The members of Devo think getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be a good thing after five decades of music-making.
The new wave band, which has been eligible for induction since 2003, is part of the class of 2022 alongside Duran Duran, Beck, Eminem, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, Fela Kuti, MC5, New York Dolls, Dolly Parton, Rage Against the Machine, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon, A Tribe Called Quest, Dionne Warwick, Pat Benatar and Kate Bush. Not all will be inducted, however.
Fans can vote, selecting up to five of the nominees for induction, through Friday, April 29 at vote.rockhall.com, but ultimately it’s up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to decide who makes the cut.
“It’s nice to be acknowledged for the things you’ve done,” Devo vocalist-guitarist Mark Mothersbaugh said during a recent Zoom call. “We know what we did, but it’s nice when other people know what you did, too.”
“It feels good to be recognized even by some self-appointed official body,” Devo vocalist-bassist Gerald Casale said during a separate Zoom interview. “If you think about an artist, they stick themselves out there in front of people, right? They risk failure and ridicule and suddenly when what you’re doing turns around and gets accepted, it’s just dishonest to say you don’t feel good about it.
“But on the other hand, if we don’t get in I wouldn’t be surprised. We’re used to that. It would be nice to get in now instead of getting in posthumously,” said Casale.
Devo formed in Akron, Ohio in 1973 — about 40 miles south of where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland. A collective of artists, humorists and intellectuals, the band’s lyrical content offered biting social commentary with stark warnings of de-evolution with songs like “Jacko Homo,” “Uncontrollable Urge” and “Whip It.”
They weren’t taken very seriously. Sure, they did don yellow hazmat suits and sport energy dome helmets on stage, but that was all part of the performance art.
Now, five decades later, Mothersbaugh and Casale said that though they were often misunderstood, they take pride in what they’ve created. However, they take absolutely no joy in being proven right about de-evolution.
“We’re like the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll,” Casale said with a laugh before repeating the late comic’s famous line about not getting any respect. “If you listen to those songs, like ‘Freedom of Choice,’ we’re saying ‘Freedom of choice is what you got, Freedom from choice is what you want,’ right? We’re talking about the duality of human nature and how we always end back up at square one. There’s so many songs that dealt with that. ‘Beautiful World’ … ‘It’s a beautiful world, for you; It’s not for me.’ I mean, come on. It gives us no pleasure to have been right about these things and it’s really sad, the amount of injustice and insanity and the retreat from rationality.”
As far as their fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees, Mothersbaugh said selecting a diverse group of artists gives credibility to the organization and that it should be inclusive, though some have suggested that including performers from other genres, like rapper Eminem or country star Dolly Parton, aren’t the right fit for the rock and roll category. Parton herself requested to have her name removed from the ballot.
“We love Dolly Parton and if anybody is worthy, she is,” Casale said, adding that in 1988 they’d wanted to ask Parton to sing on the Devo song “I’d Cry If You Died” but they never reached her people to set it up. “We’d still love to work with Dolly. At this point, the Hall of Fame should just be the Music Hall of Fame and put in whatever genre. With what they’re choosing now, it’s a bit of a misnomer.”
Early in their career, Mothersbaugh said artists like Blondie and Iggy Pop wanted to record Devo songs, Burt Bacharach wanted to record with Devo and Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten “wanted to be in Devo.” However, they declined to do collaborations which, “in retrospect, I wish we would have done every single one of them,” he added.
Devo influenced artists from Nirvana to Arcade Fire, and heavyweights like David Bowie and Neil Young championed the band early on. All of that, Casale said, makes the guys feel pretty good about their overall career.
“If David Bowie hadn’t liked us or Brian Eno hadn’t liked us or Iggy Pop wouldn’t have liked us, I would have felt really bad because that’s who mattered to us,” he continued. “Some guy talking about ‘his old lady’ and throwing a beer can at us, you know what, OK fine, you don’t like us? Great. Then we’re doing something right. We’ve had artists tell us they like us, critics liked us and we did inspire a lot of musicians and when they’d tell us that, well that’s just very heartening.”
Nowadays Mothersbaugh and Casale, who are both busy composers creating music for television shows, feature films and commercials, have different views on performing live. While Casale still loves playing for the crowds, Mothersbaugh said that though he still enjoys the time on stage it can feel a bit like Groundhog Day.
“When you’re 25 and you write that stuff and you’re creating all that, it’s one thing, but when you’re in your 70s and you’re putting on the outfits that you did when you were 25,” Mothersbaugh said noting that they don’t perform that often these days. “I mean, I can go with it now.”
Though he’s feeling healthier now, Mothersbaugh did have a serious bout of COVID-19 in early 2020 that landed him in the ICU on a ventilator for nine days. At the time he was 69 years old, and he said he thought of himself being more like 45. But after COVID made its way through his system, “I felt like I was 90,” he said. He does still have some lingering side effects and reports that he’s “feeling about 60 right now, but I’m still trying to work my way down to the 50s or 40s, but I haven’t gotten there yet.”
However, both men are looking forward to performing at the Cruel World Festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena May 14-15 with several of their ’80s peers including Morrissey, Blondie, Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, Violent Femmes, The Church, English Beat, Public Image, LTD. and more.
“With all of those bands, it’s like a clown car, especially when you throw Devo in there with the yellow suits,” Mothersbaugh said. “I like the idea of the other bands and it gives me a chance to check some of them out live. Recordings sometimes are very different than the live performance, and in the case of Devo, for instance, I prefer our live performance over our record performances pretty much song for song.”
With: Morrissey, Bauhaus, Blondie, Devo, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, Violent Femmes, English Beat, The Damned, Blaqk Audio and more
When: May 14-15
Where: Brookside at the Rose Bowl, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena
Tickets: $159-$179 general admission; $349 VIP; $549-$799 Clubhouse; $25-$75 parking. All passes are available at cruelworldfest.com