14 December, 2008

What do Devo & Jodie Foster have in common?

Well, if we play the Kevin Bacon "6 Degrees of Separation" game, then of course, you could tie Devo to Jodie Foster just as easily as you could tie Newt Gingrich to Anna Nicole Smith, or Michael Jordan to Josef Stalin.

But for this one, we only need to play "1 Degree of Separation". The common link between Devo and Jodie Foster is John Hinckley. What do they have in common? Well, of course, we all know about John Hinckley because his obsession with Jodie Foster led this troubled man to make an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The result of this action was that Hinckley has spent the rest of his life, since 1980, in psychiatric institutions.

At some point in time, Mark Mothersbaugh, singer and writer for the band Devo, came across some poetry that Hinckley had written about his love for Jodie Foster. Thinking that the poems were excellent, and "totally Devo" in their nature, he sought permission from Hinckley to use the lyrics in a new Devo song. And he was granted permission. The song went on to become "I Desire" and it appeared on the 5th Devo album, "Oh No! It's Devo". You can hear the song on YouTube here. The album actually gives song-writing credit to John Hinckley, and the record company was not particularly pleased with this at all. Fortunately for the record label, the song was not a hit, and they never needed to answer to the critics or face protests against using the lyrics of an assassin.

So, why am I even knowing these things?

Well, for some time now, I have been on another "Devo kick", listening to just about all of their material, and once again admiring how amazing of a band these guys were. Sadly, Devo, who were actually a highly cerebral band, with an entire backstory, as well as massive quantities of multimedia that supported and intermixed with their music, were never really taken more seriously by the mainstream than being a "quirky" band. The philosophy of Devo was that (in generalized terms), humankind was actually devolving because of the world that we have crafted for ourselves. Yet, they were most famous for the song "Whip It".

In addition to writing clever, bizarre, and disturbing lyrics, the band had many notable musical elements. They were among the pioneers of elaborate synthesizer use for both melodic, as well as more noise-like sounds. Their early records featured spectacular acoustic drumming by original drummer Alan Myers. Their songs often used atypical time signatures. And three different members of the band were prominently featured on lead vocals (though the majority of songs were sung by 2 of the members).

I will resist the urge to do a wholesale YouTube linking affair on here, because I trust you can locate things like their live performances, and early videos, if you wish to find them.

But... because I cannot resist, I'll just point you to a few jumping off points that I really think you should see.

  1. 1980 - Playing Gates of Steel live
  2. 1980 - Playing Uncontrollable Urge live
  3. 1977 - Video for Satisfaction (Stones cover)
  4. 1977 - Video for Come Back Jonee

Interestingly, the most recent video from local Seattle band, Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, has the band dressing up like Devo in part of the video. This is interesting because normally, Brent Amaker and the Rodeo are dressed like Devo dresses in the video above for Come Back Jonee. Clearly, the idea for this new video must have come from that place. The video was done by Seattle artists Black Daisy.

No comments:

Post a Comment