Devo first performed as the “Sextet Devo” at Kent State University in 1973. Co-founders Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Bob Lewis were students at Kent State at the time the National Guard shot and killed students at a protest against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia–the ‘pivotal moment’ in their founding, according to Casale.
The original inspiration for the band’s name and underlying philosophy came from Oscar Kiss Maerth’s “The Beginning Was the End”, a pseudoscientific anthropological thesis which attributes the rise of man as an evolutionary accident caused by a species of sex-crazed, cannibalistic apes who developed tools to exploit each other sexually and feed on each others’ brains (See devolution). This metaphor is carried throughout Devo’s work as a commentary on modern society.
I’m a happy spudboy because I got the above this morning. No, not a Wikipedia quote, but a shiny, shiny DVD of Devo live in, er, 1980.
What’s it like?
Devo set the tone for the DVD perfectly with their Star-Wars-style scrolling intro. They reminds us that in 1980 the lunatic known as Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Then they point out that the current occupant makes you miss Reagan.
Then we’re into the music and jumping and synth twiddling and it’s all amazing. Of course, the songs are fabulous, anyone with even a passing interest in pop music knows that Devo have written some of the greatest pop songs ever. Apart from the goliath that is ‘Whip It,’ which everyone and their Granny knows, we have ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ and ‘It’s Not Right’ and ‘Girl U Want’ and ‘Jocko Homo’ and ‘Be Stiff’ and ‘Blockhead’ and… well, a lot of classic pop songs. They mixed sex, politics, religion and seventy shades of random madness into their songs, effortlessly.
When I was a kid, Devo were about as uncool as you could get. Geek Rock hadn’t been invented yet by the major corporations to market their schmindie slops, so bands were meant to be “cool.” You know, wear leather jackets, take drugs, smoke on stage, official, regulation cool. Devo, dancing like mutants with plant pots on their heads, glasses and songs about pomes from Ancient Rome weren’t “cool.” Of course, young outsiders like me were drawn to them like fat moths to a searchlight.
If you’re weird, if you’re a geek, if you’re a freak, if you’re a mutant, you find yourself in Devo. No wonder Kurt Cobain was such a huge fan. This gig shows all the sides to Devo: yeah, they’re technically great musicians but that wasn’t enough for them. They try to connect with the audience in every way possible, they jump around like bastards, they put a huge amount of effort into their visuals and it all comes together into the world of Devo. How many bands have created their own world?
Do yourself a favour, buy a copy of the above DVD, make yourself comfy and experience one of the greatest bands ever. Who else could write a lyric like this:
They tell us that
We lost our tails
From little snails
I say it’s all
Just wind in sails
Are we not men?
We are DEVO!
Who would have thought that 25 years later, ‘Jocko Homo’ would still be essential topical listening?