Wednesday, 11 April 2018


Devo has always identified with the political Left. Formed at Kent State University in early 1970 as a postmodernist performance art project by Gerald Casale, Bob Lewis and Mark Mothersbaugh - which, in essence, Devo remained even after primarily becoming a music band - they set out to bring 'the truth about de-evolution' to the masses. Mothersbaugh had joined the ironically named Communist group Students for a Democratic Society after being emotionally manipulated by a 'teach-in' in which SDS leaders threatened to napalm a dog in order to gain sympathy for the Cambodians after Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War. Casale felt a need to join after two of his friends were killed in the Kent State Massacre, in which the National Guard opened fire on protesting students, killing four and wounding nine, some of whom were just bystanders. And yet for all this, Devo are the most atypically Leftist band to the point of often being congruent with the Radical Right in their political incorrectness given current Leftist dogma.




Perhaps their youthful Leftism can be forgiven in the wake of such moral blackmail and the insane actions of the National Guard, which rather makes a mockery of the contemporary Left's campaign to disarm all but the government's stooges. Perhaps the Left think they have sufficient control of government institutions whereby they will have their finger on the trigger and the conservatives in their sights next time around. In fairness, one must add a footnote that tensions between conservatives and the student Left had been inflamed by Jewish leader of the Youth International Party Jerry Rubin's speech at the university three weeks earlier in which he stated that 'The first part of the Yippie program is to kill your parents. They are the first oppressors.' As ever with such people, Rubin later slinked away to become a bourgeois businessman working on Wall Street before being run over in 1994 in affluent Westwood, Los Angeles. Devo's aesthetics, though, have always been those associated with the Left, based on post-structuralism, deconstruction, absurdism, nihilism, irony, the inorganic, dissonance and minimalism.


Yet equally, Devo must be considered one of the most politically incorrect bands of all time. Often sneered at by US interviewers for critiquing the American status quo in the manner of the Leftist students they had been, they recognised that which very few did during the late '70s and early '80s: that society was becoming retarded to the point where we were beginning to see a biological degeneration in people. Their inspiration for the theory of de-evolution, whence the band's name, often came from sources criticised by the Far Left. Reverend B H Shadduck's Jocko-Homo Heavenbound was an anti-Darwinian religious tract by a Methodist preacher, one of whose other works Rastus Augustus Explains Evolution is regarded by the Left as 'racist' in its portrayal of Negroes. Oscar Kiss Maerth's The Beginning Was the End also came under fire for negative racial stereotyping upon publication in 1971. While the use of the texts, particularly in the song 'Jocko Homo' and the video short 'In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth about De-Evolution' is ironic, as both texts were clearly written by mentally unsound people, Devo have always been serious about the overarching idea of the theory of de-evolution itself. As Gerald Casale said in a 1990 interview:


A healthy disrespect for authority is what supposedly runs through the whole history of rock and roll and the whole history of individualism in America, but that's what Devo was making fun of; that's what the irony was about, because once that's institutionalised, all you have is conformity of people pretending like they're rebelling in a specified manner, so it's a joke and it's all become one big joke. [....] It's frightening that the things we talked about in de-evolution and that progress is not happening, but rather unravelling, and people are getting dumber seems to be true. I mean Beavis and Butthead are just the romanticisation of stupid spiritless people. A kind of a really frightening mass-marketing of idiocy, because it plays so well, which is bad. It's like here we are four years from the year 2000 with more information than ever, more technology than ever and the art, the expression of art, music, dance, it's getting worse.


And in that quotation Casale mouths the complaints of the Radical Right, for in his talk of that oft-abused word progress, he reveals himself as an elitist and as against the Left's levelling down of Western Man, which it has succeeded in doing through capitalism, which, one remembers, itself comes from liberalism. Indeed, Devo were often labelled as 'fascist clowns' by sections of the media, perhaps encouraged by album covers like this:


Spot the Jewish drummer.


Isn't that exactly what fascists wanted, a new traditionalism? Accusations of 'sexism' followed the video for 'Whip It', while ethnic slurs abound in Devo's work, and not just implicitly in the use of Shadduck and Maerth's material in lyrics. An early character called Chinaman appears in the aforementioned video 'In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth about De-Evolution'. Devo is perhaps also the title-holder for the most politically incorrect song to be played in the mainstream; 'Mongoloid' ticks SJW hate-boxes for both 'racism' and 'ableism', based as it is on John Langdon Down's nineteenth century theory in his paper 'Observations on an Ethnic Classification of Idiots' that Down Syndrome was a regression to a more primitive form of Man out of which the White European had evolved, that of the Mongoloid race, hence the term for sufferers of Down's Syndrome. And John Langdon Down was a progressive liberal! 


The theory was discredited in 1959 when chromasome 21 was discovered, but an interesting sidenote is this theory also helped shape H P Lovecraft's ideas on horror and race and appears in his 1927 essay 'Supernatural Horror in Literature' without the reference to Down. Even in 1977, the term mongoloid was deemed offensive and the song was originally sung in a nasal tone to be that bit more offensive. Devo's lyrics attack a Western society that has de-evolved to the point where someone with Down Syndrome can function to the point where no one notices the difference. John Langdon Down had managed to educate his inmates at his institution for the mentally subnormal into doing simple tasks that made them more independent, whereas Devo explore the reverse in which the intelligent have been dumbed down into performing simple tasks that make up the routine of daily life, hence the lyric that the mongoloid is 'happier than you and me'. The lyric 'It determined what he could see' also ought to trigger today's Left in its biological determinism - although judging by some of their Youtube comments, the Left have de-evolved so much that they don't understand Devo's message at all, yet have reified it:


"I always thought that this song meant that your value as a person was determined by how you lived your life and not by some label that someone else hung on you."

"I think you guys are missing the point, DEVO was trying to say how great the USA is, even a Mongoloid/person with Down syndrome can have a great quality of life and because of this person's condition he/she doesn't deal with the worries of everyday life because the problems that they have are far worse than the average person and the average person is basically lazy and cries about non important issues."


Ultimately, Devo have remained a Leftist band, having supported Barack Obama as a bulwark against Sarah Palin in 2008. Ironically, Bob 'Bob 2' Casale died while still waiting to have his application for Obamacare processed due to incompetence. That's the trouble with irony; it has a habit of coming back to haunt you. Their recording contract with Warner Brothers in 1980 was a foreshadowing of them selling out wholesale, like most extreme Leftists, to the mainstream Left of liberal capitalism, which saw Mark Mothersbaugh write jingles for McDonald's. They have become their own critique. Devo play at the Oakland Burger Boogaloo on June 30th and July 31st. In their younger day, they were attacked by audiences of green-haired punks. It remains to be seen whether in middle-age, they will be attacked by audiences of triggered green-haired gender-fluid SJWs.


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