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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Lewis’

Early December 2018 by Gerald V. Casale, Devo co-founder, songwriter, director

Full text of the Noisey publication: ‘We Are Drowning in a Devolved World: An Open Letter from Devo’

In 2018, fifteen years after becoming eligible, Devo were nominated for the Rock’Roll Hall of Fame. I was immediately struck by the timing of our sudden recognition. For me, Devo has been a long journey littered with broken dreams but the nomination compelled me to put things in perspective. I know that many are called but few are chosen.

Forty-eight years ago on May 4, 1970, as a member of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) I was front and center being fired on by my fellow Americans at Kent State University as we protested President Nixon’s expansion of the cancerously unpopular Vietnam War into Cambodia without an act of Congress. I was lucky and dodged the bullet, both literally and figuratively, but four students were killed and nine more were seriously wounded by the armed, mostly teen-aged, National Guard troops. Two of the four students killed, Alison Krause and Jeffery Miller, were close acquaintances of mine. Less then a year earlier as an Admissions / Curriculum counselor to incoming students, I had admitted them to the Honors College program

May 4th changed my life and I truly believe Devo would not exist without that horror. It made me realize that all the Quasar color TVs and Swanson TV dinners and Corvettes and Sofa Beds in the world didn’t mean we were actually making progress…the future not only could be as barbaric as the past, it would most likely be. The dystopian novels “1984”, “Animal Farm” and “Brave New World” suddenly seemed not so much cautionary tales about the encroaching fusion of technological advances with the centralized, authoritarian power of the state, but actually more like subversive road maps to condition the intelligentsia for what was to come.

Working with my Kent State poet friend, Bob Lewis, a philosophy emerged fueled by the revelations that linear progress in a consumer society was a lie. Things were not getting better. There were no flying cars and domed cities as promised in Popular Science, rather there was a dumbing down of the population engineered by right-wing politicians, Televangelists, and Madison Avenue. I called what we saw “De-evolution” based upon the tendency toward entropy across all human endeavors. Borrowing the tactics of the Mad Men era of our childhood, we shortened the name of the idea to the marketing friendly, “Devo”. We were not left-wing politicos. We were more informed by Jungian principles of duality in human nature and realized human flaws spread out across the political spectrum. Hence: “We’re All Devo,” an idea from which we did not exempt ourselves.

We witnessed an America where the capacity for critical thought and reasoning were eroding fast; people mindlessly repeated slogans from political propaganda and ad campaigns – “America Love it or leave it”, “Don’t Ask Why, Drink Bud Dry,” “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby,” even risk-free feel-good slogans like “Give Peace a Chance.” There was an emerging Corporate Feudal State. You were either inside the draw bridge at night or outside with the gnashing of teeth. More and more it seemed like the only real threat to consumer society was meaning, turning sloganeering on it’s head for sarcastic or subversive means, making people notice that they were being moved and manipulated by marketing, not by well-meaning friends disguised as mom-and-pop. If the message wasn’t sex, drugs and rock n roll, there could be hell to pay. Rebellion appeared hopelessly obsolete. Creative subversion seemed the only viable course of action. We of course mixed our outrage with equal parts satire and dark humor. What else could a poor boy do?

Prior to the resignation of the nefarious Richard M Nixon I partnered with a new collaborator, Mark Mothersbaugh, and with his musical prowess we found the sonic alchemy for the Devo aesthetic. We formed a band of brothers around the philosophy of Devolution, never dreaming that two decades into the 21st century, everything we had theorized had not only been proved, but became worse than we had imagined.

In the late 1960’s early 1970’s, with an informed, educated electorate there were fervent, sustained and greatly publicized protests against the suppression of information and the crushing blows to liberty by the illegitimate authority of the state. That’s why more than one thousand of us were on the Commons that day at Kent State in 1970. We were outraged by Nixon’s threat to the separation of powers under the US constitution. There were facts. The illegal actions we were responding to, our legal protests, and the bullets fired against us were facts. There was meaning in those facts. Acknowledging those facts, and reacting against them, was a part of the process that kept Democracy alive.

Presently the fabric that holds a society together has shredded in the wind. Everyone has their own facts, their own private Idaho stored in their expensive cellular phones. The ear buds are in, the feedback loops are locked and the Frappuccino’s are flowing freely. Social media provides the highway straight back to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The restless natives react to digital shadows on the wall, reduced to fear, hate and superstition. There are climate change deniers and there are even more who think that the climate is being maliciously manipulated by corporate conglomerates owned by the Central Bank to achieve global control of resources and wealth. If only that James Bond-style fantasy were true, I would be much more excited about the future which I fear is more of a slow-death conspiracy of dunces like Mike Judge’s movie, “Idiocracy”, the movie Devo should have made.

We are drowning in a devolved, WWF smackdown-style world with warring, huckster TV pundits from “The Left” and “The Right” distracting the clueless TV viewership while our vile, venal Mobster in Chief (who makes Idiocracy’s Macho Camacho look fit for office) and his corrupt minions rob the nation’s coffers in a shamelessly cruel, Grab ‘Em By The Pussy, Kleptocracy. They reflect the prevailing mentality of the electorate. Its as if Christopher Nolan wrote the script for America where Trump is the Joker handing out Cabinet positions to The Suicide Squad: Hey, Betsy “you hate public education? How’d you like to run the Department of Education? Scott, you don’t give a shit about poisoning the environment for your kids and grandkids, right? Here’s your new office, Pal. Don’t forget that soundproof phone booth!” ETC. ETC.

The rise of authoritarian leadership around the globe fed by ill-informed populism is well documented at this point. And with it we see the ugly specter of increased racism and anti-Semitism. It’s open season on those who gladly vote against their own self-interests. The exponential increase in suffering for more and more of the population is heartbreaking to see. Especially because the victims take it bending over with no lube! “Freedom of Choice is what you got. Freedom from Choice is what you want. O, yeah, those Devo clowns said that in 1980.” In the 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd”, Lonesome Rhodes is destroyed when his live TV microphone is left on while he insults the intelligence of his viewers as the show credits role. Not so today. The crowd laughs and cheers him on! “We don’t want the apples. The apples are bad for us!” a la “Animal Farm”.

So, let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late. Perhaps the reason Devo was even nominated after 15 years of eligibility is because western society seems locked in a death wish. Devo doesn’t skew so outside the box anymore. Maybe people are a bit nostalgic for our DIY originality and substance. We were the canaries in the coalmine warning our fans and foes of things to come in the guise of the Court Jester, examples of conformity in extremis in order to warn against conformity. We were certainly not the one-hit wonders like the dismissive rock press likes to say we were. We have always been the Rodney Dangerfields of Rock N Roll. We were polarizing because we did not “play ball” with the sex, drugs, rock n roll messaging dictum.

But today Devo are merely the house band on the Titanic. With three generations of fans, ten studio albums, five live albums, scores of singles, scores of music videos (a format which we pioneered) and eight world tours committed to history since our debut record, “Are We Not Men? We Are Devo” released in 1978 we stood the test of time. 2020 will be the 40th anniversary of our “Freedom of Choice” record. Don’t be surprised to see us on tour in our iconic, red “Energy Domes” that year as we careen toward the latest Presidential election/selection. Speaking truth to power is a never-ending battle. In the best-case scenario we avoid sinking into the abyss and, as a society, scratch ourselves back to square one.

Is there any question that De-evolution is real?

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