There is a lot more to Devo than whips and silly hats. Other than the band, no one knows this better than Jade Dellinger, co-author of the book We Are Devo!: Deviants in a Post-Modern World. (Currently, it’s the only biography about the post-punk/New Wave pioneers.)
“It’s sort of about the evolution and development of this, kind of, creative collective that became a band and unfortunately had a hit,” Dellinger says.
What many music fans don’t know is that Devo’s first intention was to not have a hit. When the members met at Kent State University in Ohio, their guiding principle was de-evolution, the theory that mankind is regressing instead of moving forward. This is driven home lyrically in several Devo songs, but most listeners never get past the yellow jumpsuits and quirky yet amazing synth-heavy dance beats.
“That was sort of the blessing and the curse, because they were written off as a novelty act,” Dellinger says. “They were making all of these little art films – that’s sort of how they thought of them – they became a staple on MTV because they had a quite a lot of material that was immediately available and accessible to MTV. Then all of the costumes, which basically for them were highly kind of conceptual and about performance art, became not only the thing that attracted people but also became this thing that they got so immediately written off for.”
Dellinger, along with co-author David Giffels, devotes much of the book to revealing how the band’s education and art enthusiasm influenced the final product.
“It’s sort of heavily slanted to their early history. There are about 25 chapters before they sign a record deal, even,” he says. Dellinger and Giffels interviewed family members, girlfriends, ex-wives, lawyers, Devo’s peers at the time and rifled through art work, early photos, demos and other documents for the book.
Dellinger says they spoke to anyone and everyone who would talk, including those were not so pleased with the band anymore (read: ex-band members). He says this made for some uncomfortable situations, but ultimately gave the story a sense of truth. In other words, it’s not just a PR blow job.
“Sadly, there are members of the band who are supportive and feel that what we did was an important contribution, and there are those who are still not speaking us with us,” he says. A lot of this, Dellinger says, has to do with a key “Devo rule” (so to speak): their personal identities had to be kept out of the band.
“It was about anonymity, it wasn’t about stars or having a frontman,” he says. “Mark Mothersbaugh was really fearful that [the book] would really shatter the image they had created, that it would tamper with art.”
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But this is exactly what makes the book so interesting. Letting the cat of out of the bag, as it were, lends Devo a deeper appeal. They weren’t just some goofy guys dong kooky stuff, there was a lot of thought and integrity behind their music.
“That was the goal for us in writing the book, to give people the sense of not only the humanity but really what this thing was that was so quickly written off,” Dellinger says. “I think if anything the book has provided some depth, that was always there, but the band was unwilling on some levels to let that be known,” he says.
Read and hear all about it at noon today, when Dellinger discusses and signs copies of We Are Devo! at Domy, 1709 Westheimer. - Dusti Rhodes
Call 713-523-3669 or visit www.domystore.com for further information. Free.