The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, April 12, 2001

We Must Repeat

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Do you remember the first time you heard a song by Devo? Unless you were rooting around the new-music underground in the mid-'70s, it was probably "Whip It" in 1980, and I bet you heard it while watching a strange, oddly provocative video on MTV. My friends and I stumbled across the "Jocko Homo" indie single, which they put out before they signed with Warner Bros. and got into the studio with Brian Eno to record their debut album, Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! — to this day one of the strangest (and most amazing) albums you'll ever hear. Just check out their devolved version of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," although it's the originals like "Mongoloid" and "Come Back Jonee" (their interpretation of the "Johnny B. Goode" story) that will really blow you away. I was surprised the other day to discover, while reading reviewer Anthony Carew's interview of last year with Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard, that Devo were (are) among Pollard's favorite bands. The more I think about it, the more I realize I probably shouldn't have been. "They were just flat-out amazing," Pollard told Carew. "They had the whole 'conceptual' thing down. As a matter of fact, Devo scared me at first. I was like pretty much into arena-rock at the time, so this whole punk thing scared me. Especially, Devo, I thought they were evil." In the beginning, there was something a bit scary about Devo. They saw the "American Dream" for what it was: empty and shallow. Their music didn't sound like anything that had come before it. All of the instruments they used to make their recordings — including primitive synthesizers and mutant guitars — sounded treated, purposefully artificial. Mechanical. On the surface, they were an act. They wore costumes (matching jumpsuits and goggles) and had their rap about "de-evolution" down cold. And, of course, because they were actually performance artists, it was all a commentary on our industrial society. "Jocko Homo" was their theme song: "Monkey men all/ In business suit/ Teachers and critics/ All dance the poot/ Are we not men?/ We are DEVO!/ Are we not men?/ D-E-V-O/ We must repeat." And then — was it a tribute to the Ramones? — "O.K. let's go!" They mocked the fake romance ("Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Getting)") and crude lust ("Uncontrollable Urge") of pop music. It appeared that America never got the joke. "Whip It" was a hit, and it helped them sell over a million copies of Freedom of Choice (an album that, among other things, suggested that what people really want is "freedom from choice"). Out of context, "Whip It" was a novelty hit, and it brought the group a mostly clueless audience unprepared for the savage, sophisticated deconstruction of modern values in Devo's music and performances. "They changed my entire way of thinking of what music was about," Pollard told Carew. "Because, at the time, as I said, I was a big Genesis freak. Then I got into Devo really heavily.... I thought they were much more interesting than all the other post-punk bands. Devo, though, they were the ones that got me into forming my own band, and I was also proud that they were from my home state."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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