The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon (Exclusive)
Psychobilly-rockable musician Mojo Nixon has long been unparalleled in his rebellious struggle against society’s greatest hypocrisies, especially the ideology of corporatism that has driven American culture since he rose to fame in the 1980s. The Southern rocker has long embraced the American right to free speech in order to add authenticity to his songs that reflect socially diverse ideas that many people are afraid to discuss publicly on their own. The singer’s socially daring career choices are reflected in the new documentary about his life, “The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon.”
The film had its world premiere last March in the 24 beats per second category of the Austin-based festival SXSW. The film was directed and edited by rookie filmmaker Matt Eskey. The filmmaker was also the bassist for the singer’s band, Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors, for 20 years, beginning in 1993.
“The Mojo Manifesto” tells the story of the legendary eponymous cult musician and his rise to fame during MTV’s golden years. Partly through archival footage from his entire career, the documentary chronicles Nixon’s life as a musician, particularly when he spawned a rabid cult following him through his successes and his controversies. The film also reflects on the singer’s career through interviews with fellow musicians and artists such as Jim Dickinson, Country Dick Montana, Todd Snider, Steve Poltz, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Bill Davis, John Doe, Luther Dickinson and Winona Rider. .
Born Neill Kirby McMillan Jr., the singer grew up in Danville, Virginia, listening to his father’s soul radio station records and planning his escape from the confines of conservative small-town life. While biking across the country, McMillan experienced The Mojo Revelation and, as a result, took on the persona of Mojo Nixon, a primitive blues-inspired musician.
Nixon then teamed up with the enigmatic Skid Roper to form an outrageous duo. Relentless touring, a record deal, college radio airplay and exposure to MTV then led to unexpected mainstream success. The musician’s 1987 song, “Elvis Is Everywhere,” became a cult phenomenon, but his next single, “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child,” was banned by MTV. As a result, Nixon faced a decision that could jeopardize his career.
Nixon generously took the time at this year’s SXSW to talk about his appearance on “The Mojo Manifesto” during an exclusive interview. Among other things, the singer explained that he became interested in chronicling his life in a documentary after Eskey approached him with the idea, and suggested they include footage he had from his career. in the feature film. Nixon also shared that he was honored the film had its world premiere during the festival in his hometown, as Austin is the community where most of his current fans live.
The conversation started with the singer explaining why he was interested in making a documentary that tells the story of his rise to fame and his subsequent career as a legendary cult musician. “It was the idea of my bassist, Matt Eskey. He knew me because he had been in the band for 20 years. He also saw me in another documentary and thought I was awesome in it,” he revealed.
“He also knew I had a box full of tapes from the 80s and 90s when we did a million different live shows and stuff on MTV. We also did movies and tours, so there was a lot of footage of me in my prime, causing trouble. So he thought maybe we could make a documentary out of all of that,” Nixon also shared.
Speaking further about Eskey, Nixon elaborated on his experience working with his fellow musician as the director and editor of “The Mojo Manifesto.” “I told him that I had three requirements – that it be funny, short and that the fans be happy. I also told him, ‘Don’t try to make civilians try to understand or like Mojo. I didn’t see the movie until it was finished, and… I think he made some really good decisions about it,” he divulged.
“When you’re having a bad time and there’s four guys, it’s not about the two hours you’re on stage together; it’s the 22 hours you’re off stage that allow you to really get to know someone. I really got to know Matt as a musician and a person in general when we weren’t on stage together,” the singer said. “So after getting to know him as a person that way, I realized that I would also like the way he would work as a filmmaker when we first got together to make the documentary.”
Nixon then shared what the process was like to decide who the team would interview for “The Mojo Manifesto” and what topics they would cover. “He had an idea of the obvious list of people who were in Mojo orbit; there was my family and my friends from high school. There were also the people from San Diego, where I started as a musician,” he shared.
“Skid Roper, my former musical partner, was the only one who didn’t want to be in the movie. We made our first four albums together,” the musician continued.
“Later we also talked to my contemporaries, including Steve Poltz and Jello Biafra, who I did an album with, and Todd Snider. They were my fellow weirdos, and I made sure they were all included!” added Nixon with a laugh.
Along with deciding which of his fellow musicians would be interviewed for the film, Nixon also shared what the process was like to choose which of his songs should also be included in the feature film. “Matt used about 25 of my songs. But my pianist noticed (during the world premiere of the movie at SXSW) that “Louisiana Liplock”, which is one of my biggest hits (songs), is not in the movie. But if you’re looking for all the other of my greatest hits in film, they’re all here.
The singer then shared his excitement for the world premiere of “The Mojo Manifesto” in his hometown of Austin during this year’s SXSW. “It was originally supposed to happen two years ago. But then the pandemic hit just before the festival was supposed to start, so it was cancelled,” he revealed.
“But we’re so happy to have played him here in Austin – he had to play here. It’s a place where people really know me; if it was Sundance, Tribeca or Toronto, there would be a lot of interest in Mojo,” Nixon continued.
“I think I played at the second SXSW, in 1988, and then I gave a summons the following year, at the third SXSW. We’ve also done a bunch of shows here at SXSW over the years, including when I did the albums with Jello, and the queue was out, so that’s where we should definitely show the movie, and it all went really well.