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Mojo Nixon Is Hardly Shy About War Sentiments

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The events of recent weeks conclusively demonstrate that the ongoing obsession with the ‘60s counterculture--the music, the clothing, the television shows--does not extend to that generation’s political spirit.

Twenty years ago, a war planned, scripted, orchestrated, choreographed, colorfully illustrated and even reported on by the Pentagon would have moved masses of outraged high school and college students into the streets in protest. Rock concert audiences, like the one at Chris Isaak’s show Saturday, wouldn’t be cheering announcements of military-laundered reports on successful bombing missions as though Americans were racking up gold medals in the Olympics.

Locally, ‘60s youths would have been able to tune in to local FM radio station KPRI for regular updates on peace demonstrations, and touring rock artists would have roused them with anti-war invective.

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Compare that to the recent sight of rock star Stephen Stills--author of the ‘60s youth anthem “For What It’s Worth” and an outspoken critic of the government in his tenures with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, and Nash--swaying and singing with other moneyed Hollywood types in the troops-supportive “Voices That Care” video sent to the Persian Gulf. Or to local rock stations--including 91X, the “alternative” rock station-- coordinating “patriotic” rallies. Or to various rap and rock artists mouthing support for the troops on the Grammy telecast.

If it appears that rock of the ‘90s has wimped-out on the issue of war, there is at least one highly visible performer who hasn’t. San Diego’s own Mojo Nixon maintains strong anti-war beliefs, and he laid them on the line at Saturday’s “March and Rally to Stop the War in the Middle East” outside the Federal Building downtown. (The program also featured local band Daddy Longleggs, vocalist/provocateur Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, TV actor David Clennon--who plays Miles Drentell on “thirtysomething”--former CIA agent John Stockwell, and UC San Diego professor Herb Schiller).

By the time Nixon came on late in the afternoon, the crowd of about 2,000 (estimated at half that on local newscasts that mentioned the rally) had thinned considerably. But Nixon delivered a typically high-voltage, entertaining set that included a new, anti-war song opening with the lines, “(it’s) the land of the free and the home of the brave, (but) they’re tryin’ to put me in a too-early grave.”

Before the rally, I spoke with Nixon about his and rock’s role vis-a-vis the Persian Gulf situation. He had just returned from Memphis, where he was producing a new band, the Dick Nixons, for his own label, Triple Nixon Records. Nixon described the band--all of whose songs are about the former president--as “Cajun, nerd-rock performance artists.”

“You have to realize that this war issue is all about money,” he said, “and greed is the one thing that all Americans can agree on. The radio stations that once played underground music are now part of big business; they’re no different from McDonald’s. The media and rock ‘n’ roll have both rolled over on this issue--everyone except those who have honestly been opposed to wars, the military-industrial complex and the oil industry from the very beginning. I expected someone to make an anti-war statement on the Grammies and no one said a damn thing. It’s unbelievable.”

The previous weekend, Nixon played at a college talent-buyers convention in the traditionally conservative Midwest, and he might have jeopardized his chances of landing gigs on small, regional campuses by not sticking strictly to entertainment. “I talked about the war, and I said that once people die they’re gone, they’re not coming back, and you’d better have a pretty damn good reason to kill people and blow their country to smithereens. I said we just don’t have anything close to a good reason for what we’re doing. People were pretty wigged.”

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As to support-the-troops sentiments, which have a lot of people confused about their feelings toward the war, Nixon was adamant. “There’s a giant contradiction in saying you’re against the war but you support the troops. Either you want them to kill as many people as possible, or you want them to come home before they do! You can’t have it both ways. But the troops are under the threat of death to follow orders, so my argument isn’t necessarily with them. The real issue is a President who’s been bombing a foreign country 24 hours a day for more than a month, and acting like it’s no big deal.”

His vocal opposition to the Persian Gulf War does not represent Nixon’s first public political stance. The antics of right-wingers like Jesse Helms yanked him into the censorship fray long ago, and on a college campus in Maine next month, Nixon will debate conservative Jack Thompson on that issue. But even his strong opinions about preserving artistic freedom of expression have lately taken a back seat to the more pressing concerns of the war.

“Back in December, I really believed that we wouldn’t be stupid enough to start this (war),” he said, “but I guess the stupidity of politicians is infinite. Bush refers to Hussein’s ‘scorched earth’ policy. Well, what does Bush call what he’s doing to Iraq, the ‘lunar surface’ policy? I mean, 10 years from now, when the truth comes out about this war, no one’s gonna look back and say, ‘I’m glad my son died for this.’ It’s stupid.”

GRACE NOTES: We’re beginning to see signs that the concert scene is awakening from the winter doldrums. Recessionary times usually bode badly for the tour business, and for a while it looked as though Sting’s upcoming performance March 30 at the Sports Arena would represent the only Big Ticket event on the local horizon. Unless they’re canceled, some upcoming shows promise to push the spring season into overdrive.

Last week, Avalon Attractions announced that Todd Rundgren will play the Spreckels Theater March 31 (tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ticketmaster locations). Since then, Avalon has booked Happy Mondays into SDSU’s Montezuma Hall on March 27 (tickets go on sale Friday at 3 p.m.). And Bill Silva Presents just confirmed two major dates: Neil Young will play the Sports Arena on April 1, with Social Distortion and Sonic Youth opening (tickets go on sale Friday at Ticketmaster outlets), and INXS will play the Sports Arena on April 8, (tickets go on sale Saturday).

This week’s relatively quiet concert agenda includes the second of two programs to benefit the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts. Tonight Hollis Gentry and Neon and Charlie Higgins and the First Impressions will take the stage at the school’s Paradise Hills location (A.J. Croce and Joe Marillo performed there last night). Local bluesman Earl Thomas, who’s been getting good notices inside and outside San Diego, brings his Blues Ambassadors to Winston’s tonight.

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