Devo has been nominated for the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame as soon as once more, and it seems just like the third time may lastly be the allure. Whereas the Ohio eccentrics may need been thought-about a comedy band or novelty act at first, with their energy dome hats, wacky characters, and wacky music movies, their message in regards to the evolution of society turned out to be prescient and, sadly, , resonates greater than ever in 2022.
So… how does it really feel to be proper, so to talk, nearly 50 years later?
“Not good!” jokes co-vocalist and bassist Gerald Casale of Devo. “I mean, the humans keep agreeing with us, you know?”
“It’s depressing. We were hoping we’d be a little too paranoid,” provides frontman Mark Mothersbaugh dryly.
“A lot of people didn’t get our message or our sense of humor,” Mothersbaugh tells Yahoo Leisure. “And so, from the very beginning, there were people who were like, ‘Oh, this is a joke.’ Or the record company would call us ‘quirky’. What kind of way to disable anything serious?
“What we were doing was making connections between different things and merging them together to show people that you can be innovative and think for yourself. And that was the real warning. We told people to stop settling and start thinking for themselves,” explains Casale. “I mean, we always intended to be a multimedia performance band. We never intended to be a rock ‘n’ roll act. It was a conceptual multimedia band, a collaboration of artists.”
“We saw ourselves as contemporary Dadaists in a real sense. It wasn’t like you played guitar in a corner,” says Mothersbaugh. “Our message was a manifesto of a way of thinking about the future and a way of overcoming all the obvious things that were going on, that were coming down. We were in favor of positive mutation at first, but it is true that we question the very centralized view of man that they themselves are the most… important species on the planet, when we might as well be the most dangerous species on the planet.”
One of the ways Devo got his message across was through his groundbreaking music videos, most of them co-directed by Casale years before MTV. It was right around the time of MTV’s debut that the world started catching up with the new wave pioneers and suddenly Devo became an unlikely mainstream pop act thanks to his smash hit “Whip It”, a single from his 1980 album. Freedom of Choice.
And so the bosses at MTV asked Devo to make a video for the song. What Casale came up with for a meager $15,000 (a kind of bdsm show on a tourist ranch populated by beer-drinking cowboys and cowgirls) was probably not. Quite the network waited.
“The idea was to just make a video that almost ridiculously smacked each letter on the nose and gave them exactly what these radio programmers were thinking,” Casale remembers with a smile. “Because Mark and I would have to do a lot of interviews and they would always say, ‘Hey, are you spanking him?’ They’d do the jerk move where they go, ‘Oh, Yes, whip. Spank that bitch! And we would say, ‘Oh my God! Jesus! And then we would try to explain to them what it really meant, and they would get really bummed out when they found out that it wasn’t masturbation or sadomasochism. … So, I made sure the video hit all those notes.”
Because it turned out, “Whip It,” like most Devo songs, was subversive, but in a multi-layered way that went over the heads of most listeners. “It was a humorous exercise. We were talking about how in the United States there is this obsession with obsessionism. Like, ‘You’re number one! Individual! Everyone is a winner! And so, it was the lyrics that parodied that kind of come-and-go positivism,” says Casale.
“It had a kind of Thomas Pynchon feel to it, but we’ve also told people in the past, this was for Jimmy Carter. Because of the tour, we discovered that people all over the world thought that his foreign policy was crazy and silly. And we were trying to give him a pep talk to beat Reagan [in the 1980 presidential election]”, reveals Mothersbaugh.
The B-side of the “Whip It” single featured a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Cannot Get No) Satisfaction”, one of the most radical remakes of all time. But Devo had always had the support of various classic rock artists; for example, Davie Bowie was instrumental in helping them get a record deal, and then they made the movie. human highway with Neil Young, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Stones were totally on board with Devo’s cover. His version even had the one and only Mick Jagger doing his famous chicken dance.
“In those days, when you did an arrangement like that, you had to get the writer’s permission to do it. And we wanted to put it on our album, so Gerry and I went to New York and went to the Rolling Stones’ manager’s office in Manhattan,” remembers Mothersbaugh. “And Jagger confirmed up and listened to it. And when he was in the course of the music, he obtained up and began dancing across the room…”
“…like Mick Jagger,” Casale chimes in.
“He made a pretty good impression of himself,” laughs Mothersbaugh. “And I read somewhere once that he said our cover was his favorite Rolling Stones cover.”
Whereas the aforementioned skeptics who thought Devo was a prank band in all probability assumed Devo was making enjoyable of the Stones, Mothersbaugh and Casale insist that was by no means the case.
“Because we had a reputation for being smart or disrespectful, people thought we were ‘mocking’ the song. But that is not true at all,” Casale clarifies. “It was probably with us, as it was with millions of people, the penultimate rock song ever written. We thought that was amazing. We were a little crazy to assume it, in a way, but we weren’t afraid. So we did it.”
“We were updating that. It’s been 10 years since the song originally came out. So we just updated it,” adds Mothersbaugh. “We were in this room, a storage room for a car wash, and the snow was about three feet deep outside. We were freezing. And so we all wear coats and gloves while playing. AND [keyboardist/rhythm guitarist] Bob Casale started playing this little riff, and everybody started filling it in, and we put the lyrics to ‘Satisfaction’ on it.”
Bob Casale, Gerald’s youthful brother, sadly died of coronary heart failure in 2014. Mothersbaugh had his personal brush with death in Could 2020, when he contracted a extreme case of COVID-19 and needed to be positioned on a ventilator within the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Middle in Los Angeles for 18 days. He’s nonetheless coping with the results of the virus nearly two years later.
“It wasn’t fun,” says Mothersbaugh flatly. “Gerry and I made it. Fortunately he went to the docs instantly. He was remoted alone and I stored considering, ‘Oh, I am drained as a result of I am working so onerous.’ And I simply ignored it for no less than every week whereas I used to be sick, and that was my large mistake. The ICU was not enjoyable. By some means, my vocal cords ripped out of the tube that was put down my throat and into my lungs. After which I misplaced using one in every of my eyes. Now it is only a reminiscence, my proper eye. The hospital took very detailed notes about each time they took my temperature or fed me or something like that, however then they forgot to say when my eye turned vibrant pink and I could not see anymore.”
But Mothersbaugh hasn’t lost his wry, dry sense of humor. When asked about the long-term effect of the virus on his ability to sing, he replied, “I lost about an octave, but we found ways around it with most of Devo’s songs. [Childlike Devo character] Booji Boy might be the one who has suffered the most in that. I think our songs didn’t really involve really amazing vocals.”
Wonderful vocals or not, it seems like Devo’s time for Corridor of Fame glory has lastly come and fortunately Mothersbaugh, who has been touring with Devo since final 12 months, will be capable to carry out on the Class of 2022 ceremony. As for who he’ll convey into the group in the event that they make the ultimate reduce, Mick Jagger looks as if an ideal choose. “I would not do it what Be good?” laughs Casale.
Watch Devo’s video interview above for added speak about her “Girl U Want” and “Freedom of Choice” movies, in addition to her iconic 1982 efficiency on the sitcom. sq. pegs.
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee
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