The Onion recently spoke to Devo vocalist/ bassist/keyboardist Jerry Casale about his band's successes and failures, Devo covers he'd like to hear, and fist-fights with enraged Foghat fans.
The Onion: Do you think that Devo achieved its goals?
Jerry Casale: Mildly.
O: Where do you think it fell short?
JC: I think we were trying to do something which was very difficult to do. When you point out some basic flaw in the illusion that people believe, nobody tends to reward you. If you creatively put a different spin on reality with your own images—so that maybe they see how you're thinking—you can make a difference. We did a little of both. We probably tried to appeal too much to people's brains. In doing so, of course, we met with the wrath of the masses. Not really the masses; it was more the guardians of the mob. Our biggest resistance came from radio. Without radio, we couldn't go all the way in getting out our message. But more than a decade after we stopped making music and being a rock 'n' roll entity on a corporate rock 'n' roll label, people still have a high recognition factor of Devo. People remember the hats, the suits, the movements. They remember "Whip It." We are on a cultural-icon level. We burned it in despite all the efforts of those in control to kind of sweep us aside or get rid of us.
O: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Devo?
JC: That we were ad executives before we started a band, and that we sold out.
O: When Clawhammer covered the album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, there was a conversation at the beginning between the members of Clawhammer and the record label in which they make a comment about how Devo "got retarded at the end." How would you respond to those who voice that opinion?
JC: That would really be a part of de-evolution. I don't see how we would be able to escape the long arm of de-evolution ourselves. You ultimately are part of the thing you are talking about. However, if I listen now to Shout or Smooth Noodle Maps, I quite like them. I think maybe we didn't have the marketing spin and the public-relations support to have people go with us, and we certainly didn't have the dollars and the organization to keep up the huge theatrics. I dunno. Listen to "Some Things Never Change." Listen to "Devo Has Feelings Too." Listen to what we're saying. There's no dilution of the message.
O: I understand that some of the merchandise is still available. What's still around? I hear you can't get the spud rings any more.
JC: The spud rings we haven't been able to manufacture. We'd like to. Maybe it will happen. We have the yellow suits. We have the red hats. We have the original Devo T-shirts, and a couple of other things.
O: What's your favorite Devo cover?
JC: Hmm. [Pauses.] That's a hard one. [Pauses.] They're always really silly. I'm trying to remember one that wasn't. Most of them were really dinky and sad. When Soundgarden did "Girl U Want," they deconstructed it so far that it kind of made the song less interesting with all those time changes and the dirgey guitar parts. Once you slow it down, it's like pasta the next day.
O: Have you heard the Didjits' version of "Mr. DNA"?
JC: Maybe I haven't. I'd be much more interested in a band that has credibility among the spuds today. Like, if No Doubt would cover "Jerking Back And Forth," and do it really well, I think it would be a huge hit, and it would sound tremendous. I was always hoping I could talk Axl Rose into doing "Freedom Of Choice" because I like the perversity of that screaming, elfin voice saying [in said voice], "Freedom of choice!" I just wanted to hear that.
O: When you got into fist fights, could Devo hold its own?
JC: Yeah. We did all right. They assumed we were some kind of nerd intellectual wimps, and then we'd get nasty, and it would scare the shit out of them. Then they thought twice about it. That happened once in Akron in the early days at The Cave, I think it was called. No, it was not The Cave. I see the place vividly, and I'm forgetting the name. They were always called The Cave or The Cellar, you know. The Pirate's Asshole. Then, in Cleveland, it was some kind of theater, and we played by lying and saying we were a Foghat cover band, that we could do Foghat and Three Dog Night, and something else. Then we came out in clear plastic masks and firemen's work suits, and proceeded to do our own material. We'd say, "Here's one by Foghat," and then we'd do our own song. It immediately started a riot. We got into it big-time that night. It's unbelievable what happened. Then, at CBGB's in New York, a big altercation with the Dead Boys fans… Half the crowd was into us, and half the crowd was into them. They actually looked at it like a polarized situation. Cultural myopia.