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Don Henley Must Die, Again

· The Lede

“I firmly believe you can make fun of anything as long as your joke is funny."

Mojo Nixon (August 2, 1957 — February 7, 2024)

Paul Cullum

The Hole in the Wall is just what it sounds like: a dive bar with a pool room in back whose modest stage backs up to a picture window overlooking the Drag in Austin, that section of Guadalupe that borders the University of Texas campus. As such, it has been a home to every musical style to come down the pike since its founding in 1974, from progressive country to blues to punk to New Sincerity pop bands to whatever else brings us up to the present. I once saw Townes Van Zandt there crumpled on the bar on New Year’s Day morning after a particularly rough night, but that’s another story.

On August 2, 1992 (not July 31st, as widely reported), this humble redoubt was the site of what must be one of the strangest couplings in the history of popular music – a shotgun duet between Don Henley, songwriter-drummer for the Eagles, just then riding high with a solo career (despite a rising animosity that six years later would lead Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude, to declare “I hate the Eagles, man!”) and Mojo Nixon, psychobilly avatar and ’80s MTV wiseacre, whose post-Skid Roper solo album Otis two years earlier had featured the memorable chorus, “Don Henley must die/Don’t let him get back together with Glenn Frey!=

The way I heard it, Henley’s people called up Nixon’s people (or person, probably) and asked if Mojo and his backing band the Toadliquors would be performing the Sunday afternoon set at the Hole in Wall. His manager or booking agent said yes. And did they know if Mojo would be playing that “Don Henley Must Die” song?

“I don’t know -- I could check,” came the guardedreply.

“And do you think Mojo would let Don sit in on that song?”

“Let me get back to you.”

And so it was that as Mojo and company wended their way through an animated set, part of a crowded bill, audience members couldn’t help but notice a limo parked just outside, visible through the plate-glass window. Now, in Austin in those days, a limo wasn’t really something you saw very often, certainly not parked outside the Hole in the Wall, and various well-lubricated patrons made their way out to peer in the blackened windows. The other thing out of the ordinary was that a vocal mic was set up stage left, just to the right of the front door, which no one seemed to be using.

When they’d finally reached their last song, a slightly hesitant Mojo said, “Well, I guess we’ll try this,” counting them off as the band launched into the “Steppin’ Stone”-adjacent chords of their soon-to-be-anthem. Then in full view of the assembled crowd, as Mojo sang the opening verse (“He's a tortured artist, used to be in the Eagles/Now he whines like a wounded beagle”), the back door of the limo opened, a tall figure exited on the street side, disappeared out of frame, the front door opened, Don Henley walked through it, turned to his left, stepped up onto the stage, and dropped into a high falsetto harmony on the chorus, rendering it instantaneously an Eagles song. My memory is that he sang a verse by himself, nailing the lyrics, band and audience both stupefied, nodded at the “Hotel California” quote during the solo, kept his composure to the final chorus (“Put him in the electric chair, watch him fry”), and maintained a beatific smile throughout.

Needless to say, the place erupted into pandemonium – folks up on chairs, pounding on tables, stomping in time, as Mojo shook his head in wonderment. And for one shimmering moment, the furthest points of the country rock constellation were joined in glorious harmony. For his part, Henley gave a small half-bow to the crowd and strode purposefully to the bar, where he shook the nearest outstretched hand and then stuck around for half an hour, chatting up the locals and letting people buy him drinks.

Now they’re both in the news again – Mojo having shuffled off this mortal coil in the finest way imaginable, aboard a shipful of his peers and most prescient fans, and Henley enduring the snark and ridicule of a lawsuit over the sale of his stolen lyric sheets. I salute them both in their challenges ahead. But I’m comforted by Mojo Nixon’s final words of the evening, after the 10-minute ovation in the Hole in the Wall had finally died down to a manageable level:

“I may have to change the words to that song to ‘Phil Collins Must Die.’”

Lyrics © 1990 Muffin Stuffin’ Music

broken image

Kirby McMillan, aka Mojo Nixon, in his Virginia hometown.

Stream the 2022 documentary The Mojo Manifesto, on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Paul Cullum has written for the L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Review of Books, Salon, Slate, Daily Beast, Arthur and hundreds of tiny subversive magazines that pay preposterously little.

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