The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon (
directed by Matt Eskey)
Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande (
directed by Tim MacKenzie-Smith)
In the Court of the Crimson King (
directed by Toby Amies)
The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon - I’m pretty sure I once owned the Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper single “Elvis Is Everywhere”, an MTV fuelled career high point for the Virginian rock’n’roller, but other than that my knowledge of the man and his music is a vague memory of somebody who wrote joke songs and shouted a lot about drink and drugs and Amerika over rudimentary roots music inspired rockabilly. Like a boorish backyard Bruce Springsteen on moonshine.
The new doc The Mojo Manifesto shows I was only half right. Sure there’s a lot of shouting. Even in the new interview clips Mojo is sat in his shorts ranting and raving about the power of rock’n’roll. And the vintage performance clips from one sweaty club to another see him proselytizing about the power of drink and dope and sex whilst hammering on a giant empty water bottle in front of a crowd of equally boozed up men (and they are almost entirely men). But behind the frat-boy facade there’s a slightly more sensitive and serious artist.
The documentary does a great job in tracing the roots of the Mojo Nixon character and how Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr transformed himself into a rock’n’roll cartoon. Inspired by his father who was an important figure in the civil rights movement in the town of Danville, Mojo got hooked on rock and rhythm and blues early and soon realized there was nothing else he was going to do. His earlier work is reminiscent of Modern Lovers era Jonathan Richman, sharp lyrics and basic beats. Gradually he developed his sound with sidekick Skid Roper (entirely absent here other than in archive clips) and alongside bands like The Beat Farmers and Dash Rip Rock hitched onto a movement that was briefly labelled Cow Punk. Then Elvis Was Everywhere and MTV came calling and Mojo became something of a character and a skit salesman on the channel. With comedy songs of the likes of “Don Henley Must Die”, and “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child” Mojo rampaged up and down the USA with a live show reminiscent of an Animal House toga party.
There are ups and downs as you would expect. The typical record company trials and missed hits. There’s a sequence with Winona Ryder filming a video for a song that MTV refuses to air and some great footage of the magical Jim Dickinson producing and playing on Mojo’s solo album Otis (and wouldn’t a James Luther Dickinson documentary be a thing of wonder). For those already hip to Mojo this will be a must see, for the casual observer its engaging, sometimes amusing, though often erratically structured. And there is a lot of shouting.
Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande - tells the story of the British funk band of the 1970s and how they made it in America and how they came back and how Britain turned its back on them. Best known now for the killer break on their track “Bra” that was championed firstly by the New York disco scene and then sampled relentlessly, along with other breaks, on many of the records by hip hop’s pioneers, back in the 70s Cymande found it impossible to get anywhere in a UK scene that would seemingly tolerate Black bands only if they were American.
The band recount their experiences as they reform to capitalize on the renewed interest in their music. Rueful of the way they were treated but immensely proud of the music they made. It’s a fairly pedestrian talking heads style documentary, more suited to TV than cinema, but its a welcome opportunity to shine a light on a group of undeservedly obscure artists. And their music is incredible.
In the Court of the Crimson King - Full disclosure, I didn’t watch In the Court of the Crimson King at SXSW as there was no digital screening but I did see a WIP of the film a few months back. I had even less knowledge of King Crimson than I did of Mojo Nixon. I held some kind of antipathy to them based on residual memories of my teenage punk rock wars when prog was probably dog dirt (that I never listened to) and the only people I knew who did listen to King Crimson were my “hipster” English teacher and the muso-serious boys who bought Guitar World every month instead of reading Sounds or the NME. So in the subsequent 40 plus years I had never seen the need to find out what King Crimson were all about.
Toby Amies’ fantastic documentary puts that right. Though the framing is following the current iteration of the group on tour the doc takes stock from the beginning unravelling the tangle of members, the schisms and the schemes, from their debut and on. Of course the focus is the fearsome Robert Fripp who is actually incredibly funny throughout, deadpan and dry as dust. He is also responsible for what I think must be the greatest mid interview pause ever documented on film (here’s hoping that it made the final cut).
Amies’ previous film was the cult doc The Man Whose Mind Exploded, the story of the eccentric Drako Oho Zarharza and more recently he made a series of quite beautiful, contemplative, films on gardens for Nowness. He brings an artist’s touch to the documentary with exemplary choices made in editing and structure elevating the simple one man and a camera shooting style. All that said, in the months since I watched the film I have still not played a single track by King Crimson though I’d gladly watch the movie again any time.
Main image: Mojo Nixon
The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon/ Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande/ In the Court of the Crimson King all premiered at SXSW