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Still whipped


Photo: Joshua Dalsimer

The planet is heating up, running out of fossil fuel and getting stingy with clean air and water.

World nations seem chronically on the verge of global economic collapse.

Crazed gunmen and suicide bombers make daily headlines.

Literacy is down, obesity is up and Kim Kardashian is a household name.

Humanity, meet de-evolution. Then again, perhaps you two already know each other. After all, a rock band from Ohio named Devo has warned us about the imminent collapse of the human species for 40 years.

“It would’ve been nice to find out we were just paranoid but, you know, I think de-evolution is real. You don’t have to look far for proof,” said Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo’s lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist. “We had no idea it was going to happen so fast and so thoroughly. That’s what has kind of been a surprise for us.”

Are we not men?

Formed at Ohio’s Kent State University, Devo was as much about performance art as it was about rock ’n’ roll.

The group donned 3-D glasses, strange uniforms made of yellow paper, and red hats that presumably were energy domes but more closely resembled upturned planters.

The group embraced humanity’s fate, had fun with it — and dared music audiences in the 1970s and ’80s to understand the irony. In songs like “Jocko Homo,” “Beautiful World,” “Freedom of Choice” and “Through Being Cool,” Devo blended New Wave electro-pop with biting satire.

“We had this feeling that de-evolution is happening whether you want it to or not, so it’s best to be equipped. And the best way to be equipped is to be aware of what’s going on, so you can choose your mutations carefully,”
Mothersbaugh said. “That’s what we were all about: to be aware of what
was happening to you so you could make decisions on your own instead of
just being herded off.”

Then came “Whip It.” With its allusions to S&M and a kinky music video, the 1980 bona fide radio hit cracked Billboard’s Top
40 and would sell more than 1 million copies. For a group that didn’t
exactly work in the mainstream, the song’s success proved to be a
double-edged, um, whip.

tended to identify with the lowest-common-denominator parts of the
song,” said Mothersbaugh. “You’d go to a radio station, waiting to go in
and talk with their DJ and you’d hear him say, ‘I’ve got Devo in the
other room and I just wanna say I whipped it just this morning!

It also brought unwelcome involvement from Warner Bros. Records, Devo’s label, which wanted the
band to crank out another smash hit. When that didn’t materialize over
the next few albums, Warner dropped the band. Devo then had the bad luck
of signing with Enigma, an upstart label that went bankrupt.

“They were a fluke
that they even happened in the first place,” said Mothersbaugh. “We were
on the Enigma Titanic as it went down.”

We are Devo!

Devo effectively disbanded by 1991 so members could pursue other interests.

Mothersbaugh, in particular, wasn’t idle for long.

He dived into scoring, beginning with TV’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It would be the start of an emphasis in kid friendly
fare. In addition to his work for grown-ups — Mothersbaugh has done
extensive work with film director Wes Anderson, from 1996’s Bottle Rocket to this summer’s Moonrise Kingdom — his résumé includes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the upcoming Hotel Transylvania.

a safe bet that some of Mothersbaugh’s interest has been directed by
two adopted daughters, now 11 and 8. He admits they were particularly
persuasive in his agreeing to work on last year’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

“They said, ‘Dad, it’s the best one of the three Chipmunks! You’ve
got to do it!’” he said with a laugh. “[Having children] does change
the way you think about yourself and your art and the things you do.”

isn’t to say, however, that Mothersbaugh has completely surrendered to
child’s play. He faults the Disney Channel with a strain of
subversiveness that has crept into the behavior of his older daughter.

other day, she said, ‘In your face!’ to me and snapped her fingers and
made her head move back and forth,” he said. “That channel’s never going
to be in this house again.”

It’s another sign, no doubt, of de-evolution.

And you can’t keep a good de-evolutionist away for long. In 2010, Devo released Something for Everybody, its
first studio album in 20 years, and earlier this year released a single
about Mitt Romney’s penchant for strapping the family dog to the top of
the car, “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro! (Seamus Unleashed).” Plans for a
career-retrospective documentary are under way.

better, the band is currently on a 13-show tour with another icon of
the New Wave era, Blondie. The co-headliners hit the stage Thursday
evening at the Zoo Amphitheatre.

thinking it might have been [prompted by] Alzheimer’s,” the 62-yearold
Mothersbaugh joked, but said the deciding factor was the chance to play
with Blondie. “The Blondie thing just made us all smile. That takes us
all the way back to 1977 when we were playing clubs in Manhattan and
they were playing the same clubs. Something about making that connection
again just seemed really satisfying. And lo and behold, here we are

Hey! Read This:
Blondie interview
Moonrise Kingdom film review    
The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway Blu-ray review

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