January , 1983
By David Huff
The Spuds of Tomorrow Grow Up
There is a revolution at hand led by none other than a four-member, self-proclaimed 'spud musk' band, armed with their instruments, a computerized video and . Devo is leading the war cry – ‘Potatoes Forever!’
"Spud is a term we came up with living in Ohio and observing the people around us," explained potato head Mark Mothersbaugh. “A potato is dirty and brown. It comes from the ground, and it's lowly. You can find spuds on almost any plate. It's the staple of your diet. So we use the term to describe the common gene pool. We are spuds. You most likely are. Potatoes are like the working class vegetable."
The name Devo comes from their concept of 'de-evolution', a concept based around the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. This idea was developed as a joke by Kent State University art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis as early as the late 1960s. Casale and Lewis created a number of satirical art pieces in a devolution vein. At this time, Casale had also performed with the local band 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band). They met Mark Mothersbaugh around 1970, who introduced them to the pamphlet "Jocko Homo Heaven bound". It included an illustration of a winged devil labeled ‘D-Evolution’ and would later inspire the song "Jocko Homo". However, this particular joke because quite serious following the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970. The event would be the impetus for Devo actually forming as a musical entity.
A decade of music reflecting their unconventional musical style has shifted between punk, art rock, post-punk and New Wave. Now the band is working on vegetables.
"Devo works on a number of levels," continued this Akron, Ohio native. "Some people will only get off to Devo for its jungle rhythms. Like "Whip It," may this song is the only thing that interests someone about Devo, and the reason they like it may be totally different than the reason I like the song.
"A lot of kids that come up to us say, 'Wow, I finally found someone else who feels like a robot. I'm glad you're around!' Others ask us specifics about various songs, like wanting to know what we meant in "Love Without Anger." Devo works on a lot of different levels and to guess what any person is thinking when they listen to Devo is rather presumptuous."
A Devo-tee may indeed be a difficult individual to figure out. It tends to make one wonder whether or not the members of the group. Brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, drummer Alan Meyers, and brothers Gerald and Bob Casales, have taken it upon themselves to enlighten the masses to what is happening to them on this planet called Earth.
"Well, in a small way, music can influence people," admitted Mothersbaugh. "I do not have the money to make feature films or to stage any military takeover of the planet. I don’t have the finances to support a genetic research lab that will cure all human illnesses. What we can do is write songs, present our attitudes about things and give people alternate things to think about. To a certain extent, people are going to come to Devo and be subversively influenced. Our way is ultrarealistic, and we set an example of what we stand for every time we perform a show."
This tour, in support of the group’s new record, Oh No! It’s Devo!, is where the band is making its stand on De-Evolution.
"That is part of it,” answered the singer. “When we were first starting out in Akron, and read the news, watched TV and observed the people around us, we came to the conclusion that things were not evolving upward. They were devolving in a downward spiral. Things were breaking apart. Technology was not solving any more problems than it created. We saw the quality of life degenerating rather than becoming better through technology."
Devo, on the surface, appears pro-tech, but there is an ever present sense of contradiction of the term in the words Mothersbaugh uses to describe the world as he sees it.
"The difference between Devo and Gary Newman for instance,” he insists, “is this. We are not worshipping technology. We use it to advance our cause. If you get that impression, it's not what we're trying to project.
"We aren't afraid of the advances mankind has made. Technology is something that’s been created by the human mind. We are running out of fossil fuels and they come up with nuclear plants. The problem with all this advancement is the way humans let things manifest themselves, again, like building nuclear reactors without fully understanding the consequences if something goes wrong with one of them.
“The people who design these structures never live anywhere near them. They are in it for the buck. Nuclear power plants are dangerous, and one day the people on this planet will see how deadly they can be. Mark my words on that. These things never work out the way they’re supposed to because there are no safeguards strong enough to prevent the potential danger these reactors actually present ."
It may sound as though Mothersbaugh is just harping mindlessly on about a world turned sour and perhaps he is. But everything has its time and place, and that time and place right now is Devo.
"It would be the ultimate success for us,” remarked the musician, who was attending Kent State University when gunfire killed four student protestors in the infamous 1970 shooting. “If people listened to our music, rather than indulging in big baby, mindless, emotional, decision making attitudes about life, they would start becoming more like Mr. Spock. Kids would think, 'there is no reason for me to be an asshole on this planet.'
"I think kids have the ability of looking at Devo and seeing something else. We are pro-information. We are for people making decisions based on reasoning back by solid information. This band believes in people interacting together instead of just scrambling like a piggy for as much money as you can."
You may be wondering if Devo has encountered a resistance from their musical peers as they travel on down the road. They have, but in Mothersbaugh’s mind, it has been futile.
"There are a lot of bands that hate us,” shrugged the outspoken front man, “because they see that we represent something different. We threaten them and they do not understand it. They like the idea that stupidity rules the planet and politics is something they can write about and bend to their own will. Some bands are up front about it, like the Clash, or they may claim they're not, which in that case they are liars.”
“Artists like Billy Joel represent constipated hip capitalists politics. Everyone has different politics. A real popular one now is Van Halen. If you took all their lyrics, the music they play, the way they dress on stage, then add into the mix their album covers and the shows they put on, distill it down and place those components into a computer, you would get a read out that basically says, ‘We are stupid, horny assholes and we are into conspicuous consumption and drugs and proud of it.’"
Mothersbaugh doesn’t mince any words, regardless of the subject. In fact, it’s the band’s mastery of the spoken word, their attitude toward life, and the way in which they approach their craft that sets Devo apart from the musical world at large.
"Our music is complex," he said. "People are afraid to deal with their problems, they are afraid to go forward, they are afraid to deal with today. Instead of tackling their problems head-on, they do an about face and turn to revivalism. It has been that way since about the early ‘70's. They even go back into the late 50's, early ‘60s, you know the Elvis Costello type thing with the skinny ties and pretending it's the Eisenhower / Kennedy days all over again.
"People are afraid to fess up and accept responsibilities for themselves on the planet. Getting into old music and trying to pretend everything is okay, that is strictly passé. Leaning on history is easy and safe for some people, but for this band, no one else is doing what we’re doing. We have a hologram show which is something we always wanted to do.
“We don't want the same type of stage show other touring acts constantly repeat, which is stupid on their part. They stand on stage and five guys get all sweaty and grunt like they are trying to take a shit. They always jump up and down like pogo sticks. Then a red light focuses on the singer here, or a blue light goes off on a guitarist there. The show is nothing but boring, boring, boring. I promise you find that problem with Devo."