SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! When I look out into your eyes out there, when I look out into your faces, you know what I see? I see a little bit of Elvis in each and every one of you out there… Take a moment and revel in the opening line of Mojo Nixon’s most famous song, Elvis is Everywhere. It took MTV by storm in 1987, when MTV was a music video channel and still culturally relevant.
Freedom Records & Films’ documentary about Mojo Nixon started production in 2012, and, at the time, it was scheduled to release a couple of years later. There’s no indication why it took so long, but the fruit of director Matt Eskey’s labors, The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon, is well worth the long wait.
Maybe you don’t know Mojo… that’s been a long time. If that’s the case, then here’s your Mojo Moment of revelation. MTV in the post-punk days was a crazed cauldron of New Wave, early electronic music, and bubblegum pop, which all blended into the beauty of Darkwave and some other musical genre spin-offs. One of the more intense styles to emerge was called Psychobilly, a noisy fusion of roots blues, country, and rock with a punk edge. Punk plus Rockabilly is Psychobilly.
“…Mojo Nixon: a primitive blues-inspired musician. Adding pure hyperactive insanity and extemporaneous rants to his songs…”
Nobody was more psycho or hillbilly-punk than wild-eyed, carnival-barker-talking Mojo Nixon. His music is unfiltered Americana satire. After Elvis is Everywhere, he had a semi-hit with the controversial Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child, which didn’t do as well after MTV refused to air it. His legend grew, however, with a shout-out in The Dead Milkmen’s hit Punk Rock Girl. He continued through many albums with irreverent, satirical cultural commentary in Don Henley Must Die, Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin, Are you Drinkin’ with me Jesus? and more. Typically his songs include a long unstructured bridge where Mojo indulges in hillbilly freestyle rants. This is where he shines.
The film introduces young Neill Kirby McMillan Jr. growing up in Danville, VA, under the influence of music from his father’s soul radio station. While on a bicycle trip across the U.S., partying in New Orleans, he has an epiphany he refers to as “The Mojo Revelation.” It leads the young man to his stage persona as Mojo Nixon: a primitive blues-inspired musician. Adding pure hyperactive insanity and extemporaneous rants to his songs, he sets off for the wilderness to perform his wild music.
Eskey tracks Mojo teaming up with instrumentalist Skid Roper, usually seen playing a washboard, and they go on to perform anywhere that will have them. They land a record deal, get college radio airplay, and then get famous during the glory days of MTV. During his long career, Mojo is shown in moments with Indie music luminaries. When his time with Skid Roper was done, he hung out with Jello Biafra and Country Dick Montana.