As I sat down to write this article, I was prepared for a fun and kooky look back at Devo and how their red hats are being used with face shields in our COVID world. After all, they are a quintessential band of the new wave era. But when I began digging through their history, I learned about the tragedy they spawned from and how it is reflected in society today. I also knew Mark Mothersbaugh had the virus recently, but did not know just how bad it got.
Fortunately, he is still with us and we have several Devo activities to get us through these “unprecedented times.” (I hereby nominate a ban on the following phrases: unprecedented times, new normal, and it is what it is.)
First and foremost, yes, Mark Mothersbaugh nearly died from COVID! Fortunately he is home safely and posting up a storm on Insta reminding us to vote. He spent 18 days in the hospital after contracting the coronavirus and learned it is not a “simple flu” that you can easily get through.
He told the Los Angeles Times delusional thoughts caused him to attempt to escape the hospital and he credits videos from his family for his sanity. “If you have anyone that you know who’s in ICU with COVID, contact them and keep them in touch with the outside world,” he said.
YOUR MIND on COVID
“It’s easy to lose track of where you are and why you are. I had no idea I was on a ventilator for 10 days. Time meant nothing.”
We are all thankful he survived his terrifying ordeal and yes, I have voted.
As for Devo (the band), Gerald Casale is also keeping us up to date on social media. (He has a wine label?! Um, yes, please.) The band had hoped to do some touring in 2020, but you know what’s up. We still get to participate in the annual 5KDEVO run and the 20th anniversary DEVOtional “convention” virtually so we can get our Devo fix.
BTW, since we need protective gear for the foreseeable future, grab some Devo masks, shields, and of course, Energy Domes to keep yourself safe.
FOR DEVO PPE
I’ll get you to those events in moments, but first, what on earth was I talking about … tragedy? How could the fun band that is Devo have anything bad to discuss?
Because…there’s awful crap all the time and 2020 doesn’t get to own it. (“Gosh, Traci, way to be Debbie Downer.” I promise! We will get to happy again!) But sadly, it is true. Each generation has horrendous events in their lives and the members of Devo are no different. What we gain from tragedy and how we move forward shows our character and purpose. Devo started from a devastating event, but has brought joy to millions since…
Disgraced president. Country at war. Disappointed generation. Racial tension. Riots.
No, not 2020. The end of the ‘60s and beginning of the ‘70s was a dark time in America as well.
In 1970, members of Devo were attending Kent State University in Ohio. On May 4, following days of protests over the Vietnam War, the Ohio National Guard opened fire and killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the deceased were friends of Gerald Casale. In 2005, he told Vermont Review, “All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was a white hippie boy and then I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew.” He continued, “I stopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.”
Gerald says seeing David Bowie in 1974 helped him realize he could use his creativity to express his feelings. His brother and other original Devo member, Bob Casale, told Under the Radar in 2012, “We came of age in the middle of a huge cultural war. This country was basically in the midst of a new civil war — the lines were drawn very clearly.” Being artistically and musically inclined, they created the band because “it was a more immediate way of self-expression that required less money and no outside permission. … If you have an idea for a song you can pretty much go into your basement with your band mates and do it.”
The Casale brothers, Bob Lewis, and Mark Mothersbaugh began sharing art and music and came up with the idea of “de-evolution,” (devo for short) or mankind regressing. Devo began to take shape and added Mark’s brother Bob, and Alan Myers to become the Devo we know from the ‘80s. They took part in a short film that got the attention of Bowie, who dubbed them “the band of the future.” Between Bowie and Iggy Pop supporting them, they scored a record deal with Warner Music Group.
In 1977, they released their first single “Mongoloid” with “Jocko Homo” as the B-side. They followed that with a cover of the Rolling Stones track “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” (Which is used brilliantly in the 1995 movie, “Casino.”)
The gentlemen recorded their first album “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” in 1978. Produced by Brian Eno, it included “Mongoloid” and the “Satisfaction” cover, and landed them on “Saturday Night Live” (which was THE show back then).
While their popularity kept climbing, Mark said their record company “never understood us. They marketed us as ‘those wacky clowns.’” I admit to being guilty of that as well, but they truly are smart people with an excellent social commentary to offer if you take a moment to listen.
Their next disc, “Duty Now for the Future,” offered a more electronic sound with tracks like “Blockhead” and “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize,” plus the cover of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” But their biggest success came from the third album, 1980’s “Freedom of Choice.” It contained the song we all know, “Whip It.” Despite people thinking it was sexual in meaning, it wasn’t. However, the video played off that and MAYBE some of us were not allowed to see it when it was all over MTV. Remember when this was scandalous?
With “Whip It” and “Girl U Want” plastered on MTV, the worldwide Freedom of Choice tour, and the birth of the red “flowerpot hats” (Energy Domes), Devo had arrived.
While they may not have eclipsed “Whip It,” they continued to have success through the ‘80s, despite the departure of Alan Myers and being dropped by Warner Records. The frequent touring and extremely physical shows proved to be draining, and in 1991, the band took a break. They had just released “Smooth Noodle Maps” and it would be the last Devo album for 20 years.
In 1996, Mark explained, “Around ‘88, ‘89, ‘90 maybe, we did our last tour in Europe, and it was kind of at that point. We were watching “This Is Spinal Tap” on the bus and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s our life.’ And we just said, ‘Things have to change.’ So we kind of agreed from there that we wouldn’t do live shows anymore.”
The band did do one-off projects together and contributed to movie soundtracks. Mark became a composer and created a music production company, Mutato Muzika, with brother Bob and Bob Casale. There was a 1996 reunion concert at the Sundance Film Festival and Lollapalooza, then a return to Lollapalooza in 1997. They added the amazing Josh Freese (Sting, NIN, The Replacements, Vandals) as their new drummer. Oh, and that 2005 Swiffer commercial where “Whip It” became “Swiff It.” (Hey, it earned them a new generation of fans!)
During a 2009 SXSW performance with a new stage show and costumes, and a video backdrop like their 1982 tour, they debuted three new songs: “Don’t Shoot, I’m a Man!,” “What We Do,” and “Fresh.” The new album “Something for Everybody” was released in 2010 and Devo did what all bands must do: Coachella.
Sadly, they experienced loss again in 2013 when former member Alan Myers passed away as a result of stomach cancer. They got hit again with Bob Casale’s sudden death from heart failure in 2014. The extra songs they had come up with that did not make “Something for Everybody” were released as “Something Else for Everybody” with a tour where proceeds went to Bob’s family.
Through it all, the Devo fans have remained faithful. Every year, there is a “Devo convention” known as DEVOtional. This year was to be the 20th anniversary, but it had to be moved to a virtual event, which I think is pretty cool because more of us can attend. There will be free DEVOtional anniversary event live on YouTube on Saturday, Nov. 14th hosted by Michael Pilmer/Devo-Obsesso, the original co-founder of the event 20 years ago. People from all over the world can share memories and photos brought on by Devo, and perhaps there will be some special guests…
TO CHECK OUT DEVOtional
There is also the 4th annual 5KDEVO, which can also be attended by us all as it has gone virtual. But don’t think you have to run it for real…they offer a “spud” package where you sit on your couch (Done!). If you are a medal addict, the finisher medal is very Devo, and of course you get a shirt (Is it even a race without a shirt?). Make sure to sign up before November 6th and complete your race (real or couch style) by November 14th.
FOR INFORMATION ON Virtual 5KDEVO Race
As we continue to look at the dumpster fire of this year (well, maybe more than just this year), we CAN turn things around. We do not need to de-evolve, but we do need Devo. Whether it means playing the old videos to remind yourself of your non-adulting years, or rocking your couch for the 5K, DO SOMETHING! Be like Devo!
In the end, we have to look back to look forward, and for Mothersbaugh and Devo fans, the future is NOW, and going forward we can count on Devo!