Are we not kids?
We are Devo 2.0!
Unless you’ve got kids, are a really big Devo fan, or some pervy Nickolodeon-watching weirdo, Devo 2.0 (or DEV2.O) the 2006 reworking of some of the group’s best loved songs for The Walt Disney Company might’ve passed you by.
Disney? Devo? Wha? It’s the ultimate sellout, sure, but tell me that you wouldn’t have done the same thing if Disney came a knockin’ and you were in their shoes? Especially in their shoes! This isn’t merely the ultimate sellout, hell, it’s perhaps one of the ultimate acts of (practically real time!) devolution in action.
It’s not like “merchandising” wasn’t always a big part of the Devo philosophy, as Mark Mothersbaugh said in a 2008 interview:
Do you feel that this sort of consumer-based art conflicts at all with the critique of consumer culture that you were doing with Devo?
Mark Mothersbaugh: Not at all. In fact, we used to get criticized back in the early days of Devo because, to us, what we were about, back before it was very cool to be into merchandise, we thought of our album cover as a place where we could do the inner-liner sleeves… as a matter of fact, if you look at any of the old Devo records, our inner-liner sleeves were always a merchandise page. We thought of it like the back page of a comic book where you’d see all the things you could order. Smith-Johnson novelties, stink bombs, baking powder-propelled rockets and X-Ray specks and all that kind of stuff. I loved that page of a comic book every time and I always looked at that stuff and sometimes would order it, and the Devo albums, we wanted them to be like a Cracker Jack box where you’d have a prize in there. I remember in 1978 when we put out our first album, and somehow our manager also managed Neil Young, and I remember Neil Young going, ‘You guys, I don’t know what you’re doing bringing merchandise into rock n’ roll that’s so uncool!’ Of course now, all these years later, he sells a ton of t-shirts and DVDs and things. But at the time he thought it was kind of sacrilegious, and we’re like, ‘You don’t understand! This is all fun! Rock and Roll is better than that!’ It’s like, everything that turned you on when you were a kid, you should still be able to be part of it. So for us, we thought the merchandise just had to be smart instead of stupid. So we tried to do smart merchandise, and I’m still trying to do smart merchandise.
Devo 2.0 seems like it’s fairly well-aligned with their shtick, when you put it that way. Plus, getting kids normally seen in “Honeycomb” commercials to mime along to songs about sexual frustration, reverse Darwinism and corporate fascism in colorful music videos and of course, all paid for by one of the largest media corporations in the world, must’ve seemed like a winning idea—I guess—until they actually realized what these kids would be singing about…
Devo’s Gerald Casale explained the entire odd situation to The Onion’s AV Club’s Sam Adams in 2010:
AVC: Oddly enough, one of the thing that really brings home the sexual undercurrents in Devo’s songs is the Devo 2.0 project from 2006, where you and Disney assembled a group of tweens to sing revamped versions of Devo songs. Not only is “Girl U Want” changed to “Boy U Want,” but the references to watering mouths and an “aroma of undefined love” are completely reworked.
Gerald Casale: That’s the best story. The Disney people, in the beginning, go, “Hey, how would you like to repurpose your material for a 4-to-8-year-old audience?” And we went, “Really?” They said, “Yeah. We want you to do a whole DVD. What would you do?” They gave us about a week to think about it. And I said, “Well, what if we did it like The Monkees? What if we cast a bunch of kids that can actually sing and play, and they will play Devo songs, and I’ll shoot videos with them, and we’ll tour them at middle schools.” “Yeah, that’d be great. But we want to pick the songs.” And we said okay. So they picked 12 songs. What’s fantastic is, they must never have actually listened to those songs. Because deep into the picture, at the phase where we’ve recorded everything and we’re shooting the videos and I’m turning in a video budget—it’s at that point that somebody upstairs in the Disney Taliban would like to see all the lyrics printed out. I don’t think I’m hiding anything, so I send the lyrics. Oh my God. Unbelievable, the next thing that happened—the firestorm that started. They’re poring over these lyrics, executives in their 30s and 40s, suits at Disney poring over these lyrics and for the first time paying attention to the songs they loved and picked. So it was like, “So listen, um, ‘Beautiful World.’ We’d really like that on the DVD, but you can’t say ‘It’s a beautiful world, but not for me.’” And it was like, “Oh really? Gee, that was kind of the whole point. What can we say?” The guy goes, “How about ‘for me too?’” And it just got better from there.
My favorite of all was—there’s a verse in “That’s Good” that I wrote the lyrics to in 1982. And the verse goes, “Life’s a bee without a buzz / It’s going great ’til you get stung.” Meaning, basically, you can get surprised. You can get ambushed, and that’s the point. They go “You gotta take that whole verse out of there, or replace it with another verse, or edit the song.” And I’m going, “What do you mean?” They go, “We know what you’re talking about, Casale.” And I go, “What do you mean? What am I talking about?” They go, “‘Life’s a bee’ means ‘Life’s a bitch.’ ‘Without a buzz’ means unless you’re getting high. And ‘It’s going great until you get stung,’ meaning as long as you get away with it, unless the cops pop you.” And it was like, “Who was I talking to here? P. Diddy?” Their sensibility had been so formed by hip-hop and current music that they were reinventing meanings in my words to go along with urban street culture now. The words were written 30 years ago, basically. You went beyond getting mad to just like going, “This is proof of devolution. This is it.” We thought it was really funny.
The final one was “Uncontrollable Urge.” That just had to come off the record. It was like, “What do you mean?” “Well, Mark, we know what ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ is. It’s sex.” And Mark goes, “Well, I never say that in the song.” And they go, “Exactly. It never defines the uncontrollable urge, so therefore you think it’s sex.” And he goes, “So if we define the uncontrollable urge, it would be okay?” “Yeah, I guess that would be okay.” They said, “Make it about junk food, then.” Mark just like threw up his hands and walked away, and I wrote a couplet for the pre-chorus: “Before dinner, after lunch, I get a snack attack and I need to munch.” And they went, “Now that’s great.” So here was this 13-year-old girl, just on the verge of growing breasts, singing that couplet, and you wouldn’t think that anybody would let you do that. So they made it far dirtier than it was, and we thanked them. [Laughs.]
AVC: So it’s okay for a 13-year-old girl to sing about eating disorders, but you can’t say “mist,” because we don’t know what that is.
Gerald Casale: Because those are bodily fluids. We know when it’s wet, it’s desire.
The music alone (played by members of Devo) isn’t the full package, you have to see the videos for that. The best thing about this project—other than that it exists in the first place—are probably those trippy videographics. One of the reviewers on Amazon called the Devo 2.0 DVD a musical gateway drug for kids.
It’s just one of the many oddities in the Devo discography. According to Gerald Casale’s Twitter account, both volumes of their long out of print Hardcore Devo sets are being re-released next month. Kevin C. Smiith’s Recombo DNA: The Story Of Devo, Or How the 60s Became the 80s is published on May 1 by Jawbone Press.
Below, Devo 2.0’s take on “Freedom of Choice.” The frowning tween on keyboards is Jacqueline Emerson, who grew up to play the character of “Foxface” in The Hunger Games.
Gerald and Bob Casale tell their awesome Disney story…