Today we revisit an amazing Jerry Casale (pronounced kuh-SAHL-ee) interview shot for a history of rock ‘n’ roll documentary in 1995. Casale, of course, was one of the big brains behind Devo, Akron, Ohio’s beloved new wave/punk institution. And by beloved, I mean mostly hated during their lifetime. It was Devo’s own fault, really. They should’ve known better than to challenge our musical comfort zones with their synthy agitprop and deliberately annoying sensibility. I’m not sure if Devo’s ever gonna make it in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but if they do their exhibit should be called, “Fuck You, Devo.” I heard that phrase years before I knew punk rock and new wave were things to hate (depending on your perspective, natch).
With the benefit of hindsight, the joke was clearly on mainstream America. Devo weren’t just revolutionaries, they were counter-revolutionaries, rejecting the prevailing hippie left-wing’s militant self-absorption. If you bristle at this label and find it to be a gross overgeneralization of the era, it’s PRECISELY why Devo was invented. They were punks in the best sense of the word and their brilliantly confrontational visual/performance aesthetic lampooned the excesses and hypocrisies of American culture, of which said hippies were part. As Casale notes here with articulate clarity, “What (audiences) wanted was what they’d been getting. They’d been programmed for conformity and Devo was walking in there with original material. It didn’t sound like anything, it didn’t look like anything that they already liked. And that’s just totally unacceptable.”
These two clips are from an excellent eight-part series [go to Adios Lounge YouTube playlist]. Actually, it should be nine parts, but Part 6 is blocked by Warners due to brief inclusion of the “That’s Good” video. God forbid anyone sees a few snatches of some old video in the background of a long-forgotten interview. It’s obviously a blatant copyright violation without any possible educational content. At least that’s what this lawyer just told me in between bites of human flesh. Anyway, below the videos are excerpted Casale quotes, including the time at which said quote begins. Enjoy the genius.
JERRY CASALE’S ORAL HISTORY OF DEVO – PART 1
“You know in Ohio in the ’70s it was really a period of the extended house of pain. Not the group, the reality of the ‘house of pain.’ It started with May 4, 1970, where I was a student at Kent State University and I was friends with two of the four students that were shot and killed by the National Guard that day of the protest against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia by President Nixon, then-President Nixon. And it was an unbelievable experience ’cause it completely changed me from some kind of free love, pot smoking hippie into a very politicized person that had a new agenda and a new, well-founded anger that’s carried me through 20 years hence.”
“That experience shifted dimensions for me that probably didn’t start to get better until I saw the Diamond Dogs tour by David Bowie in 1974 and realized that maybe I could do something creative about the way I felt, which became Devo.”
“I was teaching drawing and design at Kent State University and I met Mark Mothersbaugh, my partner-in-crime in Devo. He was an artist and we were both attracted to the same kind of, what we called then ‘the high’ and ‘the low.’ To combine the lofty ideas of art history and literature with the crassest, most ridiculous, most inane kind of expressions of pop culture.”
“I was playing in a blues band (15-60-75 aka The Numbers Band) and (Mothersbaugh) was playing in a band that was doing hard rock covers and we decided to stop doing that. We thought it was ridiculous to not take the implications of all this visual art and apply it to our music. What would this art that we’d been doing — that we called ‘de-evolution,’ and we were doing ‘art deveaux’ — what would happen if there was music? What would that be like?”
“We started taping our music on a four-track. We spent about three years doing that (roughly 1973-76) and then decided we would play out in public. I pretended to be the manager and I would lie to these club owners and tell them we could do covers of Bad Company and the Captain & Tennille. We’d get booked and get about three songs into the set and they’d throw us out. Once we got paid to leave, which was nice because we usually didn’t get paid.”
“What (audiences) wanted was what they’d been getting. They’d been programmed for conformity and Devo was walking in there with original material. It didn’t sound like anything, it didn’t look like anything that they already liked. And that’s just totally unacceptable. It’s unacceptable at any time in history, it had nothing to do with the ’70s. It’s just always unacceptable and we knew that.”
“We took our instruments out which had all been modified and customized and run through all the devices of the time. Mu-trons, wah-wah pedals, whatever we could find. Mark had a Moog synthesizer, a Minimoog, he was the only guy in Ohio that had one, I think. We bought a second one and dismantled it and his brother (Jim Mothersbaugh), who was the drummer, created a homemade set of electronic drums. Devo really looked like some agitprop group that was playing this industrial noise that had structure and progression to it. In a much more Little Rascals manner than Nine Inch Nails does today.”
JERRY CASALE’S ORAL HISTORY OF DEVO – PART 2
“Mark and I both liked very much early Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno together in the group. And David Bowie. I mentioned really it was the Diamond Dogs concert in 1974 by David Bowie that gave me hope that the ideas that Devo had could be put together in some formal way and we could get a voice in the marketplace. We could be seen and heard. But, in addition to that music we were into bad TV soundtracks and Italian movie soundtracks, and certainly Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, things like that.”
“We didn’t like being called punk because we saw the punks as only historical punks. There was nothing truly punky about ’em because they were looking back, taking all their ideas about how they looked, the sound of the music, the progressions, and the kind of anger, they were taking it from the ’60s. We just found that kind of simple-minded and historical. We thought we were the true punks ’cause we were hated by everybody. We were punk scientists. We were doing something that looked wrong, sounded wrong, and we talked about things that no one was talking about.”
We decided that the only way we could crack the music business was to completely put the whole vision together. We were thinking back then about the marriage of visuals and music and theatrics and the philosophy as an entire package to kind of create a Devo universe.
(In 1976) we picked “Mongoloid” and “Jocko Homo,” two of our first songs, and went to Queen City Records in Cincinnati, where we could get a cheap deal and where a lot of the R&B in the area had been pressed up. For $2000, that Mark and I made by silkscreening designs and selling T-shirts, we made our own record, our own 45, on Booji (pronounced boogie) Boy Records, our own record label, after our character of Booji Boy, the infant as old as the mountains, but as yet unborn. A kind of Yoda character.”
“We passed (our 45) around to every record store we could find. I posed as our manager, wrote letters of introduction, and sent it along with our first homemade video, which was The Truth About De-Evolution. We’d filmed it the same year on 16mm film with more of that T-shirt money. I sent it around to all the record companies and I sent it to Saturday Night Live, where Dan Ackroyd promptly threw it in the wastebasket. Nothing happened whatsoever, nothing. Nobody responded, nobody called back. Except then, the film was part of the (1976) Ann Arbor Film Festival, and it won an award for Best Film Short because people either were horrified by it or laughed at it. Which is the absolute perfect response that we wanted because we were dealing with that fine line of really being smart, but appearing stupid.”
Devo – Jocko Homo (1976)
In October 1977, Devo would re-record “Jocko Homo” with Brian Eno (and an uncredited David Bowie) for their debut album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! However, this is the starker, more minimalist Booji Boy version and this video is excerpted from the aforementioned Truth About De-Evolution short film. Aggravating and unsettling both musically and visually, “Jocko Homo” was Devo’s mission statement and their meta-critique of humanity. Get yer learn on, pinheads.
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
Are we not men?