There was a certain pretentiousness to Don Henley that he had found politics and he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist after being in The Eagles, which was a hillbilly rock and roll party band. The Eagles was a blueprint for Alabama.
At least you got it right. The song is about Don Henley and you wouldn’t change it now.
Don Henley came on stage and sang it with us one night at the Hole in the Wall in Austin, Texas. Right across from the University of Texas. This was before everybody had cell phone cameras. There’s no picture of it. Five hundred people claim they were there. There’s two rooms. The front room where we were playing holds maybe 100 people. At the time he had tried to get back together with Glenn Frey and they still hated each other. Apparently, they hadn’t put enough zeros at the end of that check. Everybody has a price. I have a price. I can be bought, but I’m an expensive mother——.
What are the best and worst things about the music business now?
A lot of this has to do with technology. Anyone can make an album, which is great. But it also means there are a lot of crappy albums. We got a million different choices now, but if they’re all crappy… There are always good musicians with bad attitudes rebelling against the man. Good music is always being made. Sometimes it’s just hard to find. Every now and then it’ll bubble up. Every now and then The Clash are number one. Bruce, Dylan, Elvis. Every now and then something busts through the BS facade. The BS is going on. Britney Spears is always happening. The devil works day and night. The devil is a low mother——, Jack. He never sleeps. Crappy music is always being made. I’ll use the Duke Ellington quote. “There’s two kinds of music: good music and bad. I like good music.” One of the problems is anyone can make a record or send me a file. At some point you’re just overwhelmed by how much music there is. I get stuff specifically outlaw country kind of stuff, American roots rock. If I get 20 in a row that aren’t any good, I think either too many people are making records or we suck.
Who are some bands that put some soul into rock and roll these days?
Now you’re putting me on the spot. The key is what did I listen to more than once? You know who I like? I like Old Crow Medicine Show. They play string band music, pre-bluegrass old-timey music. You go and see them live and they’re punk rockers. To me, making a record and performing live, those are two separate things. Some bands make good records and some are good live. Some people understand the continuum of American music going back to the guy in the field hollerin’, or the slave in the bow of the ship or the hillbilly up in the hills. There is a continuum of American music. Some people tap into it and some people are just whores trying to make money for the devil.
North Mississippi All-Stars, Cody and Luther Dickinson, sons of my producer Jim Dickinson, Luther now also plays with Black Crowes, they made a record that’s really good. They’re real musicians putting on a real show. At no point was there a marketing survey. That’s one of the failures of music and the radio. People stop trusting their instincts about what sucks and what’s good. There’s no record company or radio station or any music channel that hasn’t used market research. And what market research tells you is what idiots like. Marketing surveys tell you what the middle 35 percent might like. That leaves me out, David Allan Coe, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle. It leaves them out. They’re too edgy. F— you and your survey!
When did rock and roll lose its soul?
It’s happening gradually. People want to say when Buddy Holly died. But it always comes back. My belief is there’s always gonna be a 13-year-old who wants to learn to masturbate on the playground while he’s singing a song he shouldn’t be singing. That’s the essence of rock and roll. Some kind of existential, sexual freedom. There’s always gonna be teenagers who feel lost and alone. You’re born, you’re told all these lies about the church, your parents, the state. At some point you start realizing that. Then you have a lonesome howl into the darkness. That’s called rock and roll. Think about Elvis. When Elvis was doing the Sun sessions, then the first records for RCA. Think about how different it is. The song that hit before Elvis was “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.” Doris Day and Pat Boone. Elvis drew a line in the sand saying “I’m gonna sing about f—in’ whether you are or not.” (laughs) You can pretend to sing about f—in’. We got some real f—in’ going on.
Speaking of kids singing songs they shouldn’t be. My son is a big AC/DC fan. I went to pick him up from daycare one day and his teacher told me he’d been singing “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” all day.
Good for him. Kids understand. AC/DC is idiot genius. It’s so stupid it’s genius. That’s how kids pick up on it.
I’ve never heard AC/DC explained that way.
It’s not three chords and a cloud of dust. It’s two chords and a cloud of dust.
There is something so primitive about it that even a two-year-old can appreciate it. My son reminds me of the John Lee Hooker song where he sings, “I heard papa tell mama let that boy boogie woogie because it’s in him and it’s got to come out.”
That’s “Boogie Chillen,” the Modern Records version from 1948. That’s the moment right there. They’re not calling it rock and roll, but that’s the real deal.
I have one question about “Can’t Find My Keys.” Have you met my wife?
(laughs) At one point, we had this thing where you whistled and you’re supposed to be able to find the keys. Here’s the worst part. My wife lost the thing you’re supposed to whistle into. My wife also can’t leave the house. I grab the wallet, grab the keys, I’m ready to go. It takes my wife 30 minutes just to get out of the house. She’s sweeping around as if she’s looking for something that’s not there. In the song, I mention sweaternomics. That’s when I’d say “How much was that sweater?” She’d say, “I saved 50 bucks.” “You saved 50 bucks?” “It was originally 200 bucks, they had it on sale for 100 bucks and I got it at half price. So I spent 50, but I saved 50.” “Huh? What?” I don’t think they realize stores are marking them up just so they can mark them back down.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
I think I might be a wrestling manager. I love big time wrestling. I don’t really follow it anymore, but the whole oversized personality. Either big-time wrestling manager or used-car salesman on late-night TV. Or maybe some combination of both.
Do one during the week and one on weekends.
Come on down to Mojo’s Motors! I’d give ’em away but my wife won’t let me! Look at this beauty right here! I think I could do that. Or I could be the new Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South. An instigator, cause a lot of chaos and get my a– kicked every now and then.
I can see you as a wrestling manager.
I’d call myself Kingfish Leghorn. Give me a white suit like Otis the drunk.
Mojo Nixon plays the Hootenanny at Oak Canyon on Saturday 2 July. You can hear Mojo host his NASCAR show Manifold Destiny on Sirius Radio.