This clip of DEVO’s very first performance—so early in their career it predates the demo recordings that make up the Hardcore DEVO collections—surfaced on the laserdisc of The Complete Truth about De-Evolution 23 years ago. I assume it’s on the DVD, too, but I’ve only seen the laserdisc.
While the sleeve of The Complete Truth says this show happened in 1972, I’m convinced by the detailed notes at DEVO Live Guide, which date it to the Kent State University Creative Arts Festival on April 18, 1973. Billed as “Sextet DEVO,” founders Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob Casale (RIP) and Bob Lewis were joined by short-term spuds Rod Reisman and Chas. Frederick Weber III. Jerry says the group performed at the invitation of poet Robert Bertholf:
It was not really a band. We just called it Sextet DEVO because I had been doing de-evolutionary art… Bob Lewis’ connection to Bertholf sealed our position in the lineup, and then he demanded that Fred [Weber] sing because Fred was a beautiful singer and none of us could sing right.
Without further ado, here’s D-E-V-O from O-H-I-O playing “Private Secretary.”
SikRik Masks recently released a new full-head latex mask of the demon from the cover of Venom’sBlack Metal LP.
Black Metal was named the “68th best British album of all time” by Kerrang! readers, but, more importantly, was one of the primary influences on what was to become the infamous Norwegian Black Metal music scene. For me personally, when I was a young punk purist, Venom were one of the few metal bands that appealed to my “punk rock sensibilities”—probably because they were a bit more sloppy than virtuosic. And I’ve always been a sucker for fun cartoonish satanism. Anyway, Black Metal remains one of my favorite metal records to this day, and the latex representation of it’s cover done by SikRik is dead-on.
Gerald Casale famously began conceiving the “Theory of Devolution” after surviving the infamous May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings. Basically a misanthropic philosophy leavened with deadpan absurdist humor, the theory held that despite or because of (it probably doesn’t matter) the march of civilization and advances in technology, humanity was not evolving per the Darwin model, but was in fact collectively getting dumber, more primitive, and ultimately less fit for long-term survival, and that principle (and some very strange books) laid the foundation for Casale’s and his KSU partner-in-crime Mark Mothersbaugh’s band DEVO, who by the late ‘70s became emblematic of the New Wave.
Though DEVO have been only very intermittently active as a touring and releasing entity since 1990, Casale remains a steadfast believer in and promoter of the reality of devolution—and what sentient being possessing a modicum of attentiveness could look at this world and possibly disagree with him? While Mothersbaugh has enjoyed a long career scoring films, Casale has directed dozens of music videos and remained an off-the-map provocateur, spinning social commentary with brilliant conceits like DEVO 2.0 (and, sometimes, bafflingly tone-deaf outfits like Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers).
At last year’s annual “DEVOtional” fan convention, Casale expressed a wish for DEVO to reactivate—though the band has never officially broken up, it hasn’t done anything since a brief ten-date tour two years ago. He seems to have taken the reins on his own, though, as he’ll be releasing the single “It’s All DEVO” on April 16th. The physical release is a Record Store Day Exclusive, but the digital release will be available on the same day, without throngs of eBay flippers crowding you out of the bins. The song seems to be Casale’s way of underscoring his sustained belief in and critique of our infuriating march toward our own ruin via our embrace of idiot demagogues (guess who makes an appearance?) and our all-consuming consumerism.
The song and video are both collaborations with Italian artists—a musical assist was provided by the prolific Neapolitan duo The Phunk Investigation, and the video is credited to the wonderfully bonkers collage artist Max Papeschi (think Winston Smith with a brighter palette) and director Maurizio Temporin. Asked for comment, Casale offered this:
The video for “Its All DEVO” distills the current state of the world as we know it to be down to 3 plus minutes of a cartoon, technicolor nightmare. The transgressive juxtaposition of G-rated Americana, corporate malfeasance and totalitarian horror is as sweet as Kool Aid - thus easy on the Millennial mind and body. Working with the infamous Italian artist Max Papeschi was an exciting collaboration as satisfying as my early DEVO days.
The video is indeed a vivid brainfuck of DEVO references, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight gags, and slams on consumer culture’s sacred cows, and it’s Dangerous Minds’ pleasure to debut that video for you today, after the jump…
There are fewer musical sub-genres considered so across the board lame as muzak. Even other questionable genres and sub-genres, like Christian rock or vanity albums (IE. a record made by Bruce Willis or Solo Cup heiress Dora Hall), have a fan base. Muzak, or as it was more quaintly known “elevator music”, were the instrumental nuggets associated with portals of American consumerist Hell. Elevators, waiting rooms, the dentist’s office, assorted department stores your parents or grandparents would shop at and being put on hold were just a few of the key places that one would be assaulted by the tepid, non-threatening notes of muzak. Whether it was something originally created to be as inoffensive as possible or golden hits and oldies watered down to a level of being barely recognizable pre-chewed, pre-digested musical pablum, it was a format that was inescapable by the mid to late 1970s. So who better to subvert arguably the most hated form of music in America and make it not only great, but mind-blowingly brilliant than the pioneers who got scalped themselves, than DEVO?
In 1981, the band behind the energy domes released two cassette tapes via their official fan club, the still-thriving and operating Club DEVO, featuring “muzak” versions of some of their better (and lesser) known songs. Whether you were a member or smart enough to purchase their then current New Traditionalists album which included an order form. The original description read as “Muzak versions of your favorite DEVO tunes performed by DEVO at a rare casual moment. Mutated versions of DEVO classics, “Whip It,” “Mongoloid,” and many others round out this limited edition collectors item.”
These tracks were enough of a hot commodity among both DEVO fans and the curious alike to warrant bootlegs available both via vinyl (some of which are still warranting figures up to $200 online) and even apparently an 8-track tape. It was released to the general public in 1987 via a CD from Rykodisc, which combined both tapes. For a band that has built a legacy of coloring outside the lines and mixing commentary on the fallacies and foibles of American culture with sounds and images that are often surreal, this album is a strange artifact, even for the most hardcore spud.
Captain’s Log: In the latest installment of Shit Happens: A Webseries About Shitting Your Pants, DEVO’s Gerald Casale tells a charming tale of having an “uncontrollable urge” hit him at a rather inopportune time while he was touring with the group in their early days and when a water closet was just not handy.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, so you’ll just have to see for yourself if Jerry won that $100 prize.
I’ll sheepishly admit that this had me laughing—really hard—pretty much from the start. Shitting one’s pants… pinching a loaf.... negotiating the release of some Tootsie Roll hostages.... abandoning New Jersey.... taking one’s talents to South Beach... it’s a juvenile subject, sure, but still one that makes for a big steaming pile o’ laughs.
Directed & edited by Ryan Worsley. Produced by Emma Jones, Ryan Worsley & Peter Conheim
Today marks the anniversary of DEVO’s 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live, which really put the band on the mainstream’s radar and set them on the road to becoming, for better or worse, actual rock stars. The few years immediately after punk were an indulgent period in which to be trailblazers, and DEVO certainly benefitted from that audience shift towards openness to new ideas, but while SNL was known for taking some artistic chances with their musical bookings, DEVO were not initially of any interest at all to the show’s producer Lorne Michaels, and it took some maneuvering to get them on.
Last summer, at a DEVO public art unveiling in the band’s hometown of Akron, OH, bassist Jerry Casale spoke frankly about the behind-the-scenes machinations that finally got them the slot on SNL that they had so coveted:
We had been sending videotapes to Saturday Night Live since 1976, after we did the Truth About De-Evolution ten minute movie, and we thought “Dan Aykroyd will get us on the show, John Belushi’ll get us on the show!” And we kept sending it with letters, and I’m sure it just went in a trash bin. These people were big time, and I’m sure they were thinking “Who ARE these weirdos?” So it was me not wanting to take no for an answer, and I just kept it up.
When we were interviewing managers, and we met Elliott Roberts, who was Neil Young’s manager, he said two good things—“I don’t want a piece of your publishing,” and “I don’t want you to sign a deal, we’ll shake hands and you give me 30 days notice when you say it’s over and I’ll give you the same.” I said “That’s great, but there’s one thing you gotta do! You have to get us on Saturday Night Live, and you have to make them let us show a piece of our movie.” And he goes “Oh my GOD.”
And he did it, because he dangled Neil Young as bait, saying “You’ll take these guys, Lorne—Lorne did NOT care about DEVO—and we’ll get you Neil Young. And then he dropped the bomb about the film, and that was almost a deal breaker. But it all worked out, and we went from playing in from 200-300 people a night to 3,000-5,000 people a night. We had to stop the tour and re-book it after Saturday Night Live.
The band’s association with Neil Young continued to bear fruit, notably in the form of the 1982 film Human Highway. But here’s that SNL appearance, introduced by the episode’s host, Fred Willard, and shared by PB user jwdoom.
Of the many random things I remember about my youth, one of them was the excitement of visiting the merch table at a live show. Honestly, I’ve never really grown out of that pursuit, and seldom leave a gig empty-handed.
Like a lot of 70s and 80s kids, I was a HUGE fan of covering my trashy Levis or Baracuta jacket with badges, pins and patches. So I nearly lost my mind when I happened upon the vintage 70s DEVO “Flicker” pin (sometimes called a ” flasher” pin), above.
Nixon campaign flicker/flasher pin, late 1960s
Flicker pins were big during the 60s - for instance, politicians running for office used flicker pins (see our pal, Tricky Dick above) to display not only an image of themselves, but also their message. Because when you tilt the pin, the image changes. So naturally, curiosity got the better of me and off I went in search of pins and badges from 40 years ago. Because, why not? And my search unearthed some pretty cool and fairly rare old-school swag.
Elvis Costello mirror badge, late 70s, early 80s
Iggy Pop New Values mirror badge style tour pin, 1979
In addition to the flicker pins, mirror badges were sort of like the crowning jewel when it came to pins (much like the enamel “clubman” style pins you probably remember ogling at Tower Records, or Spencer’s Gifts at the mall that put a giant hole in your clothes). Mirror badges were usually large and actually had a piece of glass placed on top of the image which made them rather heavy.
Vintage mirror badges are really hard to come by these days and believe it or not, sell for a good bit of cash. As do any vintage flicker pins or promotional buttons/badges/pins that were sold at live shows. Would you pay $54 bucks for a vintage 70s promotional flicker pin that was sold at a performance Alice Cooper did in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel when he recorded his 1977 live album The Alice Cooper Show?
Alice Cooper 1977 promotional flicker/flasher pin
I know I’m not alone when I say, yes. Yes, I probably would. In case that seventeen-year-old kid inside you just said yes, too, pretty much everything in this post is out there somewhere for sale. Tons of images follow. I also included some vintage enamel clubman pins because I couldn’t help myself.
On Saturday August 15, 2015, Akron Ohio’s finest post-rubber export DEVO were honored in their hometown with the dedication of a piece of public art. The iconic 1978 Janet Macoska photo of the band in full stage uniform in front of the late, lamented hot dog stand Chili Dog Mac was colorized, enlarged to life size, and placed over that onetime landmark’s former facade next to the Akron Civic Theatre. This dedication is the first part of a planned renovation of that entire block, which has become a bit rundown and suffered vacancies despite having an anchor in the popular theater.
The event was a stone hoot. DEVO’s bassist/co-mastermind Jerry Casale and photographer Macoska were present, free chili dogs were available to all assembled, and the event began with a surreal and hilarious stunt, the Running of the Booji Boys. A couple dozen revelers in identical Booji Boy masks and blue jumpsuits danced in the middle of South Main St while a DJ pumped out DEVO music. The masks, not incidentally, are recreations by Akron’s SikRik Masks. DM has told you about them before. (All photos are by Ron Kretsch except where noted.)
In 2010, in order to promote its new album Something for Everybody, DEVO created a one-time-only “DEVO Cat Listening Party,” in which the band isolated a handful of kitties in “a specially constructed room” equipped with “an enormous blue Energy Dome scratching post.”
This event happened on June 15, 2010, at the Warner Bros. offices in Burbank, California. Songs from Something for Everybody were for about two hours while the cute kitties, provided by Jungle Exotics, frolicked and played their feline games to the socially incisive pop music.
Warner Bros. Records new media director Cara Heller stated, “We were told they like music, but we didn’t know how cats react to listening to music over long periods of time and we didn’t want to burn them out.”
The event was streamed continuously on a dedicated Ustream feed, and in fact if you go to that feed today you’ll find a 50-minute video documenting the event. It’s embedded below. Judging from the video, they also had a massive supply of blue energy domes to give away—I wish I owned one, I would have worn it while writing this…..
This interview with Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO has been bouncing around for a while but with inexact provenance information. Yesterday Televandelist uploaded a better copy and usefully marked it as coming from The Cutting Edge Happy Hour, an MTV show started by the I.R.S. record label in 1983. For most of its existence the host of the show was the Fleshtones’ lead singer, Peter Zaremba, whose flat Long Island accent can be heard at the start of the clip.
It’s safe to say that this clip dates from 1987—Televandelist labeled it as 1987-1988. First off, Wikipedia explains that The Cutting Edge Happy Hour went off the air in 1987. Furthermore, Mothersbaugh was being interviewed to promote an exhibition of his postcard paintings—the astute Dave Thompson mentions in his book Alternative Rock that Mothersbaugh had just such an exhibition of his postcards in Los Angeles in 1987, so that’s certainly what we’re looking at here.
These are the same postcards featured in Mothersbaugh’s 2014 book Myopia, which we wrote about last November.
Towards the end of the interview Mothersbaugh offers his views on the future of society—not so strongly in the hyperbolic Mothersbaugh “character”—and they’re pretty darn interesting:
I’m anticipating a matriarch system, where women finally say, “We’ve had enough of this shit [bleeped] with men in control,” and they take over. I mean, they’re smarter, they’re prettier, they live longer, they’re healthier, they don’t need men to have children anymore, they don’t need us as beast of burdens anymore even, they got machines to take care of all that, and so I think men should be ready to assume their logical place on the planet, and that is as objects of pleasure for females.
Amazing! Mothersbaugh accurately anticipated much of this decade we are in—women are increasingly the breadwinners in many families, and the question of machines supplanting workers in general has already become a pressing issue for unions and politicians for the foreseeable future.
Booji Boy (you’re supposed to say it like “Boogie Boy” but no one ever does) was a character created by DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh in the early 1970s after he found a sick-looking rubber “baby mask” in an Akron, OH novelty store and added a hazmat suit and high-pitched voice. Booji Boy made his first appearance in the short film DEVO made in 1976, The Truth About De-Evolution, where Booji Boy’s father, General Boy, was portrayed by Mothersbaugh’s own father, Robert Mothersbaugh, Sr.
Booji Boy’s “origins” were discussed in the booklet to DEVO’s CD-ROM video game Adventures of the Smart Patrol:
Obsessed with the idea of genetic mutation, Craig submitted to a botched operation in an effort to land a media deal with Big Media. Viola! Boogie Boy - a bizarre adult infant freak with pre-adolescent sexuality and Yoda-like wisdom.
The liner notes also discussed his father’s backstory a bit:
General Boy’s career as a military intelligence officer was cut short over his claim that he experienced an alien abduction. He was made to undergo psychiatric testing which resulted in progressive mental instability. Shortly after his son’s transformation into Boogie Boy, he stopped answering to Mr. Rothwell and became General Boy out of love and sympathy for his son.
Based on DEVO concert photos dating back to the late 1970s, this limited edition bobblin’ Booji Boy figure is wearing his favorite over-stuffed exercise suit, and is armed with an early circuit-bent toy.
Booji Boy is limited to just 1000 numbered units and includes a Booji Boy vinyl sticker sheet. You can pre-order yours now, DEVO fanboys, and it will ship in June. Now they just need to make one of General Boy. That would be very… obscure.
This is simply the best DEVO live recording out there. The sound is crystal clear, and the band is absolutely on fire during this 1978 performance at San Francisco’s Old Waldorf.
Terry Hammer was an audio engineer during the heyday of first wave punk in San Francisco. He maintains a mind-blowing YouTube channel upon which he has graciously decided to share dozens of live recordings he engineered for Bay Area radio stations KALX, KTIM, KSAN, KSJO, KUSF, and KSFS. Though it appears that Hammer was not the engineer on this particular live recording of DEVO, broadcast on KSAN on November 10th, 1978, he certainly had access to a low generation tape—and was kind enough to share it with the rest of us!
DEVO here are touring for their first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!, and were a well-oiled machine at this point. Perhaps it was a desire to impress the West Coast punkers that has the group blasting through their songs at furious tempos, far more hectic than on their albums.
This is not the first time these recordings have been made public. Obviously they were on the KSAN airwaves, but then some enterprising bootleggers in the late ‘70s released the show under at least two different titles.
The sound here is much improved from those ratty bootleg LPs. This thing is phenomenal.
The yellow press, never friendly to Mothersbaugh’s band of latter-day saints, mocked this recipe when the cookbook was published. Under the headline “OH, PLEASE PASS MY BARF BAG!” the writer of the Philadelphia Daily News’ “Tattle” column opined:
We would advise staying away from Devo’s Chocolava Stump Logs, created from carry-out chicken logs and Bosco chocolate syrup; all they prove is that some people still smoke a lot of dope.
But, you know, the proof of the pudding, and like that, Philadelphia Daily News: it’s probably actually really good. Chicken mole is a respected cousin to this friendless dish, and Mothersbaugh demonstrates his impeccable taste in the first line of the recipe with his selection of Pioneer Chicken, the best fried chicken chain of them all. If you’ve ever had a good bucket of Pioneer, KFC and Popeyes taste like the contents of a vacuum cleaner; you might as well suck old cornflakes out of your friend’s couch and pay him ten dollars. If you want some of Pioneer’s famous bird in 2015, you’ll have to travel to Los Angeles or Indonesia, and God help you if you’re trying to find Bosco in either of those places. Leave time for a stop at Kroger’s on the way to the airport, pilgrim, or you’ll be fucked, flustered and far from home.
I digress. Duty now, spuds!
Chocolava Stump Logs
1 12-pack order of Pioneer Chicken Carry-out Logs
1 can Bosco chocolate sauce
Place room temperature sauce into bowl, then carefully dip chicken logs into sauce (chicken nuggets can be substituted in an emergency). Arrange on a plate in either Lincoln Log Cabin or smiley face shapes. Enjoy!
Specify free-range chicken and pesticide-free chocolate syrup.
The news release heralding Superior Viaduct’s reissue of the Residents’ deeply messed-up “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” b/w “Loser = Weed” single contains a quotation that rang oddly familiar to me:
The Residents’ 1976 version of The Stones’ Satisfaction is nearly everything the better known version by Devo from a year later is not: Loose, belligerant, violent, truly fucked up. A real stick in the eye of everything conventionally tasteful in 1976 America. Delightfully painful to listen to thanks to Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman’s completely unhinged lead guitar and mystery Resident member’s menacing vocal, this is a timeless piece of yellow plastic.
That blurb is from Brad Laner, a member of not one but two of myfavorite bands and a former Dangerous Minds contributor, and in fact, it was a DM post about five years ago—a post I happen to agree with. The Residents’ “Satisfaction” IS pretty admirably unhinged, genuinely frightening, and a righteous fuck-you to a rock canon classic that, in some circles, remains beyond sacrosanct. Contemporary with their second album, the unfuckwithable Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, which, like the single, is an unsparing deconstruction of classic radio hits, many of which were still fairly new songs at the time. “Satisfaction” isn’t on the album—the Rolling Stones are represented there by a half-reverent, half-funereal take on “Sympathy for the Devil” in the album’s coda. While it did appear on the 1988 CD reissue as an extra, along with “Loser=Weed” and a couple of Beatles travesties, the wax itself is a rare collectible, fetching in the neighborhood of $35. Superior Viaduct’s colored vinyl repress, at $9, still feels a tad spendy for a 7”, but that’s way more manageable than procuring an original. It can also be had as part of a five-record bundle with reissues by Flipper, X, the Dils and the Germs, at $40 for the whole set. (I totally want the Flipper one, too, but that’s another post.)
The Residents, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction)”
Of course, DEVO’s version of the song is the one that most aggressively vies with the Rolling Stones’ original for definitive status, and how could it not? Obviously, the original is indisputably classic in every sense of the word, and after five decades, it’s still one of the most widely covered ‘60s songs this side of “Stepping Stone.” But who can really believe that song from Mick Jagger? By the song’s mid-1965 single release, he was already a gazillionaire rockstar heartthrob who probably had illegitimate children in all 48 contiguous US states, so did anyone seriously believe there was anything unsatisfying about that man’s life? For all its musical timelessness—good LORD, that riff!—the Stones’ version edges out Britney Spears’ cover for plausibility (neither singer was particularly “on a losing streak” at the time their version was released), but that’s about it. None of that does all that much to dull its effectiveness as an anthem, but I buy a song about sexual frustration and contempt for commercialism much more readily in the anxiety-ridden version by the brainy midwestern dorks in DEVO. Unlike the Residents, DEVO aren’t shooting for a takedown or a deconstruction; their version feels more like a successful effort to finally put the song in a proper context. Alan Myers’ freakishly asymmetric drum beat and Gerald Casale’s rubber-band bass line are every bit as capable of inducing existential dread in a socially insecure geek as Keith Richards’ ingenious three-note intro riff is of inducing “fuck yeahs” in a classicist, and doesn’t that speak more closely to the intent of the lyrics—not a single word of which DEVO changed?
I’m in my mid ‘40s, and I’ve lived my entire life in Cleveland, OH. Go ahead and fire up your jokes, I’ve heard ‘em all, and frankly, if you still think it’s a punchline, I’m perfectly happy for you to keep your uninformed pierogi-hole on lockdown and stay far the hell away so as not to pollute my zen (OR: if you want to check it out with an open mind, I know a ton of very cool people who’d be glad to point you in all the right directions). I’ve traveled plenty, though obviously one can never travel enough, and I’ve had opportunities to live elsewhere, but so far I’ve taken none of them. Part of that was because until a few years ago I had enviable job security in an industry I loved, and I still have a crazy low cost of living, but the REAL magnet that’s kept me here? The music scene is and always has been beyond utterly fucking brilliant. I have never wanted for gifted mutants to rock with, and while everybody steeped in punk and New Wave lore knows what a musical atom bomb Northeast Ohio was in the ‘70s, and while the success of the Black Keys, indie champs Cloud Nothings, and garage/soul shit-fucker-upper Obnox are attracting attention here nowadays, the rarely-told stories of the ‘80s, ‘90s and oughts scenes are doozies, as well. Almost every time I’ve pondered a move, it’s been a band that’s kept me around, even though nary a one of ‘em has ever made a dent, and I while I abidingly love a lot of other cities, I’ve yet to seriously regret sticking it out here. A close-knit music scene teeming with talent is just that strong an attractor for me.
Recently, the excellent archival record label Soul Jazz have, as part of their ongoing PUNK 45 series, released two excellent compilations documenting the ‘70s/early ‘80s roots of that music scene, one each for Cleveland and Akron, both with extremely generous liner notes. They cover all the stuff I missed out on by being not being born 10 years earlier, but obviously these bands still weigh heavily on the region’s underground musical legacy. Both are assembled from early, independently-released 7"s, and both accordingly feature some previously compiled material AND some serious treasures.
The Akron comp, Burn Rubber City, Burn!, has the early DEVO single “Mechanical Man” and the rarity “Auto Modown,” the Waitresses’ early single “The Comb,” and Tin Huey’s awesome “Squirm You Worm.” (Versions embedded in this post may not be the same as what’s actually on the comp; they were the versions I could find online. )