The Life and Legacy of Mojo Nixon, Cult Psychobilly Icon

While obscure to many, late musician DJ Mojo Nixon stood as an iconic part of fringe music movements and subcultures. His music blended elements of classic outlaw country, rockabilly, roots, and cowpunk with his quick wit, cynical and crude comedy, and political and cultural scrutiny. Born Neill Kirby McMillan Jr., he developed his musical persona, Mojo Nixon in the early 1980s as he began to play with Skid Roper. It was their 1987 album titled Bo-Day-Shus!!! that launched Nixon into subculture stardom. It featured the song “Elvis is Everywhere,” a novelty song exalting Elvis Presley with lyrics such as “Elvis is everywhere, Elvis is everything, Elvis is everybody, Elvis is still the king.” It was that song that garnered play on MTV and college radio stations around the country. Nixon went on to collaborate with Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, Dave Alvin, and Buddy “Blue” Seigal of the Beat Farmers. As his career progressed, Nixon moved further away from recording music and focused on his radio shows, of which in 2008 he had three of: The Loon in the Afternoon, Mojo Nixon’s Manifold Destiny, and Lyin’ Cocksuckers. These three shows covered the three bases of his interests, outlaw country music, NASCAR, and politics. In 2009, Nixon released Whiskey Rebellion, an album of tracks that he found in “an old shoe box full of cassette tapes.” Upon the release of this album, he temporarily allowed free downloads of all the tracks. An outspoken supporter of illegal media downloading sites, Nixon supported free media overall, both in the sense of money and speech. 

The 1980s sparked a contentious debate that captured the music industry, the United States government, music consumers, and parents: censorship. While not a new issue by any means, the 1980s fostered a passionate resurgence of this debate on both sides as the culture around music undeniably changed. The desire to uphold moral standards in American music clashed with many artists and record labels of the time. The height of this debate came in 1985 when the US Senate held a hearing on the so-called “porn rock”. On one side, Tipper Gore, founder of the Parents Music Resource Center, claimed she was working to push against “the twisted tyranny of explicitness in the public domain.” Among the opposing artists was Frank Zappa, musician and composer, who stated, “It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.” The hearing ultimately resulted in the requirement of the use of the Parental Advisory labels we know today. While providing some comfort for concerned parents, many artists remained dissatisfied as this “labeling” had consequences for them and their music. Walmart refused to sell these records, independent record stores were occasionally threatened with eviction if they sold them, and some cities including San Antonio banned artists that had been “labeled” from performing. This controversy continued to expand in the 1990s with the rise in popularity of rap containing explicit lyrics and subjects.

It was this wave of censorship controversy that Mojo Nixon found himself advocating in. In 1990, he debated Pat Buchanan, Communications Director under the Reagan administration, and Missouri State Republican Representative Jean Dixon—who presented a bill that would limit the display of “labeled” records and ban children under the age of 18 from attending concerts of “labeled” artists—on CNN where he stated that, “I think we’re way off the mark here. I think parents have a responsibility, when they bring children into the world, to raise them to know right from wrong… Saying that we don’t want to talk about drugs and alcohol and caffeine and nicotine doesn’t mean it’s going to go away.” Continuing through to his death, Nixon remained an unabashed voice on many controversies regarding moral outcry in America, notably outspoken against the Westboro Baptist Church’s condemnation of queer people, all with the flaire of his irreverent and eccentric persona.

Mojo Nixon passed away on February 7th after performing with his band, The Toadliquors, on the annual Outlaw Country Cruise of which Nixon was a regular performer and host. “How you live is how you should die” his family wrote in a statement on Facebook. “Mojo Nixon was full-tilt, wide-open rock hard, root hog, corner on two wheels + on fire… Passing after a blazing show, a raging night, closing the bar, taking no prisoners + a good breakfast with bandmates and friends. A cardiac event on the Outlaw Country Cruise is about right… & that’s just how he did it. Mojo has left the building. Since Elvis is everywhere, we know he was waiting for him in the alley out back”.

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Well done, Gwen. You’ve motivated this Mojo neophyte to seek out his music.