Devo-lution — Art-punk pioneers hoping for Hall of Fame opportunities:
Voting for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Class 22, is well underway and, not for the first time, art-punk pioneer Devo is in the running. The competition is tough; Dolly Parton may have pulled out of the race (which was nice but unnecessary), but a strong argument can be made for everyone’s inclusion. Like Devo, early punks MC5 and the New York Dolls have been nominated multiple times and really should be in there.
So who knows what will happen? For Devo founding member Mark Mothersbaugh, the third nomination tickles him.
“I get way worse phone calls with things that are going to happen in my life than that – that’s for sure,” he says. “So I think that’s pretty cool. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has a pretty broad policy. Dolly didn’t feel good about being in there, but I think she’s as important as anyone. who else. I think I’d actually be a lot more receptive to putting 20 people in every year instead of just 10. There’s enough of that out there.
There really are. Debates rage year after year over which bands should be inducted first, which bands are or aren’t “rock & roll” (an absurd argument, by the way), essentially who is more deserving. Basically, everything is subjective.
“I think what makes most bands important in the first place is the kids who are at that age where they realize Santa Claus isn’t real and they question all kinds of things,” says Mothersbaugh. . “They come into a world they don’t understand, and one of the only things that comforts you is the music. The reality is that we have people coming up to us at Devo shows and telling us we saved their lives. “I thought the world was totally crazy and made no sense, then I found you and realized I was right – that helped.” It can be any group for anyone. It can be any type of music. So I think we’re as suitable as anyone.
Perhaps more appropriate than some, given the subject matter they’ve covered from the start. Devo is often seen as a goofy band – silly clothes and sillier lyrics. In fact, he always had his manifesto.
“We decided early on in Devo that we wanted to fix something that was bothering us,” says Mothersbaugh. “That’s why humans behaved the way they do on this planet. When I was 19, I read this book called The population bomb, and basically the guy just said “do the math”. Humans will have eaten and consumed everything on the planet by 2050 at the rate the population is growing. He said that most likely Earth will retaliate with a virus and likely wipe out the human race. We’re kind of at this place. This is the kind of stuff people should be talking about. Jerry found a book called In the beginning was the end. He was a bonkers Yugoslav anthropologist, but we liked the idea that he wondered if humans were even sane. We could be the only unnatural species on the planet and disconnected from nature. Nature was in danger for us. We liked this as a concept.
So here we are, almost half a century since the formation of Devo. Whether or not Devo enters the Hall of Fame, his legacy is secure. Devo hasn’t released a new album in 12 years (the 2010s Something for everyone), but it remains an important and enigmatic group.
“I think we’re still standing for what we’ve always stood for,” Mothersbaugh says. “The manifesto was not something we waved in front of people. We really felt like the way you change things in this world was not through rebellion. They shot more than 30 children in my school and killed a group of them, while we were protesting the war in Vietnam. It seemed like a finicky thing to shoot people for. So who is changing things? We came to the conclusion that it was Madison Avenue, and while we didn’t necessarily like the stuff they were selling, we liked their techniques which were mostly subversion. We said to ourselves, what could be more subversive for us than to have a recording contract with a label. That’s what brought us to California.
A new album, by the way, is not outside the realm of possibility. It’s all about timing.
“I have all the Devo recordings over the years,” says Mothersbaugh. “I have a writing studio – it’s a round, green, spaceship-shaped building on the Sunset Strip, not too far from Whiskey and Tower Records. I have all these tapes downstairs of things that we recorded and never did anything with. So in addition to writing new stuff, which would be easy – I write music every day – it would be easy to do Devo again. So we don’t never know, it could happen.
We will have to wait and see. Mothersbaugh is busy with his visual art, though he was hampered by being caught with COVID and then suffered a bizarre eye injury.
“I had COVID in June, I think, of 2020,” he says. “I was working on two films and a video game. I was so tired and thought I must be working too hard. But I had COVID for about a week before someone said I was 105 on my thermometer and should call an ambulance. I was in intensive care at one time when I saw them getting people out of ambulances and then saw them getting people out with their faces covered the other way down the same hallway. It was a trip. Somewhere early on when I was there, I was shot in the eye. I don’t know how it happened, but it blew it up. It never really healed, I’m blind in one eye.
An awful situation. Mothersbaugh at least used the recovery time wisely and was able to write a lot of new material. The man never stops creating, whether for Devo or for his visual art. We end the interview by asking him how he’ll celebrate his Hall of Fame entry, if Devo does the final cut.
“There’s a parking lot right next door – I’ll go and ask if I can buy a parking space and own it,” he said. “Ohio has really lax funeral laws – that’s the truth. In Ohio you can basically bury your grandma in your backyard and your grandpa in the front yard if you want. I’ll keep this space open to anyone who has ever played Devo, they can all be buried in this space next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Devo-lution – Art-punk pioneers hope Hall of Fame possibilities