The Friday Morning Listen: Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

When I’ve gone back to revisit Devo‘s first appearance on Saturday Night Live (October 14, 1978), it still seems kind of shocking. I hadn’t yet heard them on the radio, so their bizarre cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and especially the beyond-bizarre performance of “Jocko Homo” had me staring at the my little black and white teevee screen with my eyes bugged out. Yes, you read that right: black and white. It was my prized Zenith 13-inch, purchased several years earlier with Hartford Courant paper route money. I used it to watch only “weird” stuff: Saturday Night Live, Stacey’s Country Jambouree (you’d have to be from Maine to understand that), and professional wrestling. This SNL segment was easily the weirdest thing I’d ever seen on that box.

So yeah, there’s the short film featuring Booji Boy, to be followed by the twitchy crew with Mark Mothersbaugh singing about us evolving up from little snails… and I am just transfixed. What the hell did I just see??! And what the hell is “de-evolution”?!

Devo were often labeled a “new wave” band but their unique sound really placed them in a genre of their own. A few years later, they hit it big with the release of Freedom Of Choice. You couldn’t make it through a day without hearing “Whip It” several times, or seeing somebody with a Devo sweatshirt and red flowerpot hat. There would also be arguments about which was better, stuff from the “Whip It” explosion or the earlier, much odder debut album. As much as I loved Freedom, whose “Girl U Want” was one of the first tunes I learned to play on electric guitar, my heart was with Booji Boy. This is sort of like the B-52s debate: “Love Shack” or “Rock Lobster”? (C’mon, it’s friggin’ “Rock Lobster” and you know it!)

So this week we learned of the death of Devo guitarist Bob Casale. 61 years old. Far too early. It’s yet another reminder that sometimes life can be brutally short. I’ll listen to Q: Are We Not Men on the way to work today, and then I’ll pull out my original pink marble vinyl over the weekend. Nostalgia? Yep. You’re only 17 once…and you’re probably too stupid to realize that. I know I was.

I can’t believe I never bought one of those red hats.

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(Feature photo by Eric Blum)

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.