Tuesday 14 July 2015

May 1980

Watch With Mothersbraugh

Devo are wearing Bill and Ben flowerpots on their heads when I meet up with them on a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I don’t like to say anything -- the daft todgers might take offence and boot me in the flubberglub.

It’s perfectly obvious to them what those pillar-box red plastic hats signify. 


Or, to be more precise, Aztec Winkies! Hats, it seems, are merely penile projectiles in the Devo dictionary of daffy definitions. 

‘They are the sign of a man’s sexuality. They represent the energy of the organ,’ says Gerry Casale, without the slightest hint of a smirk. Brings a whole new meaning to giving head. And, like all Devo concepts, the hat-wearing has a dualistic connotation, or the Tweedledum and Tweedledee syndrome. 

‘They are festive hats,’ continues Gerry. ‘We wear them to create a party atmosphere. We want to be the life and soul of the party, like the guy who gets drunk and sticks a lampshade on his head to get a laugh.’ 

Mark Mothersbraugh gives one of his customary tag lines that always seem to crystallise a particular facet of Devo psychology in one searing, succinct sentence. ‘David Bowie used to wear a plastic hat too . . .’ 

I’m being treated to my own personal preview of their new show − the final one before they embark on a world tour to promote their new album, Freedom of Choice. It’s remarkable. The speakers double up as the light show to produce some stunning monochrome effects and the encore, a medley of songs from Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants using the flowerpots to maximum advantage, has to be seen to be believed. 

After they finish, the band wander up and down Sunset Strip wearing grey vinyl suits. It’s so hot you can actually hear their feet squelching in their pillar-box red shoes. And naturally they wear those hats. They’re posing for a photo session and attract the attention of T-shirted LA types noticeable by their dumb expressions and limited stoned-clad vocabulary. 

‘Hi. Hey. Wha’ . . .? Hey. Hi. Devo, huh? Shit. Hi. Hey. Mind if I, er . . . Yeah? No kiddin’. Hey. Hi . . .’ 

The articulate Devo, gleaming metallic sex pistons of techno-brash, provide a sharp contrast to this ring of mediocrity. 

What lurks behind the clinical, boiler-suited exterior? Do their hearts pump blood or BP? Are they just a bunch of Dunlops rushing in where angels fear to tread, or are they the harbingers of a duty free Tomorrow’s World? Devo are an exquisite enigma. Or is it enema? 

Whatever, they have confused and confounded the British press who seem incapable of accepting them on any serious level. And nobody could believe it when these strange, fragile-looking beings appeared not to see the joke. 

Oh, sure they would, as they do now, sit with you and mock a quasi-intellectual article rejoicing at their ‘reductive synthesis’, but if you went away and wrote a piece with tongue firmly in cheek, they seemed to get hurt. 

‘We answered questions in earnest,’ says Gerry, sipping a glass of Californian champagne. It’s now midnight. We’re in a downtown bar and they’re still wearing fucking flowerpots on their heads. 

‘The British seem to lack a sense of humour about it all. We were just stirring things up for fun. Devo are just playing with reality. In the end, everyone resorts to religion, right-wing politics and disco. Devo are observers of the human condition. But the joke is, we’re part of that condition too.’ 

What does Devo-lution mean, Gerry? 

‘Stripping away the shit. When Bob Seger writes, “I like to watch her strut”, you tell him that’s a fucking joke. You tell him that’s a fucking stupid line. That’s my freedom of choice. Don’t expect me to wear gypsy leather trousers and go out and sing, “I like to watch her fucking strut”. I’m confident that there’s a whole segment of society that doesn’t want to hear about girls strutting or pulling triggers on devils’ guns. 

‘Devo’s programme is the alternative to sock-in-the-crotch rock. Our sexuality is more like Henry Ford and the assembly line. We are sexual in a powerfully clean, technological way. Devo is the cleansing agent for all the awful records out there. Devo presents you with a pure and healthy sex. I’ve never been able to understand why a woman wants a man with a great big hairy belly. They must have a perverted and demented view of sex. 

‘A lot of people represent the medieval kind of sex, like Rod Stewart, while we represent the new sex. Girls in Spandex pants are turned off by Devo because they are into medieval sexuality. After the A-bomb and A-rseholes, Devo will emerge as heads of the post sexual revolution.’ 

And now we must go because the man from the house is walking down the garden path and will be here any moment. Hurry, he’s about to open the door of the greenhouse. 


© Barry Cain 2015

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