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DEVO meet William Burroughs: ‘David Bowie would never make an audience shit their pants. We would.’
05.04.2017
02:44 pm
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DEVO meet William Burroughs: ‘David Bowie would never make an audience shit their pants. We would.’


 
Marilyn Chambers said no. The star of Behind the Green Door and Insatiable did not consent to participate in one of those two-way interview features with DEVO for Trouser Press in early 1982.

So Trouser Press enlisted William S. Burroughs to do it instead.

According to the magazine’s longtime editor Ira Robbins, the editorial assignment belonged to Scott Isler, “who set this thing up (after failing to get Marilyn Chambers to interview Devo).”

This was back in the days of no-Internet, when the U.K. audience and the U.S. audience could be considered two entirely unrelated entities. Trouser Press had an arrangement with New Musical Express to run the same material Isler had put together. Robbins noted that the encounter “proved to be a lot less entertaining or illuminating than we hoped it would be” and that “it took a lot of editing for Scott to fish out what we published.”

Even though they went about expressing it in entirely different ways, DEVO and Burroughs share an absolutely withering take on the accepted American empire as we know it. Burroughs responded to it with randomness, calculated perversity, and debasement, DEVO with a tongue-in-cheek insistence that the decline of the capitalist system was irreversible and indeed, salutary. Both placed the standard and stupid conformist stance of Middle America squarely in its sights.
 

Beat Meets Blank: A lovely spread from the NME version of the interview
 
According to Isler’s intro, Burroughs was on hand to promote Cities of the Red Night, his first novel in a decade, while DEVO was between albums. Their most recent effort was New Traditionalists, released several months earlier. Oh, No! It’s Devo wouldn’t hit the shelves until the end of 1982.

By the way, “DEVO” is here defined as the two main spokesmen for the group, Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, who are both identified as fans of Burroughs in the intro to the piece. Unexpectedly, almost as soon as the interview is underway, Casale goes into a lengthy explication of DEVO’s goals and methods. Casale cites Burroughs’s 1974 conversation with David Bowie in Rolling Stone about “sonic warfare” and then the Casale and Burroughs speculate as to how much abuse it’s proper for an artist to put his or her audience through. Death is too far, surely, but “making them shit their pants”?

Really, contra Robbins, the entire interview is worth a read. Casale/Mothersbaugh on one side and Burroughs on the other both have passionate, precise takes on the malaise haunting the capitalist West, but they disagree on some things and have no compunction in pointing that out. For instance, Burroughs blandly asserts that a great deal of positive change has occurred in recent decades, a view that Casale finds to be nonsense. 
 
Here’s the Trouser Press presentation of the interview, followed by the NME version:
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Just for fun, here’s DEVO on the ABC show Fridays:

 
via Dark Shark
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Devotees’: Beautiful mutants create insane DEVO tribute album, 1979

Posted by Martin Schneider
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05.04.2017
02:44 pm
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