Monday, August 14, 2006

Time Out for Fun

I think it's fair to say that my general fixation with all things Devo, was upgraded to full-blown geekspud spaz-out the moment I purchased a ticket for their upcoming concert stop in Seattle...

So, while I take some time to recollect my thoughts from the overwhelming spectacle I'm about to talk about, please consider the following: It took less than 30 years to go from this, to this (click on "Video" once you get to the site).

Wow. Wowowow.

I, uh...I'm at a total loss for words.

And yet, would it be right to call Mr. Mothersbaugh and Mr. Casale sell outs?

I don't know...Yes, we can point out the fact that both "Whip It" and "Beautiful World" were both recently co-opted to sell the Swiffer and GM products, respectively (though, it's not the first time "Whip It" has been sullied). And while we can take comfort in the fact that "Too Much Paranoias" hasn't been sold to Burger King, we should also note that Devo's 8th album (nine years after their debut) was comprised entirely of easy-listening muzak versions of their hits, arranged and performed by Mark Mothersbaugh himself.

An elaborate in-joke or a sign of things to come? Both? And if we're to accept the co-option of some of the most subversive and catchy music out there by one of the more influential Mr. Hinkydink outfits in the world; how can we avoid feeling as depressed and angered as when we first heard Iggy Pop used to sell Caribbean cruises?

That last is a particular tough sell, but it's possible. Take for granted that this collaboration would constitute a major paycheck for Booji Boy and co., and that Mr. Mothersbaugh has been well-established as a film composer since Devo hung up their collective energy domes, thereby making it easier to see this catalogue of material as having surpassed its usefulness beyond the odd buck here and there.

Let's start with this Disney-branded abomination called Dev2.0. Never mind the musicality (which is close enough to the original as to be a mindless copy), because the intended audience won't give a shit about that. In fact, the intended audience will only care about the energetic tunes provided, however spirit-less. I can see how Dev2.0 could be considered a slam dunk for the big eared corporation, seeing as it is made up of catchy tunes that are vaguely familiar for the adults, who won't mind having to listen to it over and over and over again.

After some consideration, it seems humorously fitting that the former Church of the SubGenius pioneers are now having their message and music spread by prepubescent sprats who have no idea what the songs they're singing are really about; this is partly due to the slightly altered lyrics provided by Mothersbaugh/Casale. Not sure why they seemed necessary, but it's likely that Disney wasn't comfortable with some of the messages the songs originally espoused.

Which is why a song about masturbation becomes a song about compulsive snacking ("Uncontrollable Urge"). The song that used to be anti-consumerism now celebrates it ("Freedom of Choice"). And the slam on Reaganite Republicans' worldview is now a gentle shrug ("Beautiful World").

My question is, who are these parents who'd object to having their kids listen to the unexpurgated versions? Do they exist? Are these the same people who missed the inherent irony behind "Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)?" I mean, I just don't see the necessity for the cleaned up versions of the song. My mother may have had reservations about having me listen to the Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," but it didn't stop her from playing Sgt. Pepper's. Same applies to the Krishna song in the Hair soundtrack. This is why I don't work for marketers...

The more I think about it, the more I start to believe that this may be Devo's finest act of subversion yet, because sooner or later the kids that have listened to Dev2.0 faithfully will find out about the difference, and probably at a point where they'll be able to grok the original intent behind the songs. Imagine deciphering the lyrics correctly for the first time, imagine the doors of thought suddenly open to a new generation. Imagine Devo regaining relevance more than four decades after their initial break up.

This way Devo gets to have their cake and eat it too.

Either that, or they simply needed the money, and all of the above are just beneficial side effects. Who can say?


At 3:46 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

What's interesting to me is that Devo was always about becoming a true pop band, about subverting the mainstream by becoming a part of it. There are bigger questions at play here, as to whether there's something intrinsically reactionary about wanting to remain "underground", about whether you can infiltrate the market without becoming tainted by its values, whether subversive mainstream art achieves mainstream art because of or in spite of its apparent subversive values.

With Devo, it becomes even tougher; like Talking Heads, they seemed to both embrace and critique capitalism, both mocking and aggrandizing the up-by-the-bootstraps mentality. Like all postpunk bands, they eschewed big-market capitalism to create an even more libertarian-style microcapitalism.

I also have to wonder about the corporate motivation in rehashing the material and marketing to a new audience. It seems like Disney must have been savvy enough to recognize the original messages; otherwise, why change them? But given that, aren't they taking a risk by putting even a corrupted revival up for the kids, by creating a real risk that the kids will rediscover the real thing? Maybe they don't recognize the subversive power of it. OR maybe they're smarter--and more postmodern--than we realize, subverting the subversive by co-opting in, de-fanging it, and exposing the mechanics of their own chicanery.

OK, now I'm either confused or depressed. But still, a very interesting post.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

Damnit, this is all way to convoluted for me to contemplate before I've consumed my first cup of coffee...

See, I'm even being unintentionally alliterative, and that's something I normally have to WORK at...

I can only hope you're both right, and that Mothersbaugh & Co. do in fact know what kind of a devilish deal they've made, and are hoping that by doing so, they might actually subvert the hyper-consumerism that seems to be the birthright of Generation Z or whatever the pundits have labeled the latest batch of precocious little spuds.

But, that's an awfully major demon to be sliding between the sheets with, and I too fear they may be playing a triple-cross by subverting the subversion, although my first supposition is that it's really only about maximizing shareholder value, and that the suits at Big Ears, Inc. couldn't really care less about that sort of post-post modern paradigm; they're just in it for the money.

What I'm really afraid of, is that I'm going to wake up one morning to find out Disney just purchased the entire Rhino and Stiff Records Catalogue, in which case we're all doomed, because even if the kiddies do get curious enough to go back to the roots as it were, the suits will still make money off it, no matter what.

"Conformity - it's the new rebellion."

At 12:29 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

This just in:

(UPI) New York, NY: Reliable sources within the music arm of Disney Corp. are bragginng about their latest coup.

On the heels of landing the exclusive performance rights to the majority of post-punk pioneers Devo's catalogue, there are early rumours that the Big Ears company has landed rights to music from another anti-establishment iconoclast: Jello Biafra.

(Mr. Biafra, who currently resides in San Francisco, CA, could not be reached for comment.)

If these rumors are proven true, talks are that they will follow the formula already laid out by the willing co-operation for Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale; the creation of a band made up of kids in their pre-teens for kids in their pre-teens (Dev2.0 in the earlier case). Biafra would come in with re-written lyrics, re-record the music with talent found by Disney, with the intent of releasing the new cuts on Disney's music label.

The name of the new band would be Kid DK. Possible track titles include: California Uber-Friendly, Too Punk To Funk and Holiday in Cambodia.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Heh, heh.

California Uber-Friendly. Priceless.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Must credit our friend in Ashland, OR for coming up with the concept of a Disney-fied DK.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Oh, and Chris, I think it's important to note that everything I've read on the matter seems to indicate that the rights to the material still belong to Mothersbaugh/Casale, so they are still the major beneficiaries of this deal.

If anyone finds something that refutes this, please let me know, so I can start burning effigies.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Arright, you guys need to listen to this before you make up your mind on the whole Devo sellout thing. I listened to this interview a couple of months ago and in it Mike Mothersbaugh holds forth on many things including subverting advertising.
At least, if you've got some time to kill...

I think you have to cut and paste the link...

At 10:43 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

Thanks, Kate.

Dev2.0 is mentioned at the very tail end of the interview, and he talks about it as a means to further spread the Devo virus...Not exactly in the most convincing way, but I'm willing to buy that at least they've thought about it.


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