Let’s face it: For all his screeching protestations that he is one down and dirty dude, nobody really believes that Michael Jackson is Bad.
But when Mojo Nixon proclaims himself to be Ugly, that his songs are Ugly, and that he revels in Ugliness . . . why, you can believe the man implicitly.
Those requiring proof, however, might scan the list of titles on “Root Hog or Die,” the new album Nixon is about to release with his washboard-playing partner, Skid Roper. What can you say about a man who would sing a song called “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Chile?” Rest assured, all right-thinking people would find the song’s contents even worse than the title. And don’t even ask about “Louisiana Liplock” and “She’s Vibrator Dependent.” Not for innocent ears.
But for those who might enjoy listening to a dedicated reprobate at work, Nixon offers a certain ugly charm. Though his lyrics are one continuous snicker, the musical settings betray a true fondness for rock ‘n’ blues roots. And though the San Diego-based guitarist has rightly been called an arrested case of development, he plays the part of the junior-high bad boy with enough zest to be endearing, at least to listeners who don’t easily take offense at crazed, scatological mockery.
Mojo can even summon up a passable social commentary from time to time, usually from a rascally libertarian point of view. His new album contains a version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” that even reaches the point of dewy-eyed idealism . . . until Mojo starts a rant about his idea of the promised land: “I have a dream. That everybody on the planet is going to get together and go to the amusement park of my mind--Mojo World,” where the main attractions are Go-Karts, 24-hour liquor stores, junk food and rock ‘n’ roll.
Best known for “Elvis Is Everywhere,” a howling take on the new secular religion, Nixon has also been seen ranting in station break spots on MTV--exposure that he says helped him land his first movie role: the part of Jerry Lee Lewis’ drummer in “Great Balls of Fire,” the upcoming film about Lewis that stars Dennis Quaid as the Killer.
The business at hand for Nixon these days is something called the Vegas 1999 Tour, in which he fronts a 10-piece band called the Pleasure Barons along with fellow San Diego extrovert Country Dick Montana (singer-drummer for the Beat Farmers) and Dave Alvin, the guitarist and songwriter known for his work with the Blasters and X. The group plays Sunday night at the Coach House before moving on to Vegas itself for a tour-ending show Monday.
Speaking (well, actually hawing and hollering) over the phone from a tour stop in San Jose, Nixon (real name: Neill Kirby McMillan Jr.) recently gave a Mojo update.
Accustomed to performing in a stripped-down duo with partner Roper, Nixon said he was in a big-band revue once before, a San Diego group called the Syndicate of Soul. “This is similar to that, but bigger and uglier in every way,” he said. “It’s something that’s been incubating in Country Dick’s sick and haunted mind for years, and this was the time to do it. It’s out of a great love for Tom Jones.”
Actually, it is sort of a curious time for Nixon to be on tour. No sooner had he gotten married last month (with Montana officiating in a ceremony held at a San Diego Go-Kart track), than he was off honeymooning with the boys in the Pleasure Barons. Actually, Nixon said, he and his wife took in Mardi Gras in New Orleans in a prenuptial honeymoon. She is back in San Diego, he said, monitoring a special phone line that he and Roper have set up for reports of Elvis sightings.
Nixon said the Vegas 1999 tour’s aim is simultaneously to mock and honor the lounge-singer tradition. He has never been a connoisseur of Vegas kitsch himself: “I’m a connoisseur of blind musicians from the ‘30s. But I have gone out and seen the Tom Jones thing. It’s ugly. It’s hideous.” From Nixon, that’s praise.
The show’s futuristic title has to do with the day when rockers take over Vegas. “If we all don’t die, one day we’ll settle into being schlocky entertainers,” Nixon said. “Then we’ll be out in Vegas. But things will be different than they are now. Pandemonium! It’ll be ugly.”
For now, truly demonic scenes are a matter of wishful reverie on Mojo’s part: “When we get to Vegas, there’s talk of a public execution of Wayne Newton while we’re playing.”
The only actual casualty of the Vegas ’99 tour--besides good taste --has been Alvin, who became sick and had to be hospitalized after a show in Sacramento. Nixon said he is expected back for the final leg of the tour, including the Coach House show. On this tour, Alvin, highly regarded for his earnest songwriting and playing, is clearly playing the straight man’s role.
“Me and Country Dick look like two drunk uncles” in white stage tuxes, Nixon said. “Dave looks dapper. He’s a little more reserved, but he’s joining in. He’s grabbing the mantle of insanity and running with it. He and Country Dick started rooming together. That may be why he had to go to the hospital.”
Which is exactly where America’s scrubbed teen-agers and watchdogs of decency probably will want to put Mojo if they get wind of the aural mustache he has painted on Debbie Gibson (the song’s broad satiric canvas allows plenty of room for Nixon also to squirt blotches on the images of Gibson’s fellow teen-age pop stars, Tiffany and Rick Astley).
“I’m hoping Debbie will sue me,” Nixon said.
But how could any decent man pick on teen-age girls like Gibson and Tiffany?
“You mean, how can I pick on pop fluff idiots? They set themselves up to be superstars. It’s not my fault they’re teen-agers. They gotta take the good with the bad.”
As for the ugly, Mojo’s keeping that for himself.