As I’ve recalled on many a post here (most recently this one), I first heard the singular strains of the music of Devo in 1978. In fact, for the purposes of not rehashing old news, here’s what I had to say from that post.
I think the first time I ever heard or saw Devo was via an episode of "Saturday Night Live." We were up at my cousins’ place in the Berkshires and, by some lapse of parental judgement, I was allowed to stay up late (I being about 11 at the time). Fred Willard was the host and introduced them, and no one in the room seemed quite sure whether they were a real band or simply another surreal sketch. I was later fully indoctrinated into the faith at Great Oaks, a camp up in Maine, via the prescient musical tastes of an older schoolmate (hello Andrew Romeo), and there was no going back.
I was indeed firmly indoctrinated into irretrievable Devo fandom after that summer at Great Oaks. Oddly enough, I remember having a sort of tense summit with some of my Queen-, Kiss- and Pink Floyd-loving pals when I got back home. I assured them that I still liked all those other bands, but that I’d really gotten into Devo’s first album. Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! “I thought you said you just found them funny,” said one of my best friends, emphatically worded as a thinly-veiled accusation of betrayal. It might sound ridiculous to say this now, but -– at the time -– showcasing an appreciation for the likes of Devo was virtually a palpably divisive act.
It continues to be debated whether Devo qualified as a proper punk band, but as far as I was ever concerned, they had enough in common in both approach and sensibility to the arguably more clearly defined punks (despite the alleged mutual antagonism between them and their fellow Buckeyes in the Dead Boys), to be counted among them. Summarily, as quaint as it all might seem now, they didn’t go down well with everyone. As discussed back on this post, the very work Punk as an appellation or descriptor invited genuine scorn. The expression of support for both Devo and Punk Rock used to require a bit more nerve.
But express it I did (see this post for embarrassing photographic invocations of same). And as I said in that post -- penned in the wake of the death of Bob “2” Casale -– I was once accosted by a total stranger on Lexington Avenue who, upon spotting my freshly procured DEVO t-shirt, forcefully expressed his considered opinion that “Yo, man… fuckin’ DEVO SUCKS!”
Why am I bothering bringing this all back up now? Well, because today I learned that “Uncontrollable Urge,” the incendiary first track on Q: Are We Not Men? is now being used in an ad for American Express credit cards.
I need to stop being surprised and offended by such things, but I still find it striking that this subversive music that meant so much to me for being so daring, different and endearingly, diametrically opposed to the yawnsome, clichéd bullshit of the day is now being used to basically score a montage of entrepreneurial office drones achieving workaday business tasks.
We’re all Devo!