Below is an interview I conducted with Gerald Casales of 'DEVO' in 2008.
Marshall McLuhan once described Richard Nixon in a televised debate with Gerald Ford as being in a state of ‘Panic Cool’-saying nothing-training attention on image. Would that statement sum up what in fact ‘D-evolution’ is? What society has become?
A: There is a tangential relationship there in that description. AS far back as Nixon “democratic elections” had already been reduced to cynical media show. While not a par with sophisticated 24/7 “Videodrome” news cycles that powerfully imprint post-hypnotic suggestions in the child-like populous the political puppeteers understood that style trumped content. Devolution figures in because the post-Atomic Bomb generation was raised on TV. There cognitive skills were already on the wane. They favoured slogans and sound-bites over complex information that had to be critically analyzed to be digested properly.
Complacency Breeds Contempt
Would you agree that the collective is riddled with contempt, therefore modern complacency? Are modern art forms too complacent?
A: We are now like a second rate version of China. They simply shot from Communist models to streamlined Capitalist models, deftly by-passing the mess of Democracy. Here Capitalism was always at odds with Democratic ideals. The two nervously co-existed until push came to shove. Now democracy is merely an illusion, one more slogan to be marketed as a hollow brand. People are complacent because they are balless. Of course they hate themselves for not having the strength to take risks. But the Corporate Feudal State has reduced them to fear-driven consumers who just want to keep their jobs so they can keep buying things that make them have to work in the first place. Imagine a Hampster smart enough to know it’s doomed to run inside the wheel yet too scared to jump off. Artists today reflect that condition, some, like Jeff Koons, take it to a transcendent, self-mocking, irony.
It seems only ‘negative’ cultural expression is rewarded these days. There is very little out there in the way of contemporary ‘enlightenment.’ A message like DEVO’s is critical to reach a new generation. Can you explain your methods to trigger the message in a society much changed and paranoid?
A: Recording artists in particular are rewarded for wallowing in low consciousness. Musically and lyrically they celebrate the mundane hell that is 21st century existence. That’s why Rap and Hip-Hop sell the most. Murder, drugs, prostitution and “bling bling” are all that matter. Business as usual is sold to a heavy, hypnotic beat - or as “Fiddy Cent” put it, “Get rich or die tryin’”. Most die tryin’. Devo tried to show an alternate world. We tried to excite people above and below the waist. We wanted them to be able to take a vacation from the hideous reality they faced daily. We did it with humor and satire. Those methods meet a brick wall now that de-evolution is a fact, not a smart ass college pose. So, we don’t have new tactics except to be the house band on the Titanic.
Do you find because there is so much information out there and available, we have become less able to communicate with each other on a one to one basis, to the point where nothing can be ‘defined’?
A: Of course this is what has happened. It’s exactly why tabloid news is indistinguishable from “hard news”. A few years ago Tom Suskind (check name), investigative reporter for the New York Times managed to get inside the Bush Campaign organization and ask serious questions about Karl Rove and others in Bush’s unholy Junta. Certain individuals within the campaign organisation opened up to him and their quotes were hideously numbing. Staffers were practically cackling about their Swift Boating of John Kerry even though he was a war hero. One said “You people (meaning democrats) still think the facts matter. You think logical arguments will win the day. Get over it. We make up the facts. Then before you can deal with that we change the game with a new set of facts. You’ll never catch us.”
It’s all “Animal Farm” now. The rules on the side of the barn change and the sheep can’t remember what was said last week. It’s why the Iraq War was an easy sell. It’s a culture of morons and the concept of democracy was the first casualty.
When I met you all backstage my first impression was you were incredibly approachable and the uniforms allowed you to be selfless. These are two of the founding virtues of success, would you like to divulge on what success is to you?
A: Well you are correct, sir, and you asked the right person. For me success has nothing to do with money. Money can be a reward for doing something right. Devo did something right. We did as good as we could as long as we could. We fought the good fight. I guess you can’t expect a group of boys growing to be men to stick together forever. But for at least 20 years we were the 5 Musketeers, speaking with one, unified voice and sharing an artistic vision that had substance. That was where our power lied; the super ego of the group over the petty ego of the individual.
Once people stopped rowing together it was easy for the record and radio business to bring us down. The artist is always being resisted and second- guessed. No one wants you to succeed. But when you succeed against all odds, the town throws a party and welcomes you with open arms. Then they wait for you to fail so they can feel secure that nothing really means anything.
Would you say you come from the first generation of T.V. childhood and how important was the influence of the T.V. theme tune to the development of the ‘DEVO’ philosophy?
A: Again, I think I at least partially addressed this before. Absolutely we were a product of programming, commercials, slogans, Utopian dreams about the future all funneled through TV content. We spit it out as ironic satire at the same time we embodied it. Why do you think that our mascot character, Booji Boy, says “We’re all Devo” in the first film we made in 1975? We meant it. We did not separate ourselves from the stew of de-evolution.
This is no trick question but is there any reference to Frank Devol within the structure of the DEVO corporation?
A: I plead ignorance. Should I know who Frank Devol is?
(link) to Frank Devol's Wikipedia entry
(link) to Devo's 1975 film.
* 'The Medium is the Massage' is a series I shot in Madrid 1999 on 10x8 Polaroid