Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Martian Dance Flashback! - The Devo2.0 story

My goal is to get to a point where i'm writing in here daily, in the hopes that it jumpstarts my writing in other areas. Today, however, my body conspired to sabotage my blogging efforts. After walking to the Church of Murray for Zebras practice today, i stopped at "Mister Senor's" taco stand, near the Dog's Bollocks and Paddy's on Murray. (Yes, the name of the place is "Mister Mister's," and no, i have yet to hear "Kyrie" or "Broken Wings" piped through their stereo). That and a Spotted Cow were my pre-practice dinner. ONE Spotted Cow.

Flash forward to band practice, where somehow i have become simultaneously drunk and hung over from the ONE Spotted Cow. A raging headache was combined with sluggish reflexes and a severe case of the drumstick dropsies to gift me with the sensation of what it would have felt like had Kitty Pryde attempted to play drums after the Marvel Mutant Massacre. After a solid hour and a half of "what the fuck is wrong with my wrists," we adjourned and i hi-tailed it to my couch, where i spent the rest of the evening finishing up my rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6. Oh, the sobs, they did flow like New Glarus.

So with that as my excuse, i will now regale you with an old classic from my LiveJournal days. It fits the theme of the last few days because it's a music-related tale--one that i told in abridged form to Faiz during the Archers show on Saturday. Sit back and chew on the time that Keith Brammer and i met DEVO 2.0 at Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa back in 2006.


I Am Your Favorite DJ: A Blip on the Screen (hotshotrobot) wrote,
@ 2006-04-07 16:51:00

Last Saturday. I'm at Josh's place, admiring our recently-acquired Hot Nuggets! CDs and vinyl, when my phone rings. It's Keith, my pal who recently scored a music editor/writer-type job at The Onion. "Hey DJ," he starts, "have you seen anything about this Devo 2.0 thing?"

"YEAH! It's totally fucked up! It's like this weird subversive extention to Devolution!"

"Ya know, that's exactly my take on it. I mean, to have a 13-year-old girl singing 'Uncontrollable Urge...'"

"I KNOW! That's totally the video i saw and thought, 'ok, this is WEIRD.'"

"Yeah, well, anyway, they're doing this tour of grade schools, and they're going to be playing at a grade school in Wauwatosa on Friday. It's closed to the public, but i contacted them through The Onion and they're into me going down and covering it, and i think i can bring someone. Can you get out of work and go?"

"HOLY SHIT. Are you serious? Yes. Whatever i need to do to get out of work, i will in order to see this."

And so that's how i found myself this afternoon at Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa, watching five Southern California kids playing Devo covers as authorized by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale.

We walked into the grade school, and i seriously want you to picture this properly: This is a parochial grade school. There are crosses and references to prayer and Jesus all over the place. Every kid has some sort of red uniform on--sweaters for the boys and plaid dresses for the girls (who are all younger than 11, you sicko). And in walk the drummer from IfIHadAHiFi and the ex-bassist from Die Kreuzen, dressed in variations of black and leather and sunglasses and rocker hair and what have you. We check in at the office, and the secretary goes to look for Diane(?), the tour manager (who, as it turns out, is also the keyboard player's mom). Eventually she finds us, and she is completely tickled (as is the rest of the crew) that The Onion is here to witness this grand spectacle (never mind that it's one dude from The Onion, but just in case they're weird about someone being a guest, i just make like i'm Keith's assistant or something and simply don't say that i'm not with The Onion). We BS for awhile, tell her we're musicians and Devo fans from way back, etc. etc. She shows us that she has Gerry Casale on her cell phone and if we want, she can call him later and have Keith talk to him. Keith is understandably geeked.

So we wander into the gym, where (i overheard an estimate of) 700 grade school kids were sitting down on the gym floor waiting for DEVO 2.0. The instruments are set up, and there's a video screen ready to play the backing videos they have cued up to the music. Some cornball emcee (who was actually a pretty nice normal guy off mic) comes out and starts in with the "HEY WAUWATOSA! ARE YOU RRRRRREADY?" But before the band comes out, he has to explain why the band is there. It's in conjunction with this website called, that exists to increase awareness of and promote music and art education in schools. So they have some kids from the audience line up, and the emcee asks them why learning about music in school is important, and the kids read off answers that are conveniently located on the handout every kid has been given, like "helps student achieve in other academic subjects like math, science, and reading" (note: the boy mispronounced "academic." it was funny).

But finally, it was time for DEVO 2.0. The lights hit and the 700(?) kids screamed like the junior banshee coalition, and out ran the band! If you haven't seen pictures, they have two blonde girls, one on keys and one singing lead, and boys on guitar, bass, and drums. And that drummer could fucking play! He was solid, his tempo was in perfect time with the few synth lines that were sequenced, and he was a showman, all twirling his sticks and shit. When i was his age, i was just starting to play. Fuck that kid.

While Keith and i watched the performance, silly-ass grins were plastered on our faces the entire time. The ages of the band members ranged from 11 to 14, and here they were playing "Girl U Want" with a video screen displaying a 50s-style advertising graphic of a girl pointing at a box of soap labeled "Girl U Want." As Keith pointed out, a song about sex accompanied by a graphic representing the commodification of the subject matter, being performed in a fucking goddamn parochial grade school was probably the most subversive thing we've ever seen, at least since the last time we watched Starship Troopers.

They launched into "Uncontrollable Urge"(I KNOW!!!), and the video screen was covered in potatoes, and the beginning of the video featured a particularly elongated spud creeping up from the bottom of the screen, and goddamn if it didn't look totally like a big ol' potato cock preparing for takeoff. Seriously. I think there may have been nuns in the room.

I did start to notice how the lyrics to many of the songs have been tweaked to sanitize them for the kiddies, though. At the end of "Beautiful World," the singer, Nicole, sings "For you...and for me too" instead of the original "for you...not for me." On the surface, i can see why Devo fans might be pissed at the sanitizing of the lyrics for the kiddie audience, but it was at this moment that i realized just how brilliant this whole project is.

Picture this: you're a 10-year-old kid at a Jesus-loving, conservative grade school. Devo 2.0 are playing in your gym. Maybe it's the first concert you've ever seen. You're bobbing your head and singing and freaking out and screaming to "Beautiful World." Then, you become a teenager or young adult, and start becoming more exposed to music in general. Maybe you've discovered punk rock, maybe you're listening to Beyonce. Whatever. At some point, you will stumble across a release by the original Devo. "Hey!" You think to yourself. "My first concert was the kiddie version of Devo. Those songs were great! I should grab this and hear what the originals were like." You buy New Traditionalists and throw it into your CD player. Because you were an obsessive 10-year-old kid when you first heard these songs, you know the lyrics as you heard them Disneyfied by heart. Suddenly, you notice that the original lyrics aren't the same as what you remember. "Wait. 'It's a beautiful world/for you/but NOT for me'?"

And your mind is blown, because suddenly you're thinking about the real meaning of this song you learned as a kiddie song, and you find yourself possibly thinking about the meaning behind the words more than any first-generation Devo fan has before you.

This is why Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale are fucking mad fucking geniuses.

After the performance, the band lined up to answer questions from the kids. While this began, tour manager/keyboard mom Diane came up to us and said, "Please, be completely honest--what did you think?" Keith's laughter-ridden reply: "It's completely fucked up!" She laughed, because she knew exactly what he meant. She then rolled camera by us and shot the Q-n-A. During band introductions, each band member was asked to say something about why music and music education is important to them. The bassist said something really quite poignant and excellent by saying, "music taught me that when you're playing music, you can be as awkward or weird or out there as you want, and it doesn't matter." I was so stoked to know that these kids in school uniforms were hearing this from someone close to their age. Then, someone, either the emcee or one of the band members, said something about how music keeps you away from drugs and alcohol, and Diane found herself focusing the camera on Keith and me, doubled over in gut-busting laughter. "You have to understand," i said to her, "that's not exactly what our experience in music has been like." "Oh, of course!" she replied. "It gets you into drugs and alcohol; i know that."

So awesome.

Afterward, she led us downstairs to meet the band before they toured the classrooms to sign autographs. As we walked across the gym, Keith said, "is there any way this could be any more cool?" "Well," i replied, "We could walk into their bus and find a huge pile of cocaine waiting for us."

So then we were introduced as being from The Onion, and we explained to the band what The Onion was. The 11-year-old keyboardist asked us if they could get a copy, and we said, "Yeah, there's one in the car; we can get it for you later." Keith added, "Just don't tell your parents we gave it to you."

So we BS for awhile--the kids ask if we're in bands, we say yes, they think it's super-cool, and they actually start asking us questions about playing music and stuff. I ask the drummer what else he listens to lately, and he explains that he has another band back home that plays "more prog stuff, like Mars Volta, or Yes, or King Crimson." THIS KID IS FOURTEEN! And he's a good enough drummer that i'm assuming that the rest of his other band are probably decent musicians too. Fucking ridic. The drummer (his name's Kane, btw) says something about how Josh Freese is his favorite drummer and that he tries to be a showman like him, and Keith says, "Heck, you should see DJ here," which leads me to mentioning how i lit my drums on fire once, which impresses the hell out of these Disney-sponsored pre-teen rock stars. YES, THAT'S RIGHT, I TOLD DEVO 2.0 ABOUT SETTING MY DRUMS ON FIRE IN ORDER TO IMPRESS THEM. I AM SO FUCKING COOL.

But in all seriousness, for being kids thrown onto a tour bus, they were really sweet, down-to-earth, and really sharp. These kids aren't idiots--they know something about music. They know at least who Sid Vicious and the Ramones and The Clash were. And from the impression we got, they know exactly what role they play in De-evolution. They then had to start their classroom tour, so they said goodbye and shook our hands and said cute kid things like "you guys rock!"

And then Keith and i left Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, giggling like complete dorks. The end.


POSTSCRIPT: So apparently that Wiki article i linked to above has this to say about the fate of Devo 2.0:

The band split up in 2007 when lead singer Nicole Stoehr and lead guitarist Nathan Norman quit and said they would never make music again because the album became a flop.

*sad trombone*

1 comment:

  1. heh, i remember this story from the first time around!