Many events, like the SXSW Conferences, have been canceled this year because of the Coronavirus. Cancelation has an ironic twist for a film that had been scheduled to world premiere as part of the SXSW 24 Beats Per Second screening section. The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon takes viewers into the psyche of a performer for whom cancelation was not a defeat, but a validation of his style.
Born Neill Kirby McMillan Jr, the performer who would rename himself Mojo Nixon enjoyed, and as the film illustrates, still enjoys, shocking listeners and embracing iconoclasm as a motivating principle. He also likes to yell, really loud.
Mojo on Mojo
The film centers on an interview with Nixon. It also includes comments from his bandmate Skid Roper (not his real name, either), other musicians who played with them, and clips from his music videos, concerts and television appearances.
Nixon described his music, which was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the attitude and sound of the Sex Pistols put to country music. He aimed for American roots filtered through punk rock. He says about the music, “It’s downhome, it’s comedy, it’s nasty. Wherever there is a line, we have crossed it.” Others have described it as cowpunk or psychobilly.
First-time filmmaker Matt Eskey created the film. Eskey, now an Austin record company owner, was once a musician in Nixon’s band. He provides background on this unusual musical phenomenon.
Viewers learn that the future singer grew up in conservative Danville, Virginia, where his father owned a soul music radio station. One gets the impression that this was an environment the young man was desperate to escape.
On a cross-country bicycle trip, the teenage Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr, decides to start a journal. But, not to be boring, he imagines a character: the child of a rhythm-and-blues chanteuse and President Richard Nixon. Mojo Nixon was born and that was just the beginning of the craziness.
I Want My Mojo
Nixon and Skid Roper formed their musical team at an opportune moment. Music video channel MTV (yes, MTV used to play nothing but music videos) was at its height and played their music. He also received support from many college radio stations who embraced his iconoclasm.
Nixon’s most famous song, recorded with Roper on their 1987 album, Bo-Day-Shus, “Elvis is Everywhere,” goes beyond tribute, to celebrate Elvis as a god-like entity. Other notable singles included “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin,” referencing MTV VJ Martha Quinn, and “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child.” In the film Nixon shares his excitement that he got Winona Ryder to play Debbie Gibson in the video.
Nixon and Roper dissolved their partnership in 1989. Nixon continued performing, appearing at SXSW in 1991, until retiring from his music career in 2004.
Along the way and after his official retirement, Nixon found his way into movies, radio DJ work, and songwriting. His crazy is too strong to stay hidden for long.
Release dates for the film have not been announced, but Nixon would probably prefer that it escape on its own. You can watch a trailer below, but be warned, it is not safe for work, in front of your kids, or any place else for that matter.