tapehead | Wednesday February 19th, 2014
Sad news: DEVO’s guitarist and keyboard player Bob Casale has passed away at age 61.
DEVO was a band that captured Tapehead’s imagination at an early age. Founded in the anger and desperation ensuing from the National Guard massacre (sorry, can’t find a less loaded word) of Vietnam war protesters on the campus of Kent State University Ohio in 1970, DEVO pioneered post-punk in a then still proto-punk world. With their choppy guitar licks – later menacing but tuneful synth textures – and catchy deconstructions of pop and consumer culture (such as their wicked cover of “Satisfaction”), DEVO ascended to the new wave pantheon (a development they probably found equally satisfying and ironic). Plus, the band came with a wacky yet creepily prescient social theory (“de-evolution“).
After near-mainstream success with 1981’s ”Whip It”, the band lost steam by the mid-1980s as they not so much devolved as stagnated, while other postmodern and discourse-friendly synthpop acts (Heaven 17, ABC, Wall of Voodoo and many, many others) built upon DEVO’s innovations and took them to a new level.
DEVO reformed in 2007 and toured regularly. Even though the enterprise had a whiff of nostalgia, they managed to comment on contemporary states of affairs, such as with the (seemingly) facetious single “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed)“, dedicated to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s put upon dog.
For all its futurist posturing, DEVO were indeed “New Traditionalists“ (title of their 1981 album) in a way – at the band’s core were two pairs of brothers: Bob (Bob 2) and Gerald Casale and Mark and Bob (Bob 1) Mothersbaugh. Interestingly, the non-Bob brothers were both especially instrumental in DEVO’s e-volution from new wave music combo to full-fledged audiovisual conceptualists. Gerald (often together with Chuck Statler) directed DEVO’s pathbreaking music clips which both demonstrated the artform’s potential for social critique and introduced some tropes which lesser directors copied and, erm, devolved into cliché.
Here are two clips from DEVO’s peak:
And here’s “That’s Good”, a clip that already showcased some of new wave’s worst visual excesses AND was MTV’s first case of censorship (doughnuts and French Fries – never the twain shall meet…).
Frontman and main songwriter Mark Mothersbaugh also significantly shaped the DEVO aesthetic through his song lyrics. After scoring the Neil Young anti-nuke film “Human Highway” (in which DEVO appeared as “nuclear garbagepersons” and sung “Worried Man”), Mothersbaugh went on to a highly successful career as a composer of film, TV and video game soundtracks, including “Welcome to Collinwood”, Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket”, “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, the “Rugrats” cartoon series and the “Sims 2” game.
Mothersbaugh was supported in his soundtrack work by Bob Casale, who had become an accomplished studio engineer and producer post-DEVO. Bob 2, we miss you.