Monday, September 26, 2011

The Devo Post, Part One

Alright, spuds, I figured I'd have to write a profile of Devo after embedding the video to Space Junk last week. While I love Whip It! as much as the next person, I am aware of all Devo traditions, and I love to spread the word.

The band Devo was formed on the campus of Kent State University in 1973, in the aftermath of the killing of four students by the Ohio National Guard. "Wonkette" featured a video interview with Devo co-founders Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale (their brothers were the other original members of the band), who, after witnessing the shootings, formulated a theory of de-evolution inspired by the barbarity of the massacre and a pseudoscientific book which promulgated the idea the modern humans had descendended from apes which had eaten the brains of other apes. The de-evolution band was also inspired by a creationist tract, Jocko Homo Heavenbound, which provided the basics of the "De-evolutionary Oath":

1. Be like your ancestors or be different. It doesn't matter.

2. Lay a million eggs or give birth to one.

3. Wear gaudy colors or avoid display. It's all the same.

4. The fittest shall survive, yet the unfit may live.

5. We Must Repeat.

Jocko Homo Heavenbound also provided the title for the early single Jocko Homo. The video for the single begins with a brief dialogue between the creepy mascot Booji Boy and his father General Boy (played by Mark Mothersbaugh's father), in which General Boy declares that "every man, woman and mutant on this planet shall know the truth about devolution":

The call-and-response "Are we not men? We are Devo!" was inspired by a scene in the filmIsland of Lost Souls, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Another terrific early single is Mongoloid (the A-side to Jocko Homo. While the song title wouldn't be considered politically correct by today's standards, the song is ultimately sympathetic- And he wore a hat, and he had a job, and he brought home the bacon so that noone knew is a humane characterization of the capabilites of persons with developmental issues:

Devo's first album, produced by Brian Eno, was released in 1978. The album, besides featuring versions of Jocko Homo and Mongoloid featured a cover of the Rolling Stones'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (embedding disabled) which subverts the "rockstar bravado and manliness trip" of the original (The Residents did an even more outre cover of "Satisfaction" a few years earlier). At the time of the album release, the band's "iconography" included yellow commercial jumpsuits emblazoned with the band's name. With their uniform clothing and non-emotional delivery, some idiot writing for Rolling Stone branded the group "fascists". Talk about not getting the joke!

The rest of the album, while fantastic, is more conventional rock and/or roll music. Gut Feeling has a particularly fantastic introduction:

Uncontrollable Urge features a hilariously over-the-top vocal performance from Mark Mothersbaugh

Come Back Jonee subverts the heroic Johnny B. Goode rockstar hagiography:

The whole album is fantastic, a bizarre little send-up of RAWK GOD stylings, and a moribund culture. The second album, Duty Now for the Future, while having an excellent title (which would be a great political slogan), represents a bit of a sophomore slump. The album 's sound is more synthesizer-driven than the first album's sound.

The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise is a send-up of those 1950's "girlfriend meeting with an accident" songs. The video is terrific, but the song doesn't quite measure up (in my estimation) to the standard of the first album:

Corporate Anthem was inspired by the movie Rollerball:

On this album, Devo took Johnny Rivers' Secret Agent Man out to the woodshed:

My personal favorite moment of the album is the portmanteau song Smart Patrol/Mr DNA. Isn't every guy, deep down in his heart of hearts, only a spud boy, looking for that real tomato?

I'm going to break here, I've covered quite a bit of ground, and I haven't even gotten to Whip It! The next post will be shorter, not having the introductory material of this post. I want to end this post by thanking everybody for giving me an excuse to watch a lot of Devo videos- damn, I love these guys!


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

back in cow-town college, some friends of mine had a new wave band called the Animated Geeks, they did a cover of Mongoloid.

The local access channel put together a fundraiser for Badger Camp, which was aimed at developmentally disabled kids; the Geeks were tapped to play a few songs. Mongoloid was on the setlist, until the stage manager said "hey guys, do you think this is an appropriate song in this setting?"

Substance McGravitas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Substance McGravitas said...

They were great. Mark Mothersbaugh was a gentleman, at least to me. Also very very short. He may be devolving as we speak.

My copy of the vinyl looked like this.

Laura said...

I knew none of this!
Now I know what the name of the band means, how they came together and that there really ARE Zombie Apes! (thank goodness they only eat the brains of other apes cause if they were to start chasing us, I'd SO trip you. :) )

I liked the songs and am happy to now know the names of a few more. I was appallingly ignorant of all things DEVO but, not anymore thanks to you!
Gut Feeling was probably my favourite out of the videos you posted.

Can't wait for Part Deux! These guys were awesomely weird and I like weird. :)


Laura said...

P.S. I LOVE Zombie's story. I LOL'D-for real! :)

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

...until the stage manager said "hey guys, do you think this is an appropriate song in this setting?"

All settings are appropriate for DEVO!

Johnny Pez said...

All settings are appropriate for DEVO!

Including alternate history!

Vonnie said...

Huh. I learn new things every day.
Good info, thanks b4

M. Bouffant said...

Uh, that would be Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," not one of the Winter Bros.* (I am that old.)

Otherwise an excellent item; did not know the band was a reaction to Kent State, or the story behind Jocko Homo. Do vaguely remember the killer apes bit.

I've always liked to interpret "Mongoloid," esp. the line you quoted, as a stirring condemnation of workers & the work they do as being irredeemably moronic, if not idiotic.

Substance's vinyl (had the cassette myself) reminds me of the interior parts of Western Electric 'phones, which must have been made from recycled 'phone plastic, w/ all the colors of Western Electric's limited palette swirled around.

*I suppose you think she's Donna "Summers."

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Uh, that would be Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," not one of the Winter Bros.

Uh, thanks for the correction- will fix.