Film and TV

Choose Crazy: The Life And Times Of Mojo Nixon

The Mojo Manifesto goes behind the scenes to tell the story of Mojo Nixon.
The Mojo Manifesto goes behind the scenes to tell the story of Mojo Nixon. Photo by Scott Ambrose Reilly
Whether in person performing on stage or hosting his radio shows, Manifold Destiny on Sirius XM NASCAR as well his slot on the Outlaw Country Channel, Mojo Nixon is a magnetic force of nature that dominates all spaces and sound waves.

Though most only have enough time to process one strong aspect of his larger than life personality — his intense humor — a recently released documentary explores the many facets of Mojo Nixon.

The Mojo Manifesto: The Life And Times Of Mojo Nixon directed by Matt Eskey A.K.A Earl Freedom, longtime bassist and member of Mojo’s rocking band The Toadliquors, spent 12 years whittling away at countless hours of footage to portray the frontman in a whole new light and tell most of the complete tale of his life. The film which premiered in 2020 is now available for streaming online.

“Obviously being in the band, I know the Mojo aesthetic. I feel like it would be really hard for somebody else to make a Mojo movie. It'd be really hard to get it unless you were around him as much as I have been because he doesn't really show certain sides of himself,” says Eskey.

For someone who showed up at Nixon’s house over a decade ago with the camera still in the box, Eskey definitely nailed the Mojo aesthetic following the few requests from the boss man which were to make the movie funny, short and something that would make the fans happy.
Funny it is and how could it not be with a subject like Mojo whose songs tap into everyone’s inner adolescent as creates call and responses about a fantastically ridiculous range of subjects like killing Don Henley, eating psychedelic mushrooms, destroying malls, banks and lawyers and the oh so catchy “Tie My Pecker To My Leg.”

“All you can hope in any documentary is that you capture the essence of the person. That you capture the mojosity of Mojo and I think the mojosity of Mojo is all over the screen,” says Nixon.

The Mojo Manifesto artistically jumps around chronologically without confusing the viewer. Eskey managed to link footage from various concerts, current and past interviews and personal archives to explain the man behind the blaring guitar, denim cutoffs and Hawain shirts.

Eskey spent years combing through the archives, most of which was collected by Nixon’s longtime manager Bullethead, and found the experience invaluable to telling the story with Eskey developing never before seen photos and allowing fans to see incredible live performances from a pre smartphone time, including a show from the sorely missed Fitzgerald’s.

The film goes all the way back to the origin of Nixon in Danville, Virginia and gives a glimpse into his musical influences which were initially shaped by his father’s soul radio station WILA, an environment that exposed a young Nixon, or at that time Neill Kirby McMillan Jr., not only to great soul music but the injustices of racial inequality of the time.

His hillbilly roots serve as a perfect explanation for the genetic rebellion he carries so strongly within and his natural knack to serve as a type of manic street preacher challenging norms and providing a safe place for people who may feel that they don’t fit in.

“If you gotta choose between crazy or normal, always pick the crazy,” says Nixon. “I always tell people you don't want to be laying in the coffin going, ‘Oh I wish I would have done that.’ You wanna be laying in the coffin going, ‘Man am I fucking tired!’”

“If you gotta choose between crazy or normal, always pick the crazy.”

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Using studio footage from the recording of Otis, Nixon’s first full band album and departure from the two man show he and Skid Roper achieved MTV level popularity with, Eskey and Nixon break down the musical evolution and connections between Woody Guthrie, rock and roll and punk rock paving the way to the cowpunk bands of the ‘80s that Nixon aspired to throw his name into the same hat with.

“We did work really well in the studio and on stage,” says Nixon of his and Roper’s projects which allowed them to easily set up and break down when opening for bigger bands like NRBQ.

“I was frustrated because I wanted to be as loud as The Clash, The Replacements or The Pogues. I wanted to compete with The Beat Farmers or The Del -Lords and The Del Fuegos and I wanted to have a band.”

Nixon recorded in the studio with his “Post cow punk supergroup” featuring Country Dick Montana of The Beat Farmers, John Doe from X, Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock and Eric Roscoe Ambel of The Del-Lords but touring with this band presented its challenges as all members had other projects.

Enter The Toadliquors, his backing band which still plays together twice a year during SXSW and on the Outlaw Country Cruise. Nixon found his steady band in Austin based Mike “Wid” Middleton on drums, Matt “Earl Freedom” Eskey on bass and Pete “Wet Dawg” Gordon who through the film prove evidence to Toadliquor rule “No quitting, no joining.”

“He always thought like that and he's really smart like that,” says Eskey of Nixon’s ability to maintain his long running group as a solid unit. “It’s not just him being smart, he's a generous person and that’s kind of rare in a situation like this where he's a clear band leader and it's all his songs, but he never treated us like sidemen.”

Gordon, who later moved to Houston and opened The Continental Club here agrees saying, “It was the four of us against the world every night. The intensity with which we play, it's hard to find that and also you can't find that comradery that we had either.”

Nixon and his band members all agree that Houston always treated them well with sold out crowds every time they came through. Nixon recalls the first time the band was able to afford to book two rooms at a hotel was in Houston.

For Gordon, the decision to open the club here was based in part by him and the band's positive experiences touring the city and watching our rock and roll venues at the time shut down or switch gears. Nixon inaugurated the club by performing at the informal opening to a full house of Mojo fans.

That same lifetime bonding attitude within the band bleeds to their fans, an element captured in the film which also interviews the band’s number one fan who sprinkles in his account of Nixon’s musical career.

“Including the fan was obviously an unorthodox decision but the way I see it is there's really no difference between Mojo, Bullethead and the number one fan. They're all the same person and it's really just to illustrate that whatever is possible for Mojo is possible for the number one fan. It’s possible for anybody,” says Eskey who was first and foremost a fan before joining the band.

This notion that we are all free to make our own destiny and celebrate life with an aggressive kind of joy that challenges the norm is a key element to the film which through it’s tales of rock and roll debauchery and humor ends on the most positive of notes, a band that still loves each other and its fearless and nutty leader.

“The power of the individual,” agrees Eskey. “It’s really about the fact that you can make yourself into the person you want to be and if you think about it, that's what Mojo did. He’s a small town kid from a conservative Southern town who became exactly who he wanted to be. He made it happen and anybody can do that and that's really the Mojo ethos.”

The Mojo Manifesto: The Life And Times Of Mojo Nixon is available for rent and purchase on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes