SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 as she lets you into her world.
|ARE WE NOT MEN?|
Question: What’s round on the ends and hi(gh) in the middle?
From an old Ohio State University fight song.
I recall my father teaching me that tidbit more as a riddle than a song when I was little. It wasn’t until preparing this blog post that I learned of its “fight song” origin as I Googled it with interest and curiosity. I find the Ohio fight song origin curious because my family has absolutely no ties to Ohio but I digress. In case you haven’t guessed, DEVO had its start in Ohio and they used the above quip in the middle of the early version of their anthem, Jocko Homo. They also included it when they performed it live.
It might be best for me to explain DEVO from the beginning. “Devo” is shorthand for “devolution,” a pseudo-science term for the idea that man is no longer evolving but in fact he is un-evolving or devolving. In other words, man is moving backwards on the evolutionary scale. The idea was a fun farce developed by two Kent State University (Ohio) art students, Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis. The core of their idea was to poke fun at the herd mentality that had evolved in America.
They were students at Kent State, along with their friend, Mark Mothersbaugh who was in on the “devolution joke,” on that fateful day of 4 May 1970. That was the day on which National Guard troops opened fire on unarmed protesting college students on that Ohio campus, killing four and wounding nine others. It was also the day I lost my innocence. The loss of my innocence had actually begun five days earlier when President Nixon announced we were going to execute bombing raids in Cambodia, a country we weren’t even at war with. Furthermore, he denied any previous involvement in Cambodia, yet a year before the NY Times reported secret bombing campaigns by the United States, without the knowledge of its people or Congress, in Cambodia. It has been estimated that those secret raids into Cambodia killed up to 600,000 people, in a country we were not at war against and Nixon was denying it. In addition, he was announcing new raids into that country. To say that many were outraged would be an understatement and it was this announcement that spurned the protests all over this nation, including those five days later at Kent State.
|Kent State, May 4, 1970|
The photo above has become the face of the tragedy on 4 May 1970. I think the whole nation lost its innocence along with me that day, but it hit me especially hard. I wanted to go to college in a few years and now I had to ask if it was even safe. How did our Army come to kill four college students? Could Nixon be behind this too without the knowledge of Congress? The student lying there dead in the picture is Jeffery Miller, a good friend of DEVO founder, Gerald Casale, though Casale at the time was standing about 15 feet (5m) away from Allison Krause, whom he also knew, and was killed by a bullet to the chest. Devolution was no longer a joke and it, along with its herd mentality theories, had just taken on a very dark meaning. This event is often quoted as the event that led to the founding of the band, DEVO.
I was unaware of any of the devolution stuff associated with these events and wouldn’t learn of them until years later. Maybe I should next tell the story of how I first encountered DEVO. I had become a fan of a show called Saturday Night Live since its debut in 1975. It was in 1978, during the fall season that I tuned in one Saturday night and Don Pardo said his usual “It’s Saturday Night Live, starring…” He introduced that week’s host and the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” Then he said, “With musical guest, DEVO.” Huh? What’s a DEVO? As a radio DJ I was in the industry and had never heard the name before. I would just have to wait until they came on.
Well, not really come on. What we first saw was a short bit of video in which Booji Boy (pronounced “Boogie”), obviously a mutant, had to turn papers over to the General (General Boy) concerning devolution. The General assures Booji Boy that “In the past this information has been suppressed but now it can be told. Every man, woman and mutant on this planet shall know the truth about de-evolution.” Booji replies, “Oh dad, we’re all DEVO!” Below is a YouTube video that starts off with the same video that kicked off the SNL appearance. Just the first 60 seconds of the video were shown before cutting to DEVO live.
When the video cut to the band live, they were wearing the same yellow paper suits as in the picture at the top of the post. They began their devolution anthem, Jocko Homo, and they acted more like robots than musicians. When they got to the middle of the song, Mark Mothersbaugh put the keyboard on autopilot and they began ripping away the paper suits to reveal black shirts and shorts beneath. Then came, “What’s round on the ends and HI in the middle? O-HI-O!”
Now, I had always felt that the Theory of Evolution and Creationism didn’t need to be mutually exclusive. The next line hit me right between the eyes and let me know I was not alone in this opinion…
“God made man but he used the monkey to do it.”
This was the weirdest thing I had ever seen or heard musically. It rivaled Arthur Brown donning a metal head piece filled with lighter fluid, setting it on fire and yelling, “I am the god of Hellfire and I bring you…” It piqued my curiosity and captured my interest. I tried to find a video of that SNL performance for this post but was unable to. Below is the closet one I came across and it was live in Paris in the same year. It is basically what they did on Saturday Night Live except two of them already have the bottom of their suits torn away on this Paris version. On SNL there was no clue they were coming off or what was beneath.
I didn’t know how to classify it and it seemed closest to being Punk Rock, though that didn’t really fit either. At this time, we were beginning to hear the term “New Wave” from the UK and DEVO seemed on the cutting edge of this movement, though they remained quite unique. However, I personally thought they’d be a flash in the pan novelty, like Napoleon the XIV’s They’re Coming to Take me Away or Rick Dees’ Disco Duck.
About a week after the SNL appearance, I was looking through the “current releases” bin in the music room at the radio station and I picked up a new one. It was by DEVO and had a pretty weird title, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO. That question and answer had been a part of their performance on TV. I took it to an unused studio and played it. I found it interesting and actually found myself humming some of their tunes when by myself days later. I still thought they were just a novelty but I found them fascinating and wanted to learn more.
They had gotten a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records and there first album, the one I found playing in my head had been released during the summer. Remember, this was 1978 and one couldn’t just go to the internet to learn more. It took time and effort and over the course of the next year or so, I did learn more. I expected it was going to be a typical “guys in high school after a few years of practice and small gigs finally make it big.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Next I will fill you in on the years from 1970 to 1978 for DEVO but it took me quite a while to put it all together. They formed as a band sometime after the Kent State Shootings but it seems unclear exactly when. It probably was more of a gradual process anyway. They were definitely a full-fledged band when they appeared at the Kent State Performing Arts Festival in 1973.
In 1976, they made a short film called, “In the Beginning was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution.” It started with the very piece that opened up their segment for Saturday Night Live, which I described above. Actually, the video I linked above is the entire short film that starts with the exchange with Booji Boy and General Boy I described above. The movie only consisted of the 60 second intro and early versions of two songs, Joko Homo and their cover of Secret Agent Man. (I’ll play both on Sunday.) You must remember that MTV and music video were still five years into the future, so this this short subject film was something unique.
DEVO actually started their own record label, Booji Boy Records, and began releasing their songs on a limited scale. In 1978, they signed a limited deal with Stiff Records in the UK and began releasing their music there. Stiff Records specialized in Punk Rock and the fledgling New Wave movement and this got them noticed by several British artists including David Bowie who convinced Warner Brothers to give them a chance. Warner Brothers had them re-record all of their previous material for their first album, Q: Are We not Men? A: We are Devo! This is when I noticed them on SNL.
Two years and two albums later, DEVO released Whip It! which climbed to #14 on the charts. DEVO was not the quickly passing novelty I thought they were going to be and I actually started seeing red Energy Domes at parties. DEVO was here to stay and they remained major players in the music industry for many years.
To fully appreciate my set on Sunday and to fully understand Devo, I think I should go over some key DEVO terms and concepts.
Within the DEVO world, DEVO Inc. is the organization trying to wake up the people to what is going on around us. They want to stop the process of devolution and market many materials to get the message out, including DEVO records. They want people to break away from the herd mentality and think for themselves.
Booji Boy and General Boy
These are two characters that recur in DEVO songs, videos and materials. They appeared in the video I’ve referenced above. Booji Boy is obviously a mutant and works for DEVO Inc. and is always played by DEVO founder Mark Mothersbaugh. Booji Boy is General Boy’s son and in DEVO films and recordings General Boy is portrayed by Mark Mothersbaugh’s real life father. We can also surmise that the General is a rather high ranking figure within DEVO Inc. and may be at its head.
Booji Boy was the result of an experiment gone badly that left him as an adult-infant hybrid of sorts. General Boy was a military intelligence officer that was forced to retire when he became unstable and claimed he had been abducted by aliens. He took on the “General Boy” persona in sympathy to his son who had become Booji Boy.
Booji Boy sings several DEVO songs with Mark Mothersbaugh, in the Booji Boy infant mask, singing in a bad, off key falsetto voice. He will end the set Sunday night.
This term started out as a term that fans used to refer to the band but it quickly became a term for the fans themselves. It is easy to relate this to the term “couch potato” and the act of sitting in front of the TV mindlessly absorbing the commercials telling you your teeth need to be brighter and you need to drive a certain make and model of car. (Herd mentality?) The origin of the use of the term by fans is probably based on the cover of their 1982 album shown above, Oh, No! It’s Devo, which depicts the band as potatoes. Sometimes you also hear “Spudmen.”
|Click to enlarge|
The song Jocko Homo is basically the DEVO anthem and has remained central to their shows. It was one of the first songs in their repertoire and basically is the bases of their devolutionary theme. The title is taken from a 1924 pamphlet that professed much devolutionary theory, Jocko-Homo Heavenbound by B. H. Shadduck. (See the image above.) The song seems to equate Jocko Homo with pinheads.
|Schlitze the pinhead, circa 1932|
Pinheads are not only mentioned numerous times in Jocko Homo, but play a prevalent role in the devolutionary theme as a form of mutant. “Pinhead” is a term often used to refer to someone who has Microcephaly and became a popular term with the appearance of Schlitze, the side show freak. (Shown above.) From the photo you can see the effects of Microcephaly and why the term “pinhead” was used by laymen. Microcephaly has been much in the news lately with the rise of the Zika Virus. It used to be a rare mutation but now threatens to become rampant. Suddenly, DEVO’s warnings about devolution don’t sound so fictitiously far-fetched.
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Above is my copy of Be Stiff on Stiff Records from 1978. This label from the UK was an early producer of DEVO records before their Warner Brothers contract. Written and produced by DEVO, it bears the words, “Made in England,” and is pressed in translucent vinyl. I will play this “Stiff version” Sunday night.
I don’t consider myself a spud. I have never seen them in concert nor have I ever desired to. If you were to ask me to make a list of my top 20 favorite bands, they wouldn’t make the cut. That being said, I do like their music and I have always held a fascination for them since I saw them on Saturday Night Live 39 years ago.
I was deeply moved by the events at Kent State University on 4 May 1970. When I learned that we both had lost our innocence on that fateful day, maybe I began to see them as kindred spirits. Gerald Casale has said when referring to that day that it was “the day I stopped being a hippie.” Maybe this shared link is why I’m featuring them this week on the Sojourn.
So put the word out to every man, woman and mutant on the planet, to put your red energy dome on your head (I’ll be giving them away free) and come on down to AWT Sunday night from 7:00 to 9:00 SL time. Why? Because in the end, we are all DEVO!
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”
From the song, Ohio, composed by Neil Young, 1971
|WE ARE DEVO|