Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Spudboy

I endured my 45th birthday yesterday. I'm neurotic about birthdays (and Christmas, the only holiday I really would declare war on) so I kept it on the down-low as much as possible. People at work have been asking when my birthday is; I told them I don't have one. Mrs. K. begged me to allow her to give me a gift or take me out and eventually she wore me down enough that I let her cook me a delicious steak dinner. This was very generous of her because she doesn't like steak, and it certainly was delicious; the only think that kept it from being a perfect meal is that it had that birthday thing attached to it.

Otherwise I made it a point to avoid "celebrating". For example, I spent the early part of the day cleaning house, like I would do any Sunday. Perhaps the only other concession I made to this day was watching a DVD of DEVO videos.

Devo is a pet obsession of mine. I love that a band so weird, brainy and angry made it to the top of the charts. It never should have happened. And reviewing the material, it strikes me that they were 10 times weirder and angrier than I recognized at the time. Their sound was a LOT closer to the Residents than Van Halen.

Also you think of them as one of the major synth bands, but the truth is that the music they're most famous for is guitar and drum-driven. WHIP IT, for example, has a synth for accents but the hook is that perky, nervous guitar figure. Same with JOCKO HOMO or GIRL U WANT.

They had an aggressive, insectoid sexuality about them. These were horny nerds. All of their most tasteless material (the number of times they nickname a girl "Donut" in these videos is staggering) concerns sex. In fact all their videos arguably are songs about sex (GIRL YOU WANT, PEEKABOO, WHIP IT) or protest songs (BEAUTIFUL WORLD, POST-POST MODERN MAN, FREEDOM OF CHOICE). Yes, protest songs. Devo was the Barry McGuire of the eighties.

The spudboys had about 8 years at the top, a pretty good run for a rock band, but they spent most of the time then and all of their time now resenting Warner Brothers records. Check out sleazy music-biz-caricature "Rod Rooter" of Big Entertainment in a couple of promos for the band. He brought to mind a bit of stage banter I heard on a live recording of JOCKO HOMO in the early nineties - it was a slow accoutic folk version and when it was done Mark Mothersbaugh said, "I bet you didn't know that was such a sad song. And I bet you don't know why we are sitting down... it's to prove that we still can, after twelve years in this business."

Devo concieved and directed their own videos, and it shows. They weren't just trying to sell records, they were making points. That always translates to low production values. In a few cases, low LOW production values.

This combination or art, anger, twisted geek sex and weirdness helped shape me, making me into the man I am today.

I forgive them.

1 comment:

emilymm said...

this acoustic version of jocko homo you speak of... i have been trying to find it for years. any idea what album it's on?