Devo’s enduring belief in individuality in the face of constant de-evolution
By David Cotner 08/25/2011
Devo, the subversive synth-pop band formed in the wake of the Kent State shootings in Ohio in 1973, has a new album out, its first in 20 years. Members Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob Casale and Josh Freese are nothing if not concerned with the long game. Something for Everybody boldly transitions the band’s signature red energy domes to luminescent blue domes. The album’s greatest triumph comes when Devo reclaims its mantle as master of the great drum break. “Fresh,” the single from the incessantly upbeat album, inhabits the same universe as the shuffle on “Freedom of Choice,” the crushingly final hand-clap into the chorus of “Peek-a-Boo!” or even the stuttering beat gracing the theme to the film Doctor Detroit. Something for Everybody is, incidentally, “88 percent focus group approved.” Its track listing and order were chosen following extensive listening by various focus groups, the results of which can be seen on YouTube. Pragmatically, these groups were hired by the band to create a record true to its title. Devo co-founder Gerald Casale, who recently turned 63, talks about the tenets of de-evolution, the abiding existential concern that has remained the basis of Devo’s philosophy throughout the past 40 years.
VCReporter: So what’s de-evolution?
Gerald Casale: We thought that humankind was progressing in this ever-glistening world that was getting better and better, where technology was making everybody’s lives better and there was going to be domed cities and flying cars.
We saw the opposite. We saw evidence all around us, and more so even today, that things were going backwards.
That people weren’t getting smarter, things weren’t working better, they were crumbling. They were falling apart. There was entropy. That’s it in a nutshell: de-evolution. Regression. If you look at cable news, the 24/7 tabloidesque news style where everything — everything! — is like tabloid news, it’s a hideous parade of triviality and stupidity.
Are there more people on the side of de-evolution than fighting against it?
I don’t even think it’s about being for or against it all. You know how a fish doesn’t even know it’s in the water?
People don’t even realize what they’re a part of, what they’ve accepted as reality. They’re just going with it. The way we organize our priorities, the way we think, the way we approach problems is devolved. People just repeat three- or four-word sound bites that they hear.
Philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff talked about people being asleep and their potential being completely unrealized, and that’s something reminiscent of de-evolution.
I think that’s happening more and more. People are anesthetized and they’re on autopilot.
In the face of de-evolution, are there things about which you’re nostalgic? Is nostalgia a part of de-evolution?
Nostalgia’s a tough thing. That’s an illusion, too. That’s a trap. If I were nostalgic for anything, it would be the fact that we used to be able to have an intelligent conversation with a large range of people. And now I can count on one hand how many times that occurs for me in a year.
Is de-evolution independent of class or economics?
You would expect those of privilege and entitlement to be some exception to the rule, but I feel that they were the driving force and the first adapters [to de-evolution] because those people, with the greatest means, and possibly the highest IQs, have the worst value systems. They’re mean, they’re petty. If you only had eight crayons and a piece of paper, you might be focused enough to get really creative, but what’s happened now, in this land of plenty, it’s just plenty of junk! Now you’ve got 128 crayons — and that’s the Internet — and you’ve got tons of disinformation and junk, and you’re overwhelmed. People keep regurgitating the same thing over and over and over. It’s almost like the disinformation overload where they can’t even get creative. They’re inundated. That’s what’s strange: you would think, with all this access to information and tools and what other people are doing, that it would propel creativity exponentially but instead it just produced a soup of rehash and regurgitation and remakes.
Are there any bright points these days? We can’t have this be a completely depressing interview.
Automobiles. There’s been an explosion of great design and safety features so you can go really fast, crash, and still be alive.
Do you see a certain level of de-evolution in yourself?
Absolutely! We never excluded ourselves from the quotient. Part of it is just the humiliation of aging. It makes it harder and harder to live driven by ideas. You become more and more mired in physical satisfaction. Whether that’s just a good meal, who’s your next sex conquest or whatever.
How can people actively fight against de-evolution?
Stimulate the upper brain as much as possible. There are still people out there who read.