Monthly Archives: October 2009
We’re kind of late to the party on this one, but as most of his fans probably know by now, Mojo muthaufuckin Nixon is back, baby! Mr. Bo-Day-Shuss hisself got some attention a few weeks ago when he announced that he’s be making his entire catalog available for free download on Amazon.com, and even more attention this week when it was revealed that Amazon users have downloaded over one million Mojo Nixon songs. So suck it, Radiohead!
Obviously, this is all great news, because Mojo Nixon is without doubt one of the great underated artists of the eighties…or any era, for that matter. His loopy rockabilly songs celebrate and poke well-deserved fun at all the pop culture trash that makes America great, everything from MTV VJs (“Stuffin Marthas Muffin”) to Elvis (“Elvis Is Everywhere”) to the Eagles (“Don Henley Must Die”) to Debbie Gibson (“Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child”). He’s even got a new album out called Whiskey Rebellion that goes after Dr. Laura and Judge Judy. Clearly, this man has a television and he’s not afraid to use it.
Musically, Nixon isn’t all that weird…he’s just a satirist with an Elvis fixation…but the decision to make his entire catalog available for free makes him deserving of a shout-out on TWBITW, we think. Here’s what the man himself said about his million downloads feat:
“Great googley moogley. I’m almost speechless. A million Mojo songs stirring up trouble across this great land. I’m a cult artist and apparently I’ve grown the cult and made the cult happy. A little blast of joy in these dark and desperate times. A retired lunatic with no Facebook, no Twitter, no MySpace or tour. Not even an e-mail list. Never underestimate the power of the Mojosity. The true sound of the American nutjob is forever. You can’t kill rock ‘n roll. The question is–did I lose a million dollars or gain a million fans?”
The free download part is supposedly gonna end any day now, so get your ass over to Amazon.com and start downloading. Meanwhile, here’s a little reminder of why it’s Mojo Nixon’s world, we just live in it. (And yes, that’s Winona Ryder.)
Burning Man certainly has no shortage of weird bands, but the grandaddy of all weird Burner bands has to be Mutaytor, an ever-evolving burlesque troupe/electronic jam band/glorified drum circle that’s been making the rounds for at least a decade now. Once upon a time, they were basically just one dude drumming and another dude twirling knobs on one of those little synthesizers that makes that “eeh-eeh-eeh” sound that was really popular with bands like Prodigy and Chemical Borthers back in the nineties. But at some point, it evolved (sorry, mutated) into more of a full band project, with lots of instruments besides drums played by, y’know, actual musicians. (Including—and this is probably my favorite part—the former bass player from Oingo Boingo.)
These days, a typical Mutaytor show includes burlesque dancers, acrobats, aerielists, a horn section, hula hoopers, Chinese dragons and (venue permitting) lots of fire. Somebody give this band a residency in Vegas, already!
Today’s TWBITW candidates come to us from New Orleans, a town known and loved for producing more than its fair share of weirdos. Robert “Mr. Quintron” Ralston is a singer, songwriter, keyboardist and inventor who writes weird little boogie-woogie tunes that he performs on a variety of mostly homemade instruments, including a combination Hammond/Fender Rhodes organ outfitted to look like the front of a car (complete with working headlights) and an amazing gadget called the Drum Buddy, a homemade, light-triggered analog synthesizer/drum machine. The demo video showing the Drum Buddy in action is almost more entertaining than Quintron’s music, which he sometimes calls (pretty accurately, we think) “swamp tech.”
As if all that weren’t weird enough, Quinton’s live performances are usually accompanied by his wife, Panacea Pussycat, and her puppet shows, which have apparently become the stuff of New Orleans legend. The duo mostly operates out of their own little nightclub, the Spellcaster Lodge, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but reopened in late 2006.
This video for the song “Witch in the Club,” featuring Miss Pussycat’s puppets, gives you a pretty good idea of the duo’s offbeat charm. It’s kinda like the B-52’s meets Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as remixed by Aphex Twin. Or something like that. Check out the puppet version of the Drum Buddy towards the end of the video.
How is it possible that we have yet to write about a prog-rock band on TWBITW? Clearly, we’ve been slacking! Let’s fix that right now.
Like any weird band worth their salt, France’s Magma don’t really fit neatly into any one genre; they just get called prog-rock because they share a lot of prog bands’ fondness for long, meandering instrumental passages, weird time signatures and sci-fi imagery. But musically, they probably owe more to Sun Ra and Carl Orff and David Axelrod than they do to, say, King Crimson. Led by drummer, singer and all-around freakazoid Christian Vander, the band has been around in one form or another, off and on, since 1970, and continues to tour and release new material to this day, although most of their more recent output has been in the form of live albums and DVDs.
What really pushes the band into full-blown Weirdland, however, is the incredibly elaborate mythology Vander has built up around the group. All of Magma’s music tells various stories of the planet Kobaïa, which is settled by refugees from Earth in some distant future. And most of it is sung in a made-up language called Kobaïan, which fans of Magma have actually learned to decipher and speak to one another the way Trekkies speak Klingon. Magma’s music and Vander’s Kobaïan language have even inspired their own sub-genre of music, called “Zeuhl,” which is Kobaïan for “celestial.” Next time you hear a bunch of French dudes chanting nonsense lyrics over music that sounds sort of like Pat Metheny on acid, you’re probably listening to a Zeuhl band.
Here’s some great video of Magma performing in their heyday back in 1977, when this stuff probably didn’t sound quite so weird. It was the decade of Yes and Jethro Tull, after all. That’s Vander behind the drum kit—all kidding aside, you can see why a lot of other drummers worship the guy. Oh, and don’t skip the user comments, in which the Magma faithful offer up their translations of the lyrics. Apparently, it’s all secretly religious music.
Another old-school weird band that probably needs no introduction, unless you’re only acquainted with them by way of “Whip It.” Oh, there’s so much more to these guys!
Lots of bands have concept albums, but DEVO (or Devo, or occasionally DEV-O) are sort of a concept band. Their name is short for de-evolution, a quasi-satiric concept developed by the band’s founding members when they were art students at Kent State University in Ohio in the ’70s. Basically, the idea is that humans are actually devolving into less sophisticated life forms, and DEVO are here to save us from our slow descent into mindless puerility—or possibly speed the process along. Or at the very least make merciless fun of it in the form of catchy yet deliberately mechanical songs with lots of synthesizers and spastic vocals.
Part of the DEVO mythology centers around the group’s matching outfits, usually brightly colored jumpsuits that look like a cross between factory worker and Star Trek alien combined with a round, multi-tiered hat called the Energy Dome. According to band member Gerald Casale, “the Dome collects energy that escapes from the crown of the human head and pushes it back into the Medula Oblongata for increased mental energy.” It also makes you a total babe magnet. (Okay, that last part might only be true at DEVO shows.)
Fun fact: in 2008, McDonald’s released a Happy Meal toy called “New Wave Nigel” sporting the signature DEVO Energy Dome hat. Initially it was reported that the band sued McDonald’s for trademark infringement, but DEVO’s law firm later insisted that no suit was filed and the dispute had been “amicably resolved on mutually agreeable terms.” (Which we’re pretty sure is lawyer-speak for “McDonald’s paid us a crapload of money.”) You can’t get New Wave Nigel in your Happy Meal anymore, but last we checked, he was going for $2.95 plus shipping on eBay.
DEVO broke up in 1991, and although they’ve continued to make public appearances over the past decade or so, they haven’t done much in the way of new material. But they’re going on tour this November to promote the reissue of their two most seminal albums: their 1978 debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and 1980’s Freedom of Choice, the set that featured “Whip It.” So this seemed like an appropriate time to give them a spot on TWBITW.
Good to have you back, guys! Now here’s a clip of DEVO performing on Letterman way back in 1982. Pop music was so much more interesting in the Eighties.