Mojo Nixon is one of the most outrageous voices in contemporary rock ’n’ roll music. Songs such as “Jesus at McDonalds,” “Bring Me The Head of David Geffen,” “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin,” and “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two Headed Love Child” have drawn criticism and even caused lawsuits to be threatened. However, Nixon’s broad, even extreme parodies conceal a sensibility concerned with maintaining and exercising personal freedom. It is the mix of his fervent political beliefs and beer-drenched rock that gives Nixon’s music its power. “It’s Nixon’s commitment to raw, stripped-down rock ’n’ roll, and his anger at all the things that defile and dilute it that make such a bracing tonic in these bland and kingless times,” wrote Rolling Stone.
Nixon was born Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1957. During the 1960s, Nixon was a fan of the Beatles and the Velvet Underground, as well as heavy metal and rock ’n’ roll. Nixon became a musician as a teenager and drove his family crazy banging on a drum kit in his basement. At the same time, Nixon was developing the political consciousness that would later fuel much of his music. His budding activism got him arrested when he was 14 years old for protesting the local leash law under the slogan “Free The Dogs.” In the police car afterward, young Nixon hummed MC5 songs and threatened the town’s mayor.
Nixon’s seventeenth birthday should have made the course of his life clear to his parents. While his parents tried to lecture Nixon on his adult responsibilities during a birthday celebration at a restaurant, he played an Elvis Presley song 14 times in a row on the jukebox. Just after his eighteenth birthday, Nixon left home to attend Miami University in Ohio where he received a degree in political science. Afterward, he moved to England hoping to get involved in the rock scene around the Clash. He ended up in the London underground playing the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Dion to survive. In 1980, he returned to the United States and enlisted in Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), known as the domestic Peace Corps, and was sent to work in Denver, Colorado.
Nixon continued making music. He was singing Woodie Guthrie and Leadbelly songs to the unemployed people he worked with through VISTA, and he also formed a punk band in Denver called Zebra 123. The group came into confrontation with the government when it staged a so-called Assassination Ball on November 22, 1980, the anniversary of the shooting of President John Kennedy. Certain images connected with the ball attracted the attention of the Secret Service, which questioned the band in the belief that it was advocating the murder of the president.
In 1981, Nixon moved to San Diego, California. There he became friends with musician Country Dick Montana, who would become a mentor of sorts to Nixon. At this time “Mojo Nixon” was still Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr. While in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the fall of 1982, however, Neill Kirby had the mystical-musical experience that pushed him into music full-time, an experience he would later call his “Mojo Nixon Revelation.” It spawned, as he describes it on the Mojo Nixon website, “the idea of playin’ guitar, hollerin’ about injustice, having a good time, drinking and fornicating.” Nixon described the idea behind his moniker to Jeff Stratton of the Onion as “just two things that shouldn’t go together. Mojo is some disreputable blues musician and Nixon is some bad politics. Voodoo and bad politics.”
Back in San Diego, Nixon told Montana about his decision to pursue music with greater devotion. At the same time, Nixon started performing with Skid Roper, a drummer so poor he could not afford a drum and had to settle for a washboard. When Montana put a new band together called the Beat Farmers without inviting Nixon to join, he returned to North Carolina to work as a ranger in a state park. In August of 1983, after nearly drowning in a river accident, Nixon realized that the true purpose of his life was rock music, and he returned to San Diego to “make a big rock ’n’ roll ruckus,” as he described it on his website.
In California, Nixon teamed with Roper once again. In August of 1984, the two were victors in a local battle of the bands. With the studio time they won as a prize, they recorded two songs for a compilation album of San Diego bands. It was the first Nixon music committed to vinyl. In early 1985, representatives from Enigma
Born Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr. on August 2, 1957, in Chapel Hill, NC; married; two children. Education: Bachelor of arts degree, political science and history, Miami University, 1979.
Supported himself as a musician in the London underground, 1979; formed punk band, Zebra 123, 1980; had “Mojo Nixon Revelation” that led him into life as a full-time musician, 1982; teamed up with Skid Roper, 1983; signed recording contract with Enigma, 1985; Frenzy released, 1986; began presenting “shorts” on MTV, 1988; Nixon and Roper broke up, 1989; formed Toadliquors, 1990; after Enigma Records went out of business, IRS label re-released Nixon’s records, 1990; Nixon won court battle for control of his songs and records, 1994; “Mojo Minutes” began to air on San Diego, CA, radio, 1998; hired to co-host radio show at Cincinnati, OH, station, 1999.
Records attended one of Nixon and Roper’s shows and afterward talked to the musicians. Nixon sent off a demo which in March of 1985 led to a contract with Enigma. Their first LP was simply titled Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper .Its cover art caused it to become better known to fans as the “free, drunk, and horny” album. After the record came out, Nixon and Roper took to the road, touring with their old friends the Beat Farmers. The Mojo meme started to spread as college radio picked up on the song “Jesus at McDonalds.”
Their second album, Frenzy, was released in the summer of 1985 and included Nixon rants like “I Hate Banks” and “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin,” Nixon’s song about MTV VJ Martha Quinn. The record attracted various reviews, the most focused appeared in People, which called Frenzy “as pleasurable as having a wasp fly up your nose.” Nixon and Roper continued to tour while Nixon penned new songs. In November of 1986, the duo released the EP Get Out of My Way. The video of one typically pointed Nixon diatribe, “Burn Down the Malls,” actually made it onto MTV despite Nixon’s earlier song about the network. He claimed that he penned the song on the way to the recording session. Another song’s origins were even more peculiar. While performing a Chuck Berry song at a 1987 San Francisco gig, a spirit seemingly took hold of Nixon. He “began ranting how Elvis, is Everywhere, Everything and Everybody,” as stated on his website. “The song literally spews out of him nearly intact as he becomes a lightning rod for the Elvibration about to sweep the nation.” Within months, the single “Elvis Is Everywhere” was being played on college radio across the country.
Nixon’s star was on the rise. In late 1987, he was offered the chance to produce his own short spots for MTV; in March of the following year, he began hosting MTV programs like Live From Spring Break. Later that year, he performed in the Jerry Lee Lewis biographical film Great Balls Of Fire. It was the first film in Nixon’s career as a movie actor, a career which is long, but not necessarily illustrious, as Nixon himself admits. “I’m not really an actor. No one really wants me unless they want a little flavor,” he told Stratton.
Nixon continued to cause controversy in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. When MTV banned the video for Nixon’s “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two Headed Love Child,” Nixon walked out on the network and refused to host any more MTV programs. A drunken performance of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the Wolf Trap National Park amphitheater resulted in Nixon and his wife being permanently banned from the facility.
Another song, “Don Henley Must Die,” created such rancor among fans of the ex-Eagle that Nixon was forced to hire personal bodyguards for a time in response to the death threats he had received. Surprisingly, though, when Nixon performed in a small Texas club in August of 1992, Henley himself climbed up on stage during Nixon’s performance of the song. Nixon described the scene for the Onion: “He got on stage and he was drunk out of his mind, so I said, ’Whaddya want? You wanna fight? You wanna debate?’ And he said, l want to sing the song, especially the part about not getting together with Glenn Frey.’ And it was great. For once in my life I had nothing to say.”
Nixon and Roper went their separate ways in the fall of 1989 after releasing five albums. In 1990, Nixon put together a full-time touring band, a four-piece unit he called the Toadliquors. That same year, Nixon’s label Enigma folded, and a long court battle over the rights to Nixon’s songs and albums ensued. It was finally resolved in Nixon’s favor in early 1994.
By the end of the 1990s, the Mojo même had seriously infected America. In 1998, a San Diego radio station began airing “Mojo Minutes,” Nixon’s rants on events in the news. Just months later, while being interviewed on WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, the station offered him a full-time job. He accepted on a temporary basis, but found he liked the job, and in 1999, moved his family to Cincinnati. “They originally brought me here to do AM talk radio,” he told Stratton, “but then they found out I was a Communist, and that kinda put the ixnay on the thing.” He was moved from the afternoon slot on the AM station to the morning slot on a smaller sister station, WEBN.
Nixon’s politics have become, if anything, more radically libertarian. Asked by Stratton about his platform, Nixon answered simply, “take responsibility for your own actions. You make decisions, and you live by ‘em.” One of Nixon’s more public debates involved a discussion on CNN’s Crossfire of the merits of warning stickers on CDs with a panel of right-wing politicians that included Pat Buchanan.
Along with his vendetta against self-seeking politicians and businesspeople, Nixon is not afraid to speak his mind about the state of popular music. He feels that most of the music being made, especially dance music, lacks the heart and soul that makes quality music work. “I firmly believe that if you can’t take an acoustic instrument and make people from a different culture butt-dance, you aren’t doing it,” he told Stratton.
Otis, Enigma, 1990.
Horny Holidays, Triple X, 1992.
Whereabouts Unknown, Ripe, 1995.
Gadzooks!!! The Homemade Bootleg, Needletime, 1997.
The Real Sock Ray Blue, Shanachie, 1999.
With Skid Roper
Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, Enigma, 1985.
Get Out of My Way (EP), Enigma, 1986.
Frenzy, Enigma, 1986.
Bo-Day-Shus!!!, Enigma, 1987.
Root Hog or Die, Enigma, 1989.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 11,2001).
Mojo Nixon Official Website, http://www.mojonixon.com (April 2,2001).
“Mojo Nixon Sounds Off,” http://www.mp3.com/news/205.html (April 2,2001).
Mojo Nixon World, http://users.choice.netTshender4/mojoworld/mojo_who.htm (April 2,2001).
Onion, http://www.avclub.theonion.com/avclub3530/avfeature3530.html (April 2,2001).
—Gerald E. Brennan
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