Maligned by many though he was (and may still be), hey--at least Ringo Starr could write some good songs as a solo artist. He truly wasn't some useless clueless stool-stump.
Queen are remembered as "Freddie Mercury and some other guys", but all four members have at least one number one song among their writing credits. Brian May penned "We Will Rock You", Roger Taylor wrote "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", John Deacon pounded out "Another One Bites the Dust", and that frontman of some charisma managed to give us "We Are the Champions."
The greatest band in music history, Sonic Youth, have gone through eight different members over fifteen official releases. None could fairly be deemed "without worth"--Richard Edson brought a funky style no other Yoof skinpounder has dared approach; Bob Bert brought the possibility of his name being "Robert Bert"; Jim Sclavunos has been outed by Lydia Lunch as a bisexual freak fond of anal insertion, in addition to manning the bulk of SY's first full-length; Steve Shelley's tight-as-a-young-boy-ass drumming took the band to uncharted structural terrain; Thurston Moore the lanky foxy guitar heathen with an eternally musical soul; Kim Gordon being the second most amazing woman to walk the earth's face (my mother being number one), a fiery artist with a genuine tendency towards subversion; Lee Ranaldo, space pirate Beat-brat; and latterly, Jim O'Rourke, jack of all trades and master of more than several, with the fashion sense and wanderlust befitting an eclectic genius.
I'm getting at something.
Great bands tend to lack dead weight. It's not a prerequisite, but it's real close. Les Georges Leningrad were an average quartet till they dropped the blonde chick, going instantly from whipped cream hurling Residents yentabes to Quebec's reigning maniacs, the anti-Arcade Fire. As just one example.
But tonight, watching the indispensable DVD collection of Devo's videography, The Complete Truth About Deevolution, I was reminded of why ifs and buts could give us all happy holidays. Because great bands--certifuckingfiably great--can and do have dead weight.
You know Devo, right? The "Whip It" guys? Those flower-pot wearing NEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRDDDSSSS!? Awesome racket-gang, I think. Their first three records are pyramid pattern classics. The fourth and fifth are very good and very underrated. As for the remainder of their output...nah. Not heading over there. Staying right here in this particular spot of the potato patch, thanks.
In addition to some formidable audio, Devo left a truly stunning legacy in the world of the music video. Fucking around with primitive (groundbreaking at the time) technology, vocalist/bassist Gerald Casale masterminded their mini-films and thus assured Akron, Ohio's finest would be a visual reality as well as a musical one.
Watching these historical clips, a few facts become apparent:
1. Potatos rock. Without them, no french fries.
2. Cross-eyed Asian women would make lousy hitpeople.
3. At the moment of your death, you will taste chocolate donut.
4. "Disco Dancer" really sucks.
5. You wanna know...keep on reading.
Tonight I had an epiphany. The circumstances were near-perfect: last day of work for the week and my boyfriend Patrick and I had just wrapped up a couple hours QT. Mind clouded by the effects of multiple orgasms, I put in the Devo DVD right after putting on some clothes.
"Bob Casale was a useless piece of shit." The brother of Gerald, synthist/guitarist. Honestly I had never given the matter much thought before, and some may argue I'm not really giving it a hell of a lot of thought right now, but it was then I realized: THAT motherfucker, out of all five motherfuckers in the band, was a big ol' do-shit lump. His brother was a genius; Mark Mothersbaugh, the walking talking personification of the entire Devo concept; Bob Mothersbaugh brought great skill and showmanship to his role as guitarist/occasional backing vocalist; Alan Meyers actually looked "devo", like the first time he saw Revenge of the Nerds he cried over the bond he felt with the Anthony Edwards character. But Bob Casale, the fuck?
Patrick is a frequent devil's advocate. "Maybe Bob did a lot in the studio."
I am a frequent persistent bitch. "Okay. or, maybe, as some close to Devo have claimed, Jerry Casale is a self-absorbed paranoid prick who felt so intimidated by the Mothersbaughs he brought in his own sibling to even things up. Like, watch these videos. In 'Whip It', he does shit."
"Well then let's do it. Let's see." Yes, fucking let us. Sans "Jocko Homo" and "Secret Agent Man", both of which are Bob2-free.
DEVO CORPORATE ANTHEM
Hardly Exhibit A, or even Q. Everyone's just saluting the fan blowing their magnificent Devo hair. Bit of a chronology fuck, as this is off their second album, Duty Now For the Future
Just a cover, your ass. This is reinvention. Jerry provides a jittery thunder while Mark goggles his way through legendarily lustful lyrics in the classic vocal delivery of a singer who cannot in fact sing. Bob2, aka Casale, congrats...it is not everyone who can be the tallest person in a group and still just manage to blend in. At least Bob1 had the toaster guitar, in case he wanted some Pop Tarts. Bob2 was probably the goddamn Pop Tart gofer for the shoot.
Speaking of toasters, because aren't we as concerned citizens always...I saw this video as a very young gal (the days of MTV not swallowing the entire cock) and was instantly, totally compelled to ape the monkey boys. I stuck the nearest fork in the nearest toaster; but instead of being electrocuted, I was visited by homicidal Care Bears giving Strawberry Shortcake what she had coming to her. WITH TWO BY FOURS. Seriously fucked up my shit. Upon reflection, I wonder if Bob2 has ever had a moment that interesting in his life ever.
COME BACK JONEE
All the party people in the place too busy to be, do you love drunk bowling just like me? Hey Bob2...your backing vocals are dull. And where's your enthusiasm? Everyone's all hyped up except you! "Uh, whoa, don't throw that sign over here pal!"
THE DAY MY BABY GAVE ME A SURPRISE
The first scene of this video is the greatest shot in the warped history of the now-defunct artform.
The band are synching in front of a blue screen, Casales manning keybs with varying results. Gerald is a Mexican jumping bean while Bob is...standing there. Like wow, your focus astonishes me. When the scene shifts to a lab, we see the band administering tests on a young girl; Bob1's, it turns out. Bob2 couldn't even have his OWN kid to use! Loser.
The topper is when the members not named Mark are shown scrolling across a Najavo-blanketed screen: Bob1 rocks out like a mildly-toasted surfer; Gerald bops; Alan the metronome; and Bob2...well, Bob2 is either doing some wacky improvised lower body dance or there's squirrels fighting in his pants.
Part of Neil Young's flick, "Human Highway." My orbs have yet to absorb said movie, and likely never will. I think it can be safely said that Devo's section is the highlight, lambpit.
Devo play nuclear waste transporters who sho 'nuff get the glow. They get to do some acting before bursting into cover song, loading up the truck, and destroying yet another precious patch of the planet. It is decided that Mark gets the Oscar (he already has an Emmy). Patrick deems Gerald the least-convincing ("We're not gonna get ANY breakfast") but I of course make the case for mumbly-ass Bobbo2. Not gonna get any breakfast? Your brother's obviously eating the mashed po-fuckin'-tatos already!
By their third LP, Freedom of Choice, Devo's music took a poppier turn and their image would enter its most cited phase: energy domes, kid. Which I am still convinced they ripped off from the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine (a classic which predates this song by 15 years, so UH!).
Now, instead of the spuds being the sole freaks on display, we have a pudgy Hispanic woman in charge of dispensing vittles, cowboys and cowgirls guzzling cheap beer and hooting cheaper innuendo, the Asian woman who's totally seein' double here! and oh yeah, the woman who lets Mark "whip" off her attire.
"And Lily Tomlin got offended by this!" Patrick remarked with a cute smirk.
She did. Devo were all set to perform on the comedienne's talk show when she got wind of this video, deemed it horribly sexist and put the kibosh on the whole shebang. Makes me want to break a rocking chair.
Anyway, Mark and Jerry are center stage trading off vocals, but only Mark is where the action is, so to speak. The other guys are corralled off in a pen, playing away. Alan is the first one we actually see, half his face covered up as he shows off his very-underappreciated skill. Bob1 provides sly, so-key guitwork while Jerry lays down a bed of hot synth punctuated with nasty whipcrack effects. Bob2 plays three notes on the keyb strapped around his neck. Repeatedly. Repetiveness is his job! It's his job to be repetitive! His job!
When the "now whip it!" part kicks in, he is the one responsible for that horror flick-style bed of synth which Patrick claims "makes the song". But did he write it? ANY of it? EVER? Mark and Jerry handled the bulk of the songcrafting, and Bob1 has the awesome distinction of co-writing "Blockhead", but the second Bob?
"Patrick, wait. That's not even the highlight of the song for him."
That would be the closest thing "Whip It" gets to a solo, a single whiny synth note played at the end of each bar.
"Look at that fuckin' determination!" I am by now on the floor as I spit this out, next to the screen, eyes like Stanley Roper, hands gesticulating wildly. "That guy is so fuckin' Devo!" The money shot is Bob2 hitting his note and jutting his chest defiantly forward, as if to say, "Even if I do not write, I play, and I play with the bearing and potency of a Roman god! You would never be so bold as to whip off my apparel."
GIRL U WANT
Should have been Devo's biggest hit, but then I remember the world makes no sense. The spuds are doing it discolored for an audience of screaming gals so homely I actually look fuckable compared to several.
Mark's dancing in this clip inspires Patrick to accuse Erase Errata vocalist Jenny Hoysten of outright fruggin' thievery. Gerald tries his hardest to make the Keytar look cool, but in this matter I have to concur with Dave Mustaine--Lars Ulrich sucks. I mean, the Keytar is a futile attempt by keyboard players to appear as cool as guitarists. Bob1 is winning the game of life with his "potato" guitar slinking out the radio-ready riff that had O-hi-O diehards squealing "sellout!" Even Papa M. (no, not the band) is given lens love, as General Boy is spotted backstage manning the controls of Devo's stage dancers with a glee befitting Mr. Burns about to shut down an orphanage.
Bob2 is once more an impotent penis. Just kinda there. I shit you never, Timbaland put more effort into manipulating this song for Tweet's masturbation smash "Oops! (Oh My)" than Bob2 did this whole shoot. That footage of the fat kid on some antiquated exercise equipment? Eerie foreshadowing.
(Also...homely or not, guaranteed Jerry Casale smashed half those girls, easy.)
FREEDOM OF CHOICE
How 80s can you get? LA Rams headphones, for God's sake.
The first time I watched this DVD and saw this video, I nearly flipped. The scene with the chocolate donuts...I distinctly remember seeing that on MTV as a young girl. In between Huey Lewis and Rod Stewart, no doubt. Patrick was hyena over my bug-eyed reaction.
The choreography is crackin'; check the skateboarders moving perfectly to the music in the beginning.
Bob2 gets to hold onto Mark's leash (he's the dog who licked two bones). It's cute how you can see him jiggle the leash in a sweat-desperate attempt to look like he's doing something. No one loves drummers, but at the end, when the skaterats get Pygmalioned by the Great God Gap, who is invited to join their shadow-altering ranks but Alan Meyers!
THROUGH BEING COOL
Bob1 cowrote this, so score one for cocaine. The band themselves play a minor role; mainly we see actors of questionable dancing ability zapping the Hinky Dink Crew. Although, Devo did give them their spudguns. Not so minor, then.
LOVE WITHOUT ANGER
Funny; when my dad hit my mom, her head never popped off.
Patrick was bemused by this vid for different reasons. "I don't know how you can do. I really am having a hard time telling the Bobs apart."
"Well, okay. For one, Bob Casale is taller. And..."
"Bob Casale is also the one who's completely fuckin' useless."
"You are relentless."
Gerald Casale's crowning achievement as a video director...and he sticks his baby brother at the end, damn near! HAHA! Tremendous song, too; I have a soft spot for those songs where Jerry sings like he's posing for a sculpture.
TIME OUT FOR FUN
Toffy! The first of the trio of vids from their last great album, all shot on the same stage. More boring Bobness abounds. You bore me, boy! No excuse whatsoever when the song itself is so damn upbeat.
"I love those shots, when they show Mark and Jerry straight on, and Jerry's over his shoulder", Patrick comments. That is coolness quite, but the peach pie prize goes to Bob1. He has a limited part in the song, so when he's not playing, he just stands perfectly still, fists balled on hips and a face frozen in a stare of comical stoicism. When he does play, the facial expressions kill--almost as if the act of picking the strings is excruciatingly painful after all that time spent statue.
Fun fact: Jerry sings on this song. Mark lipsynchs in the video. On the DVD commentary, neither of them comments on this.
PEEK A BOO
That insane laughing, good God. If you ever play this game with your baby and they laugh like that, burn them. Without delay.
I cannot utter a fib--this has got to be the shining moment of Bob2's life. Oh, I know he has kids, but could children even BEGIN to live up to the glory of THIS? An average song is saved, fucking REDEEMED from the 80s new wave trashbin, by Bob2 swinging his body (and, by extension, keytar) in precise time with the handclaps that punctuate this ditty. Patrick and I were ready to fuck all over again upon witnessing this shocking brilliance. Snoopy hats off to you, Robert! Gerald was so proud, I bet. Aww, hugs in the editing room.
Song sucks. Video sucks. Yay cocaine, huh? No, wait--yay yayo. Rush rush. Hey, who would win in a kickboxing match between Debbie Harry and Paula Abdul? Seriously. Whatever time you waste pondering that is still better than watching this ish.
POST-POST MODERN MAN GVC VERSION
Devo don those "Smooth Noodle Maps" suits, the ones colored like the phones in Duran Duran's "Rio" video. Wow, now there's a videography I need in my collection.
One of the few listenable later Devo tracks. "I'd cry if you died--were I not a post-post modern man!" The open road is duly traversed by our boys after they all rode the train on some Playboy bunny chick, the idyllic adventure shattered by Mexican carjackers. Sucks to be Devo! Bob1 steals the show as per usual by being asleep when the enchilada snackers snatch him from the backseat. Bob2 is shown with the face Patrick gets on those rare occasions I let my teeth slip.
POST-POST MODERN MAN ROCKY SCHENK VERSION
GVC did not direct this QVC-inspired song-ad, and thus the band did not care much for it. Bob2 is bland as ever, but sadly the video as a whole is pretty dull. It's not bad, just not distinguished. I still feel Bob2 coulda saved the day ala "That's Good" by leaping to the forefront and showing the shrinking segment of the garden that still gave a flying spud that golly gosh galoshes, Jerry's little bro DOES have personality, presence, talent, charisma, and all the other characteristics he has failed to show in damn near any other video! Clearly, "That's Good" was a fluke.
The concept is Devo for the conspicuous consumer, ie, Kevlar suits, Snoopy hats, NuTra pomps, flying younguns. But for the maximum fun you can bleed from this succession of images, pop the disc into your computer, and set it up so you can play the scenes where scantily-clad hotties parade around in front of the seated spuds on a loop. Now fire up the hip hop classic "Superhoe" by BDP. Concentrate your gaze on Jerry. SHIT! (If the East Coast is not your syrup, feel free to substitue with Ice-T's "Girls Let's Get Butt Naked and Fuck" for the West flava, or rep the Dirty South with the unimpeachable 2 Live Crew legend, "Me So Horny." It's all Jerry!)
Be sure to cast a glance at Bob2 during this flesh fest; he's just checking those chicks like they're pieces of gallery artwork to be politely appraised. Pussywhip it good!
R U EXPERIENCED?
Not on the actual DVD, 'cause the estate of Jimi Hendrix wasn't having it. Thus, we hunted it down on the Internets. One of 3 listenable songs on "Shout" (guess the other 2 and win cookies), this shows Devo as Grimaces with bowl wigs. Well running dry?
Not on the DVD, 'cause the estate of Dan Akroyd...oh wait, he's not dead. Well, he should be. What an unfunny Canucker he is. Take him out of "Blues Brothers" and substitute him with a wooden martial arts practice dummy named Tetsujin and no one would have noticed.
I have meaningful beef with this cop sucker. As a young lass, I was snug comfy in bed when I happened to stop the TV on one of his Julia Child parody skits he did on SNL. As "she" cuts up a turkey, the knife slips and "blood" spurts prodigiously into the air, onto the counter, the turkey...that shit some people think is comedy singlehandedly ruined something inside me. I feel immediately nauseous and faint when I now see ANY blood--real, fake, in person, on a person, on screen, in tubes. Thanks, asshole.
Nothing makes sense about the movie (professor turned pimp, yes I'll have another) and the video follows suit. Mark is running in place, in what I suppose to be a futile attempt to escape his hairstyle. Ooh, look, Bob2 is fiddlin' with equipment. 'Cause that is what useless loser assholes DO. They man the control panel. (Check "Beautiful World")
Bob1 and Alan are dressed up as cowboys, for which I must again say...bless you, cocaine. Exalted drug of kings!
Dick is all over this clip. Dan Akroyd IS a dick; a rising pink balloon gets pin-popped by a stern-looking Asian woman; Jerry sings his part holding a dildo; and Bob2 gets the meter rising (woo woo) with some broad who's come to help him man the panel. YEAH, BABY, I'D LIKE TO MAN YOUR PANEL! Entirely plausible. Jerry probably fucked that same girl immediately BEFORE AND AFTER that scene was shot. "Here's a ball, Bob2. Perhaps you'd like to bounce it."
So. What have we learned, Charlie Brown?
1. Sonic Youth, Snoop Dogg, Yoshimi, and the Grateful Dead have all given "Peanuts" propers. So why don't Devo acknowledge their obvious debt. Duty now for the dog!
2. Breathing detritus being in your racket-gang DOES NOT automatically impede your overall Awesome. In the case of D-E-V-O, 3 geniuses and a guy what kept beat real good cancelled out that other douche.
3. To have inspired all this, Sir Bobert of casale must have quite a bit going for him. So here's to him! You magnificent bus stop.