Kirin J. Callinan

Photo by Mikey Hart/English Gentleman
Photo by Mikey Hart/English Gentleman

For some performers, the weird is not something they rinse off after the show. Their weirdness runs soul-deep. Such a performer is this week’s artiste, Australia’s Kirin J. Callinan. We first discovered Callinan through the Beggars Group, probably the closest thing us weirdos have to a major label. Among the Beggars Group’s many imprints is a newish label called Terrible Records, which also recently became home to rap provocateur and Weird List inductee Le1f. Who’da thunk our new favorite label would be co-founded by one of the guys from Grizzly Bear?

Anyway, Beggars sent out a press release a couple months back announcing Callinan as the opening act for fellow antipodean eccentric Connan Mockasin on an upcoming U.S. tour. So right away, we were intrigued. Then we read this, about a video he just shot in New York for YoursTru.ly:  “Never one to bore, the video features Kirin getting  interviewed whilst being massaged (a non-negotiable requirement of his interview policy).” So now we were really intrigued. Non-negotiable massages? Who is this guy?

Sure enough, in the YoursTru.ly video, there’s Callinan, getting worked over on a massage table as he talks about his childhood (“My parents would offer me two dollars for any report that didn’t say ‘easily distracted’; I don’t think they ever gave me any money”). Then he goes into an awkward yet oddly compelling solo piano performance of a song called “Victoria M.” Before you watch the YoursTru.ly video, I recommend starting with the original:

That’s the campiest of Callinan’s videos, but it’s far from the weirdest. That honor probably goes to “Way to War,” a flickering, mostly black-and-white video in which a series of disturbing tableaux appear to be seen through a broken View-Master. It won something called the J Award in Australia for Best Music Video in 2012.

As you can probably tell from those two tracks, Callinan’s style is pretty eclectic. But they really only hint at the range of his 2013 debut album, Embracism. Over the course of 10 tracks, he tackles everything from minimalist electronic noise to stately, Leonard Cohen-esque hymns to turgid, quasi-industrial freakouts like the amazing “Come On USA,” which somehow manages to name-check Springsteen while still sounding like Ministry. Vocally, his rubbery baritone owes a lot to avant-garde singer-songwriter Scott Walker; in an interview with V Magazine, he admitted that it wasn’t until he heard Walker that became confident in his own singing abilities. “It’s over the top and ridiculous,” he says of his own singing. But hearing Walker, he told V, “validated, in a sense, that vision I had of my own voice. I wasn’t ready for anyone to hear it before.”

Callinan’s music is so compelling he almost doesn’t need a backstory, but we’ll give you a brief one anyway: He got his start as the guitarist in a surprisingly conventional post-punk band called Mercy Arms, but quit over creative differences with the band’s singer. He briefly did improvisational tribal/ambient rock with a loose collective of musicians called Fashion Launches Rocket Launches, but apparently the collective was too loose to stay together long. In the same interview with V Magazine, he says his solo career started after the end of a long relationship, which might explain the raw-nerve quality of his music.

Most descriptions of Callinan’s live shows seem to focus on how he likes to get naked, or at least strip down to his skivvies. But based on the few good clips we’ve been able to find online, these descriptions seem to overstate Callinan’s nudist tendencies. Yes, there’s something overtly sexual about Callinan’s music and stage presence, but there’s also a lot of humor, goofy charm and a genuinely innocent quality, too. He might just be taking his clothes off because it gets hot up there. Or he wants to feel free. Anyone who finds his bare skin either confrontational or vulnerable might be projecting a bit.

We’ll leave you with Callinan’s most recent video, for one of Embracism‘s loveliest songs, “Landslide.” It’s actually an incredibly simple setup, but the effect, combined with Kirin’s aching baritone, is pretty disconcerting, no?

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Gary S. Paxton

[Warning: Graphic Holocaust imagery ahead. Which really has nothing to do with this week’s artist, but…well, you’ll see.]

This week’s weird act was suggested by reader jlrake, who wrote in with all sorts of worthy weirdo contenders. We’re going with Gary S. Paxton because he’s responsible for one of the most popular overplayed Halloween songs of all time and a catchy little tune called “Vote Em Out Boogie,” both of which seemed pretty apropos for this week. If only he’d written a song about hurricanes, we’d be hitting the timeliness trifecta.

Throughout his 40-plus year career, Paxton has been a master of the novelty song. His very first hit, “Alley Oop,” was a Coasters-style R&B goof about a caveman from a popular comic strip, recorded with fellow nutjob Kim Fowley and a thrown-together group called The Hollywood Argyles. He followed that up with the revered/reviled Halloween party staple, “Monster Mash,” which he produced with singer Bobby “Boris” Pickett in 1962. But surprisingly, his music really took a turn for the weird after he converted to Christianity in 1970. His early Jesus stuff was fairly conventional, easy-listening ’70s gospel—like his most successful Christian song, the oft-covered “He Was There All the Time.” But his Amish-on-steroids facial hair was a clue that the dude behind “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” was, well, there all the time.

That dude—the Paxton who would eventually start wearing, y’know, gold boots and masks with his initials on them—really busted out on his second gospel album, More From the Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable Gary S. Paxton (a sequel, obviously, to The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable, Different World of Gary S. Paxton). Alongside more conventional Bible-belt fodder like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were such immortal Paxton originals as “Jesus Is My Lawyer in Heaven,” “When the Meat Wagon Comes for You” and my personal favorite, “There Goes a Cigar Smoking a Man.” If Bible Camp had been more like this, I might have gone for more than one weekend.

Paxton’s next album, Terminally Weird/But Godly Right, further cemented his status as sort of a Christian cross (Jesus pun!) between Randy Newman and Wavy Gravy: a lovable but irascible old hippie writing catchy little songs that were easy to dismiss as silly but full of sly social satire to anyone who was paying attention. You can listen to excerpts of the whole thing on The Pax’s website. We recommend starting with “Fat, Fat Christians.”

A bizarre and tragic event nearly ended Paxton’s life in 1980. He was living in Nashville at the time and producing a lot of country artists. Depending on which version of the story you believe (Paxton’s, or that of his current wife, Vicki Sue Roberts), Paxton was shot three or five times by two hitmen hired to kill him over a contract dispute with a country singer he was working with. He survived, only to run into troubles with the IRS and develop a near-fatal case of hepatitis C. Oh, and he might have also had an affair with Tammy Faye Bakker. So the ’80s were a particularly odd time for The Paxman.

Since 1999, Paxton has lived in Branson, Missouri with Roberts, where he by all accounts (well, his and Vicki’s) keeps a fairly low profile. He can’t perform any more because of his health problems, but that hasn’t stopped him from churning out a steady stream of increasingly bizarre novelty songs, including “When I Die Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart” and “Frankenclone” (The Pax does house music!). He also does the occasional conservative wingnut screed, but he’s old and white and lives in Missouri, so we’ll let that slide.

So Happy Halloween and Happy Almost-Election Day, My Gary S. “Monster Mash/Obamascare” Paxton! We hope you’re still keeping it weird in Branson, even if we also hope “Vote ‘Em Out Boogie” only applies to the Tea Party and not our boy Barack. He’s not perfect, but Romney and Ryan scare the shit out of us.

Most of Paxton’s weirdest stuff sadly is unavailable on YouTube, but we did rather enjoy the zany lyrics (though not, it must be noted, the gratuitous use of gruesome Holocaust imagery—sorry about that part) of this little pro-gun ditty. You’re totally right, Gary, no handgun ever drove itself to a schoolyard. All inanimate objects are inherently harmless! C4 and hand grenades for everyone! And anyone who disagrees is Hitler.

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Weirdify Playlist 6: When You’re Strange

The only thing weirder than a weird band is a weird loner armed with a guitar, ukulele or thrift store keyboard. This week’s playlist celebrates some of the best, greatest and (to use a clinical term) craziest of those loners, along with a few other slightly more socialized purveyors of what’s come to be known as outsider music.

What is outsider music? Usually (though not always) it’s music created by someone with no formal training and often rudimentary technical abilities. To the untrained ear, it nearly all sounds terrible, but if you listen to enough it, you start to find some diamonds in the rough.

For more on the subject of outsider music, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Songs in the Key of Z, an authoritative book on the subject by the great Irwin Chusid. That book informed much of this playlist—and, to be honest, much of this entire blog. Chusid’s the guru, we are but his lowly disciples.

Ready to take a walk on the weird side? Fire up your Spotify and make sure your headphones aren’t strapped on too tight.

1. Daniel Johnston, “Walking the Cow.” Maybe the most famous outsider singer/songwriter of his generation, Johnston is a diagnosed schizophrenic from Texas who writes surprisingly beautiful, simple little pop songs and sings them in an achingly childlike voice. Throughout the ’80s, he gained a sizable cult following for his homemade cassette tape albums, all illustrated with his own bizarre cartoon creatures like the one we swiped for this playlist’s artwork. There’s a documentary about him called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

2. B.J. Snowden, “School Teacher.” Maybe the best way to describe this Massachusetts native is that she’s a female, less crazy version of Wesley Willis (see below). She claims to be a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and works as a music teacher, but her songs mostly feature very rudimentary piano playing and cheesy, pre-programmed keyboard backbeats, a la Willis. Still, her stuff undeniably brings to mind words like “jaunty.” Fred Schneider of the B-52’s is a big fan.

3. Tiny Tim, “People Are Strange.” You’re probably too young to remember this, but this totally untiny performer, with his ukulele and unmistakable warble of a voice, was once one of the most famous musicians in the world. Bizarre, but true. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which he performed on Laugh-In in 1968, became a huge hit, making him a regular guest on that SNL precursor as well as The Tonight Show (he even got married on Johnny Carson’s set in late 1969, in what was at the time one of the most watched events in television history). As mind-blowingly ridiculous as his version of “Tulips” is, I thought this Doors cover was more apropos to this week’s theme.

4. Lucia Pamela, “Hap-Hap-Happy Heart.” Like many outsiders, the biographical details of this Missouri native are a bit hazy. She claims to have been crowned Miss St. Louis in 1926, which sounds plausible, and to have performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, which we’ll also buy—but then, she also claims to have been the first person on television, so who knows? What we can confirm is that, in her mid-sixties, she recorded an album in 1969 called Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela and it’s kind of amazing. She’s one of Irwin Chusid’s favorites.

5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Someone Took the Yellow From My Egg.” A little a cappella interlude from Lubbock, Texas’ greatest proto-psychobilly lunatic.

6. Charles Manson, “People Say I’m No Good.” Yes, that Charles Manson. One of the world’s most notorious cult leaders and mass murderers is on Spotify. Yeah, we’re not sure how we feel about it, either.

7. Wesley Willis, “Mojo Nixon.” Chicago’s late, great purveyor of “Harmony Joy Music” (and our playlist’s second schizophrenic), Willis wrote bouncy tribute songs to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kurt Cobain. This, as far as I know, is the only song of his about another artist we’d already added to The Weird List.

8. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf.” And here he is, Mr. Mojo himself, singing about digging up famous dead bluesmen and affixing their skulls to his guitar. We’re sure he’s just speaking metaphorically.

9. Bob Log III, “I Want Your Shit on My Leg.” For 20 years, Bob Log III has been persuading sweet young things the world over to put their “shit” (read: ass) on his leg so he can bounce them around while playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. Yes, he’s a one-man Delta blues wrecking crew. In an Evel Knieval jumpsuit, no less.

10. Roky Erickson, “Don’t Slander Me.” Our playlist’s third schizophrenic, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a psych-rock pioneer with his ’60s band, the 13th Floor Elevators, before  a trip to the loony bin sidelined him in 1968. He’s since made something of a comeback and is now a celebrated cult hero of psychedelic rock and outsider music. This track isn’t his nuttiest by a long shot—it kinda sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which make sense given that he worked a lot with former CCR bassist Stu Cook in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but something about the sentiment makes it a perfect outsider anthem.

11. GG Allin, “I Live to Be Hated.” The original rock ‘n’ roll outsider—angry, obscene and unrepentant. This is actually one of his moodier, more introspective numbers.

12. The Mad Daddy, “Record Acid Test.” Just decided to throw in a wacky little transition from Cleveland’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, one of the original lunatics of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Alan Freed may have “invented” rock DJing, but The Mad Daddy made it shake, rattle and roll, one wavy gravy platter at a time. (For more on Myers, this post is pretty excellent.)

13. Mission Man, “Gotta Work Hard.” If Mad Daddy had lived (sadly, he took his own life in 1968) to hear his fellow Ohioan Mission Man doing his stoned-Lou-Reed-rapping routine, we’re sure he would have approved. Or he might have said, “What the hell is this shit?” and put on another Elvis record.

14. Gonken, “Rockin’ Robots.” Another modern outsider for the electronic age, this time from Seattle. He’s making fun of pop music, sort of. But on another level, he’s just making so-bad-it’s-actually-kinda-good pop music.

15. Deerhoof, “My Pal Foot Foot.” One of our favorite current weird bands pays tribute to one of our favorite weird bands of yore, The Shaggs, by covering their immortal song about looking for a lost cat named Foot Foot. Magic ensues.

16. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, “Grown So Ugly.” In many ways, Don Van Vliet doesn’t actually fit the classic mold of the outsider musician. The dude could actually play, as could his band, all of whom had deep roots in blues, jazz and the psychedelic rock scene of the late ’60s. But somehow, they managed to never let those skills or influences get in the way of creating records so original they were sometimes kinda frightening.

17. Arcesia, “Butterfly Mind.” Another discovery courtesy of the bottomless fount of weirdness that is Songs in the Key of Z, Arcesia was actually the work of a veteran big band crooner from Rhode Island named Johnny Arcessi who moved to California and became an acid casualty in the late ’60s. In 1970, at the age of 52, he released his one and only album as Arcesia, Reachin’, and it’s an amazing relic of that strange time in American history, an acid folk freakout delivered by a guy who clearly had lost all interest in phrasing, pitch or lyrical comprehensibility. Needless to say, it’s now a highly prized collector’s item—the fact that it’s on Spotify is almost as mind-blowing as Arcessi’s adenoidal bray.

18. Syd Barrett, “No Good Trying.” No self-respecting mix of outsider music would be complete without an appearance from that most famous acid casualty of all, Uncle Syd. R.I.P., gentle sir.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.

Gonken

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I gotta be honest: I’m not sure how I feel about starting our second year of Weirdest Band in the World with this guy. But you, our cracked-out readers, have spoken, and the votes are in: after a ridiculously long tenure on our “Submit and Vote” page (we kept hoping the “no” votes would pile up, but no such luck), this Gonken character has been declared weird. And yeah, I guess he is. At least he gets points for trying.

Here’s the deal: No single thing Johnny Gonken has ever attempted in his now fairly long career is either especially weird or especially good. But when you add it all up, there’s a sort of dogged determination to it all that’s kind of amazing. I mean, you name it, this Gonken dude has done it. Nerdcore-inspired electro-punk-rap opuses with titles like Robot vs. Zombie? Check. Catchy synth-punk, complete with low-budget video featuring random hot chick? Got it covered. Fake Lost-style government training videos? All over it. A Halloween record? Fuck yeah. Acoustic, Flight of the Conchords-style novelty tunes? Hey, how hard can it be? A commercial jingle for the Shake Weight? Sure, why fucking not?

Through it all, Gonken has endured obscurity, negative reviews and judging from the clip below, awkwardly small crowds for most of his shows. But he perseveres, writing songs with titles like “The Butterfly Reject” and “Hate Is For People With Hearts” and clearly, on some level, reveling in his outsider, misunderstood-artist status. Success would probably ruin this guy.

So you know what? We just convinced ourselves. Gonken, you are one weird fucking dude. Keep doing what you’re doing, and fuck the haters. Including us. (And we hope that guy in the robot costume is well-paid. Or at least gets lots of free trips to Taco Bell.)

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Edward Barton

Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested by a reader named John Collingswood (thanks, John!). Normally we’re not big fans of solo practitioners of so-called “outsider art”—any mildly schizophrenic creative type can hole himself up with an acoustic guitar and some art supplies and crank out all sorts of bizarre stuff that will inevitably find a small but cultish following and eventually score him a documentary and/or tribute album featuring at least one member of Radiohead. But something about Edward Barton and his convoluted backstory really appealed to us. He’s sort of Manchester, England’s answer to Daniel Johnston, complete with random connections to 808 State and the early U.K. rave scene. We had to find out more.

Barton got his start in the ’80s, recording minimalist, almost nursery-rhyme-like songs with his girlfriend at the time, Jane Lancaster. One of these songs, from an LP called Jane and Barton, was an a cappella track called “It’s a Fine Day” that became a minor hit in 1983 (according to Barton’s bio, it has the distinction of being the “highest ever chart placing of an unaccompanied poem” in U.K. history). The success garnered Barton, now a solo artist, a pair of appearances on a popular TV music show called The Tube, as well as opening slots for a number of touring bands from Manchester, although Barton has since said his popularity as an opening act was only because “I made bands look adventurous and/or compassionate for choosing me” and “I was willing to sleep outside the bands hotel in their van with an amplifier on my head.”

Also a visual artist, Barton directed the video for “Sit Down,” a 1989 single from James (the band that would later have that massive hit “Laid,” you know, the one with the yodeling chorus and the line, “She only comes when she’s on top”). He was also arrested for displaying an art installation called “Stolen,” which consisted of things he had shoplifted. In the early ’90s, he ran an exhibition space in Manchester called the Oblong Gallery, which was also eventually shut down—again, by the police, according to Barton’s bio, although it doesn’t go into specifics.

Barton had sort of an odd second career when he got involved in the nascent “Madchester” rave scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s. He co-wrote a very weird acid house track “Born in the North” with A Guy Called Gerald in 1988, and he hosted a popular Manchester club night called Hip Replacement which, according to Graham Massey of 808 State, featured such esoteric entertainments as “Ukrainian folk groups, life drawing classes [and] first aid demos,” as well as a “wardrobe orchestra” in which all the musicians performed inside different wardrobes (i.e. big pieces of furniture roughly the size and shape of a small closet). We’re not quite sure how that last one worked and no one seems to have provided a detailed account of it—so we’re guessing the concept never quite caught on.

His big claim to fame from this era came in 1992 when the house/techno band Opus III remade “It’s a Fine Day” as an uplifting club anthem, complete with a video that’s now so fantastically dated, it seems like a parody of early ’90s house music—but no, early ’90s house music was really just that ridiculous. The Ecstasy must’ve been really, really good back then.

After the success of Opus III’s “It’s a Fine Day” remake, Barton recorded a series of albums under the name Hush that consisted entirely of a cappella songs meant to be sampled by dance music producers. Hush samples did appear on half a dozen hit songs over the next several years, including “Happiness,” an early Norman Cook track released under the name Pizzaman, but none ever repeated the success of “It’s a Fine Day” or did much to boost Barton’s profile.

After the release of the last Hush album in 1995, Barton seems to have dropped off the radar a bit. Supposedly he worked on a project with Mark Day of the Happy Mondays called O.K. Cola, but we couldn’t verify this. He also released a record in 2000 under the name Pudding called “A Little Christmas Thieving,” which is still available on his website. But for the most part, he appears to have kept fairly quiet…until last year, when he finally resurfaced with a brand-new album called And a Panda. Based on the tracks available on his MySpace page, plus this YouTube video for a track called “Ginger Funk,” it’s by far the mostly elaborately arranged and accessible stuff Barton’s ever recorded–but it’s still pretty out there.

Despite his many accomplishments, Barton is probably still best-known in England for his first appearance on The Tube in the early ’80s. There, young fans who were perhaps expecting to see the lady with the pretty voice who sang “It’s a Fine Day” instead got treated to a spastic performance by a solo Barton, playing a battered acoustic guitar with a wooden spoon and declaiming a (for lack of a better term) song called “I’ve Got No Chicken But I’ve Got Five Wooden Chairs.” Here’s a clip of that immortal performance.

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Richard There

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It’s another first here at Weird Band central: for the first time ever, we’re gonna feature an artist based on the votes of you, our loyal reader(s). Yes, a few months back, we decided to create a “Submit and Vote” page where bands could submit themselves for possible inclusion on The Weird List, and we could let all y’all out there on the Interwebs vote on whether we should include them or not. After a few false starts (let’s face it, the talent pool among fans of this blog does not run deep), we finally found an artist worthy of The Weird List. So here he is, folks: the one, the only, the truly bizarre Richard There.

Now we still don’t know much about Richard, except that he’s from Germany, he’s a fan of ours (at least he tell us so, and hell, why wouldn’t he be? we rock), and he makes funny, somewhat creepy little comic strips and funny, even creepier little songs that kinda sound like they were written by a schitzophrenic off his Clozapine. You know, lyrics about voices in his head and whatnot, sung in a thick German accent and accompanied mainly by solo guitar played with what we’ll charitably describe as shaky determination. He also has a lot of songs about birds. We’re not really sure what that’s about.

Not one to rest on his laurels and/or in a pool of his own filth, Richard also has a project called Spielplatz der Bosewichte, a musical collaboration with a fellow freak named Joewl Levis. It sounds pretty much exactly like Richard’s solo stuff, except with another thickly German-accented guy singing sometimes, too.

Anyway, Richard doesn’t have any videos on YouTube*, so we’ll have to deviate from our usual format and just suggest that if you want to hear some of Richard’s music, head on over to Last.fm, where he has pretty much his whole catalog available, most of it for free. We’d recommend starting with “Cat in My Head,” which combines all of Richard There’s obsessions—birds, shakily played guitar, and things inside his head—in one two-minute burst of talent-show-in-the-psych-ward awesomeness.

[*Update: Since we first posted this, Richard has alerted us to the fact that he does, in fact, have a YouTube channel, which currently features a short film he wrote the music for. So here it is. Also, he informs us that he is not technically from Germany but from “There.” Thanks for clearing that up, Richard!]

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Mojo Nixon

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mojonixon

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.)

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