Adieu, Monsieur Mojo

...And other SXSW adventures

South By Southwest, so the story goes, is supposed to be about beginnings. For me, anyway, this one was about an ending -- specifically, the musical career of Mojo Nixon. That's right -- after a couple of decades of celebrating trash culture, sticking it to the man and stuffing Martha's muffin, Nixon says he has nothing more to say.

Or maybe he isn't quitting after all. "How can I have a comeback if I never go away?" he wondered from the Austin Continental stage at his Saturday-afternoon farewell show. That wasn't the only question he put to the sweaty, beer-reeking throng of Mojo-hideen before him. A few more: "You know who sucks? John fucking Ashcroft! You know who blows? George fucking Dubya Bush! But you know who really, really sucks beyond mortal comprehension? Those fuckers walking around Austin with those stupid badges around their necks!"

Later, Nixon turned his attention to sexual matters, noting that "I'm so manly, I only fuck men these days," and that "I have moved on from pussy!" Of course, a few minutes later, after one of Allen Hill's Dancing Sisters collided with him on stage, he announced that if she ran into him one more time he would have to go change his Daisy Dukes, so make of his declaration in favor of manlove what you will.

Nixon was joined on stage by the Toadliquors, which includes the Houston Continental's Pete Browning on piano. They played like men who could both hold their liquor and had been drinking since late the night before -- simultaneously loose and on fire. The crowd frequently took over singing chores as Nixon moved through his lengthy golden shower of hits, which included "Tie My Pecker to My Leg," "Disney Is the Enemy" and "Elvis Is Everywhere." (Originally, of course, the anti-Elvis was Michael J. Fox. This year's model is all the people on American Idol.) And if anyone ever asks you what Mojo's last words from stage were, here's the answer: "Burn down the shopping malls." (These words were delivered in his encore, which followed an exhortation to the crowd from Houston's Allen Hill to give it up for Mojo. As usual, Hill was wearing his tux and tennies, but a little more out of the ordinary was the fact that his hair was moussed with peanut butter.)

"He has been on the cover of The Wall Street Journal, he has appeared nude in magazines, he has been in bad movies, been censored by Hustler magazine, three record companies and MTV, he played every possible music joint where nutjobs congregate in 45 states, he even played in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and did a three-week tour of Norway," said longtime manager Scott Ambrose "Bullethead" Reilly in a statement. "He has suffered death threats; he sang with Don Henley; he has even been an answer on Jeopardy, for God's sake. He was the captain of a U.S. Olympic team and debated Pat Buchanan. For us. He did this all for us."

And Mojo's own epitaph for his career? "I have debased your false icons, mocked the myths and tried to shine the light of truth and freedom on the Big Lies. I have done all I can."

Like John Prine and Todd Snider and a few others, Mojo is quite simply too funny for his own good. If his retirement takes -- and I doubt it will -- he'll be very much missed. Mojo welded punk energy and attitude together with blues and rockabilly sounds and topped it all off with a backsliding Pentecostal preacher's delivery. Seeing him as a teenager in 1986 left me feeling much the same way it did almost 20 years later: elated, more courageous about my convictions, and just plain glad to be alive.

Of course, it's easy to feel that way at South By, at least most of the time. You feel that way at the Linus Pauling Quartet's Satanidelic light circus of a gig in a converted theater balcony. You feel that way watching Chango Van Jackson cavort in drag in a tent in the volleyball pit of a cheesy faux Australian pub. You feel that way taking in Carolyn Wonderland on a Saturday afternoon on South Congress outside Gueros. You feel that way watching New Orleans jazz trumpeter/entertainer deluxe Kermit Ruffins, as he smilingly confesses that he dreams about a reefer five feet long, and when his band trundles through the exuberantly amiable "Skokiaan." And you definitely feel that way when you steep in the sinister, Cypress Hill-like sounds of Monterrey hip-hoppers Cartel de Santa.

You don't feel so good reading about what happened to Ozomatli. The multiethnic L.A. jam band finished their set on Sixth Street at 2 a.m. the way they always do at every show the world over: with a drum-led conga line that went out the front door to their van. Unfortunately for them, and the reputation of the so-called Live Music Capital of the World, this time they ran into two of Austin's finest, who were hell-bent on enforcing that city's draconian noise ordinance. A scuffle ensued, and now one of Ozo's members stands accused of felony assault on a police officer. (Allegedly, he conked the copper over the head with a drum.) Talk about harshing a great vibe…

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