Dig if you will my picture. Me: 6th grade corduroy’s, gangly, introvert. I discover Devo. I become obsessed with Devo. This does not enchant the 6th grade ladies of Main Line Philadelphia. Fast forward about twenty years, I have the staggering honor to preside over a collection of Devo titles the label I’m running has the license to. This does seem to enchant many ladies. Sadly, the still-in-place introversion renders this largely moot.
Needless to say, Devo, and, specifically, the work of Mark Mothersbaugh has been something of a constant for…well…all my life. It’s certainly no coincidence that my favorite current filmmaker has used no one other than Mothersbaugh to score his films.
If you’ve ever wondered what the hub-bub is/was about Mothersbaugh/Devo, please, please read this wonderful article in the LA Weekly.
Some salient quotes:
Akron until the late 1960s was a factory town that made rubber for tires, but when the companies moved production overseas, downtown shuttered virtually overnight, causing an urban existential crisis: â€œAll these big, draconian industrial-revolution brick buildings in downtown Akron went dark â€” they were silent,â€ says Mothersbaugh. â€œPeople were coming back from Vietnam and saying, â€˜Okay, what do I do now? Iâ€™ve found out about LSD, and Iâ€™ve killed people for my country, and now I donâ€™t understand whatâ€™s happening.â€™ We were trying to make sense of what was going on in the world. And a better description of what we were observing wasnâ€™t evolution, but rather de-evolution. We kind of set about telling the good news of Devo to the people.â€
Specifically, one TV campaign struck him. He hums the melody to Pachelbelâ€™s Canon in D, then sings the words to a Burger King commercial: â€œâ€˜Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders donâ€™t upset us.â€™ I loved that. Now thatâ€™s subversive. I thought, thatâ€™s amazing â€” to take such a beautiful piece of music and turn it into an ad for hamburgers.
Unlike some of their contemporaries, says Gerald Casale, Devo had a vision. â€œThe Sex Pistols, in the history of rock & roll, were basically anti-intellectual and nihilistic. And that was okay. That was just about kids, you know, throwing a bag of poo on your front door at Halloween time. Whereas Devo, that was a manifesto. That was breaking with tradition â€” and it wasn’t stupid. That’s the most threatening thing an artist can do, is actually have something to say.â€
Instead, rock & roll bought MTV and made it into just like a baby picture for record companies, with stupid bands that didnâ€™t have a vision â€” so the less vision an artist had, the more money they threw into the pot so that they could make a bigger, more extravagant video, as opposed to dealing with ideas or concepts or videos that were clever or artistic.â€
â€œIf you actuallyâ€œIf you actually listen to commercial music, it may not be us, but it sounds like the Tenenbaums or like Rushmore. Thereâ€™s one commercial where they changed all the instruments â€” but they actually used the same chord changes as one of Markâ€™s things and just reversed the melody.â€
And, as the great Fake Steve Jobs would say, the money quote:
â€œI think itâ€™s an exciting time,â€ says Mothersbaugh. â€œIâ€™m glad I got to be here to watch the record companies disappear. I was hoping for it 30 years ago. I hope itâ€™s not too traumatic, because itâ€™s going to scare some people who havenâ€™t figured out what to do with their art. But once they realize that thereâ€™s a different model, and you donâ€™t have to go to a record company thatâ€™s going to give you 14 percent of the amount of money coming in for the record â€” instead itâ€™s going to be with a company thatâ€™s going to give you 85 percent â€” theyâ€™re going to understand that maybe itâ€™s not such a bad thing that record companies are gone, and thereâ€™s a value for the artist there.â€