Monday, May 25, 2015

DVD Review: Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow
Directed by Tony Gayton
MVD Visual
Cape Fear Filmworks
78 minutes, 2006 / 2011
www.mvdvisual.com

Before the film Boyhood (2014) made a name by following its subjects for a dozen years, and during the period of British director Michael Apted’s Up series following some school chums every seven years, indie director Tony Gayton pointed his camera at The Flat Duo Jets’ lead singer and guitarist, Dexter Romweber, over a period of two decades.

Usually I don’t quote the jacket cover, but here is a shortened version of the description, which I thought did a fine job of an overview: “…[this] started as a black and white film that followed Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow [Chris Smith] on a rock and roll tour along the same route as General Sherman. The film was not finished… but thanks to the digital age the filmmakers were able to resume the film seventeen years later.” Of course, what goes on in the film is actually way beyond the scope of that statement.

I only had the opportunity to see The Flat Duo Jets (TFDJ) once, videotaping their performance at CBGBs on a co-bill with Buffalo cult band The Mystic Eyes in the early 1990s. They were a lot of fun, and I wish I had the opportunity to see them again, but it just never came to be after that. In one more egocentric statement, there is a clip of the band on The David Letterman Show, and ironically, I am watching it on the night of Letterman’s last program. Cue The Twilight Zone music, please!

There are many ways to categorize the music of Romweber and all of them would be accurate, and yet none of them would be, as well. There is a baseline of blues, as his solo off-the-cuff rendition of the Slim Harpo classic “King Bee,” on acoustic guitar in a motel room. There is also an Elvis-esque rockabilly flair when he is in a manic stage. And yet, the evidence of a garage revival from his early ‘80s influences is present. Put that all into an envelope of Other music – a cover term for the unexplainable-yet-charismatic likes of the Shaggs, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and especially the first-generation of the Cramps – and you still haven’t nailed down what it is about Dexter that is a general descriptor as he cannot be pigeonholed. He just refers to it as “‘50s music.” That’s also why he has so many fans, including many who are musicians who refer to him as a major influence.

Thankfully, Gayton doesn’t do the film chronologically, but rather gives us resonating vignettes of the music and the man, as he theorizes life (usually with ciggy-butt firing away) in a cryptic and possibility just a bit of psychotic way. Yet, he still remains a charmer, which I say without the slightest hint of sarcasm, but rather admiration.

At the early stages of the documentary, there is a flash flood of name performers who boost up what Romweber has meant to them, including Jack White (who shares a similar passion for both ‘50s ‘billy and off-kilter performance; he has also had much more success, though Romweber is by far more interesting), the now Tea Party advocate Excene Cervenka of X fame, and Neko Case, with whom Romweber has toured in the past. They all give their testimonials on influence, and happily, unlike most music documentaries, after stating their case in bytes, they mostly don’t come back until briefly near the very end. This is in a brave and thankful deference to most films that drown in back-slapping. No, this film is about Romweber, and he keeps our attention throughout.

His mom, who we meet both in the late 1980s and then again in the mid 2000s, called Dexter an “old soul,” and that may be true, as is his history of alcohol and some drug abuse (we don’t get the impression any of it was of the opiate nature), which led to breakdowns, career hiccups, lost friendships (e.g., Crow, who struggled with his own demons), and an affection for Jean Baudrillard, one of Dexter’s also-troubled philosophical idols. Through mental health issues (in my opinion) and previous use of mind-altering substances such as booze and pot, Romweber goes into some detail about how he has survived over the years between the first filming and the second, but acknowledges that there have been constants, such as his Silvertone guitar, of which he gives us a tour.

The third act is filled with both destruction and redemption, intermingled. After the breakup of the TFDJ, there was a two-year tailspin of no music, regret of the failed TFDJ and the promise of a higher-level career that was not meant to be by the end of the film, but it’s shown that all of it is what makes Romweber remain true to his music. I wonder how much he would have been corrupted by the industry back in the 1980s and ‘90s if success had befallen on him. Yes, he’s still struggling on one level, but as we learn from Neko and others, his influence is felt every day in their own musical output.

There is a lot of music played by Romweber throughout the film, but very little of it is official, i.e., recordings. We do see bits and pieces of the tours, both 1988 and 2005, but most of it is off the cuff stuff, in motel rooms, at home with his mom, hanging out (with Crow, for example), some clips on stage, and even what looks like an old age home where he plays piano for a less-than-gaggle-number of old men. No song is shown complete, but this off-the-cuff competently shows both how much music is a part of his life, and unconventional means of affectionate communication (e.g., in my own family, we communicated by asking routes traveled and volume of traffic; here, casual music is the medium of conveyance of connection).

An especially touching moment is a back-and-forth of Romweber at a piano singing “Burning Bridges,” both in the early BandW and then-present, with Gayton eventually joining the shots together.

While one of the meanings of the title of the film is presented during the final credits, in my opinion there are more possibilities, such as the twin comparison of ’88 vs. ’05, and even an opening clip from the early days, where Romweber is talking and Crow is standing behind him, harmlessly and joyfully mocking him, almost looking like his head is growing from Dexter’s shoulder.

The three extras are solo performances by Romweber: a spectacular instrumental guitar showcase on BET’s Jazz Discovery (5 minutes), an on-stage medley at the Silverlake Lounge (3 minutes), and a somewhat amusing interview Mr. Mouse and music on the Chapel Hill cable access show Z-TV (30 minutes).

This film is both unknown by most, and yet legendary among fans, filling up festivals whenever it shows up on occasion. Now that it’s on DVD and I assume VoD, this is definitely a chance to see one of the unique characters on the indie music scene.

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DVD Review: John Mellencamp: It’s About You

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

John Mellencamp: It’s About You
Directed, photographed and edited by Kurt Markus and Ian Markus
MPI Home Pictures / Little B Pictures
80 minutes, 2010 / 2012
www.kurtMarkus.com
www.mvdvisual.com
 
But first, a digressive tale from the ego: In 1989, I had a co-worker who was a John Cougar Mellencamp fan (perchance a Mellenhead?). He would go on and on (and on) about how he had very record, every bootleg, every video regarding Mellencamp that had ever been released. To shut him up, I brought in two pieces of vinyl: a 12” split picture disc of Cougar and Cindy Bullens on MainMan, and a four-song 7” EP (with picture sleeve) called U.S. Male that was put out by indie Indiana label, Gulcher Records (which more infamous released the recordings of the Gizmos). He had previously heard of neither of them.

I thought they guy was going to have a heart attack. He wanted to buy them off me, and I said no. I’m not a fan, but I did not want to give this guy the satisfaction. I’m sure he probably bought them off eBay at some point, but I only worked with him for about four to six months. It felt good, and was worth it (and yes, I still have them). Now he can buy this.

And now, back to our feature presentation

At the time of the filming, Kurt Markus was a purist photographer in his 60s living out in Wyoming. His son Ian was in his 20s, and on a challenge by John Mellencamp (JM) himself, they were invited along on a tour with John, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan to film it, and also some recording sessions for an upcoming LP, No Better Than This, released in 2010. Note that there is zero footage of either Willie or Bob.

Shot in a somewhat grainy Super 8 and mixed with stills, Kurt narrates in florid and poetic language about how the two of them, in tow, used this filming as a time of self-“discovery.” This was all set up by JM challenging Kurt to put down the still camera and pick up the film one, and get creative. Mostly, we learn is that this film – while JM is the centerpiece – it is also, in John’s words to Kurt, “it’s about you.”

One of the early shots of the tour is of JM (okay, mostly the audience) on stage singing “Pink Houses,” and “Paper in Fire,” followed by Kurt philosophizing over footage of small towns and big. I see now why Kurt and JM are friends: they wax poetic, but tend to see the glass half empty and try to understand it. For JM, his lyrics are about failure (“…ain’t that America?!”), while Kurt looks at St. Louis and wonders how desolate it may be in 50 years.

We follow JM and crew into the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, with an explanation of how it was used as part of the Underground Railroad. It is also where JM records “Clumsy Ol’ World,” which we see in part. After, JM and his wife (Elaine Irwin; divorced 2011) get baptized by being dunked in a mikva dug into the church floor. Now this may sound cynical (and it probably is), but as I don’t really know JM well, though I know he is for marriage equity and an Obama supporter, so I wonder if they were baptized there for themselves, or the camera.

Kurt has found the sweet spot between highlighting JM and keeping his own personal touch. If there is any complaint about that, it’s that sometimes his philosophizing is over the music; even if I’m not a fan, I still want to understand the music and what about it makes JM = JM, but more often than not we listen to Kurt talk about missing a photo opportunity of Bob Dylan due to the Zimmer-man’s insistence on privacy and not being looked at by crew, or not getting film of someone in Memphis saying that Johnny Cash believed that JM was one of the top10 songwriters in America. A redeeming feature, though, is what Kurt is waxing on about reflects the music playing, in that observant, depressive way (i.e., the destruction of downtowns for the suburbs). Kurt says it best when he posits that “Perhaps John and I are making this journey together. He has brought me in as a parallel traveler.” That is what I would call astute and accurate.

Some of the best musical moments are the sessions in Memphis and San Antonio. It’s among the more static shots, but still interesting as JM and musicians sit around a single microphone, with T. Bone Burnett in charge. The following live performance shots from those cities have some electric sounds and visuals. JM’s Americana Blues Rock sounds better than I remember, even when he’s talking about death. What’s more, his commitment comes through.

Considering the gear used, it is naturally grainy and shaky, like all those home movies of long gone, but the subject matter is the focal point. That being said, Kurt’s experience as a photographer help him in a number of ways, such as how the film is processed, with many different monochromes (red, blue, brown, etc.), as well as standardized colors. As the film explains in the credits, for you technocrats out there, “This film was shot entirely with Beaulieu Super8 cameras, modified by technicians at Pro8mm, using Kodak’s Vision 3 500T color negative stock. Digital Mastering and colorizing…on a Millennium II HD Scanner.”

And at the end, what do we learn about JM and Kurt? Not much, but it’s a fun ride. We conclude that they are very different people, and yet share similar values. JM expresses himself in narrative lyrics and music about life being hard, and Kurt waxes poetic about what he sees in life, the American Southern landscape both rural and urban, and he ponders. In other words, JM looks out, and Kurt looks within, and they find a similar internal soundtrack.

Over the end credits is the video to one of the JM’s biggest hits, “R.O.C.K. in theUSA.” Definitely one of his better, to me, but watching this I realize I tend to go more for the indie than the major hit, preferring the Fleshtones’ “American Beat ’84,” which covers similar material. The point of my saying this is that Mellencamp is an I.N.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N. in the USA, and as much as he feels browbeat at times here, and as much as he can be both a loveable teddy bear and an asshole curmudgeon, he definitely has the chops. And perhaps his tour being stripped down to barebones musicians and minimal crew (e.g., no soundguy), he’s gonna do okay. Even now, in 2015, he’s on a big tour. But what he’s feeding on, for example, is the breakdown of the American cities (remember, this is filmed right after the Bush Administration raped the country’s economy to foster a war to profit his Vice President, with its strongest downturn being in 2008), Even if Kurt and Ian’s cameras stop rolling, there will always be an audience for JM, and rightfully so. But I choose more towards the independents, the hungry, the huddles masses waiting for a guitar-led garage band.

The only extras are the trailers and a much appreciated subtitles. That being said, make sure you stick around for the Epilogue after the credits.

 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Film Review: D.O.A. (Don’t Overlook Any-Of-It) [1980]

Text by Lisa Baumgardner / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #4, dated May/June 1980, page 11. It was written by Lisa Baumgardner Falour, who published Bikini Girl fanzine at the time.

Sadly, Lisa passed away early this year in Paris. Lisa was an incredibly interesting person, as was her fanzine. She worked as a writer, photographer, artist, and for a while as a BDSM pin-up model. She was also known for always carrying a hidden cassette recorder, on which she taped all conversations, and then would publish them in her fanzine when she found them interesting. But hardly anyone she transcribed was as thought-provoking as her. I was introduced to her by Diana Torborina, someone who I worked with at Dimensional Sound Studios, and with whom I became friendly (Diana, if you read this, please feel free to contact me).

For my first half-tabloid newsprint issue of FFanzeen, Lisa wrote a review of Lech Kowalski’s then-new, and now-classic 1980 documentary about the Sex Pistols, D.O.A. As a side note, Lech took out a full page ad for the film, for which he never paid the $100. I’m just sayin’. – RBF, 2015

D.O.A. will soon be released to theaters around the world as a feature-length punk rock documentary. It’s definitely worth seeing, but requires a lot of patience and objectivity. Punk rock and its spin-offs in the fashion, art and political world are both important and inconsequential, and tell a story about the ‘70s, yet doesn’t say much at all.

Lech Kowalski’s Film is hard to sit through but bears a number of incredible scenarios. Beginning with a baptism and a soundtrack peppered with corny heartbeats, we are led through the doorway of X-Ray Spex’s rehearsal studio for an astounding performance of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Cut away to an interview with the president of Warner Bros. Records, who sneers and mentions, “You know, we are not a non-profit organization!”

These perplexing statements are part of a much larger onslaught of visual sludge known as D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival), a 100-minute-long documentary film on punk. Not the “punk” I grew up with. Hopefully, you too were spared because it’s ugly and disturbing, and when I saw it, my own youth suddenly seemed too close and fresh and unsettling. Yuck!

A pretty girl with heavy makeup and short hair is interviewed in a prone position in a parking lot in Texas. She has just been literally thrown out of a theater where the Sex Pistols were playing. Her crime? “Hangin’ out,” she moans. Apparently, the police have used direct physical force to eliminate a group of fans loitering in the lobby. She looks pretty seriously hurt, at the very least extremely distraught. Can she get up? “This is why punks gotta carry chains!” she says. Violence is breeding further violence. “What are you doing tonight?” Lech Kowalski asks her from behind-camera. “Who cares?” she replies, starting to cry. “I don’t care. If you care, you get let down.”

The film is full of gruesome vignettes. The comedy relief? An interview with Sid and Nancy, O.D.-ing and barely coherent in his all-black bedroom in London. The only time Sid seems aware of anything is when Nancy peels off her black rubber t-shirt, glistening with sweat. He picks it up, sniffs it, and smiles with a look of wonder. “’Ey, it smells just like you, Nancy!” “Well, it ought to,” she replies, “I’ve been wearing it since the first day I got to London.”

“I ain’t afraid to walk down the street looking totally ridiculous,” one serious-looking London punk musician explains. “It don’t matter what ya got on. You’re a human bean, just like everybody else. You’re messed up.”

The message behind this film, as well as the continuity, is obscure. Punk is a reflection of decay, one might say, and as the title implies, was born dead. The similarities between British and American audiences are the boredom, pent-up frustration, and search for freedom of expression of the anger youth feels. British public officials are quoted ridiculing punk and insisting, “They can’t win.” Can’t win what? “I’m ashamed of the world we’ve made,” one female official says, “if our children are growing up with attitudes like this.”

There are moments in D.O.A. that come close to capturing the feeling at a band rehearsal. Four or five young musicians are kidding around in an old, garage-like converted studio, and they begin to belt out a tune as if their lives depend on it. Yes, we conclude, it does start out positive. It’s energetic self-expression, and it beats the fuck out of boredom. But by the time it gets to be performed before thousands of kids who’ve paid ten bucks to see it, it’s pretty sorry stuff.

D.O.A. is negative, but very thought-provoking. It is exciting to see a film with guts these days. It is straightforward, raunchy, and has no plot. It seeks to reveal glimpses of a fascinating phenomenon. Lech Kowalski has a lot of energy and determination to have traveled extensively with a crew numbering from four to thirty, and the footage shot of the Sex Pistols’ tour in the South, particularly Georgia and Texas, is priceless. He has not tried to be arty. He presents a variety of conflicting circumstances and opinions, and allows us to be voyeurs without getting spit on at a crowded rock arena full of young people looking and behaving like assholes. He shows us Sham 69, the Dead Boys, and Bleecker Bob, too. He also makes us wonder about money – the concert promoters, the record companies, the media – and the way they present punk to the world. One of the British officials insists the individual musicians are doing it for the money. We think of Sid and Nancy. In it for the money?

Bonus D.O.A. footage:
 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

DVD Review: Big Country – Live at the Town and Country Club, London, 1990

Text by Matt Stevenson / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Big Country – Live at the Town and Country Club, London
Directed by Chris Bould
Wienerworld Presentation
50 minutes, 1990 / 2013
www.wienerworld.com
www.mvdvisual.com
 
Big Country were the Scottish equivalent of Ireland's U2, appearing in the same early 1980s time frame and growing from similar roots of punkish teenage bands.  The early recordings of both bands shared the same producer in Steve Lillywhite, and in an only slightly different alternative universe Big Country could have enjoyed U2's massive later success.

Both bands were fronted by singers who wrote about topics large and small, tackling world issues as frequently as personal relationships.  One difference: Big Country had two guitarists who frequently sounded like bagpipers, as opposed to U2's one guitarist whose more processed sound frequently resembled anything but a guitar.

This set, shot at London's Town and Country venue in 1990 – during a period in which their usual drummer Mark Brzezicki was replaced by Pat Ahern – is short at 50 minutes. Yet it contains all their major hits plus one cover, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," which was a pretty recent hit at the time, having been released by Neil the previous year.  Big Country's fans may not be as numerous as U2's, but it is apparent from the seething mosh pit that was the lower level at this show that their fans were less mellow and more rabid than U2's.  Not really surprising, as BC's songs were almost always more energetic than those of their Celtic rivals.

The personal demons of frontman Stuart Adamson were unfortunately a limiting factor on their potential success: shortly after this concert they were dropped by their label PolyGram, and from then on had middling results, though they received some exposure in the mid-90's after their Buffalo Skinners CD, when they opened for portions of the Stones' Voodoo Lounge Tour.  


Adamson quit drinking for ten years after their label change and in 1996 moved to Nashville, but never rid himself of his torments, returning to booze and later hanging himself in a Hawaiian hotel room while facing impaired-driving charges back in Nashville.  Still, U2's The Edge told the mourners at Stuart's funeral that Big Country wrote the songs that he wished U2 could write.

At the time of this show, however, those sad days were still in the future and Adamson appears joyous and fully engaged with the audience, and the band really meshes and plays very tightly.  The show is not as comprehensive as their other concert DVDs, but anyone who is thinking of purchasing this will find it a worthwhile addition to their collection.
 
Band:
Stuart Adamson: vox / guitar
Bruce Watson: guitar / vox
Tony Butler: bass / vox
Pat Ahern: drums

Song list:
Restless Natives
Look Away
Fields of Fire
Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)
Come Back to Me
Wonderland
In a Big Country
River of Hope
Rockin’ in the Free World

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DVD Review: Welcome to the Machine

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Welcome to the Machine
Directed by Andreas Steinkogler
MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2013
www.welcometothemachine.at          
www.mvdvisual.com

 The catch phrase of the documentary is as follows: “The 12 Commandments of music business in one film. Become a star just by watching it!” Okaaaaaayyyyyyy…

There have been the odd times my life where I read some self-help books. They were huge in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and each one had a single point of focus: do this and you will have success. The same is true with philosophy: It’s either “people are good” or “people are bad.” The thing is, there is no one way for anyone, because everything is causal due to both spacial and temporal components. In other words, what happens is effected/affected by where you are and what is happening in culture at that moment. There is no “here is how you do it” primer for success in any media, you just have to plug at it. But this German / Austrian film begs to differ.

The “lab rats” of this is a German band called The New Vitamin (pronounced VIT-amin). The supposition is that by the end of the film they should be big stars if they follow instruction. I have a music promoter friend who is also a musician, and he often tells me “if so-and-so wanted to be a star, he would do what I said.” Well, he’s certainly not a star; does he not follow his own direction? But I digress, though I make a point…

So, The New Vitamin is mix of rock and DJ-fueled techno, so yeah, it’s awful. But that’s not the point, which is whether they get successful or not. As for the States, well, I never heard o’ them, but I’m not aware if it had any success in Germany. Oh, speaking of which, before I forget, this film is in English and German (with subtitles).

But then the film drowns the information by trying to give too much of it, without having any real content. Broken down into different chapters (if you haven’t devised that from the “12 Commandments”), including early live gigs, dealing with the record company, publicity, genres, and using media, from the Internet to music videos.

What is impressive is the sheer number of musicians from around the world of multiple genres that Steinkogler interviews, including (and this is just a small sample, in no particular order) Peaches, Nada Surf, Adam Green (still trying to figure out his popularity), Xiu Xiu, Nada Surf, Megadeth, Steve Akoi, Flogging Molly, the great Suzi Quatro, Kim Wilde, and even anti-musician Lydia Lunch.

Many of these artists tell of their own experiences, rather than saying, “Do this,” which contradicts the whole message of the documentary. Not only that, the film does not even give stories, it’s a 90 minute series of 15-seconds or less soundbites with absolutely no cohesion, therefore there really is no central message on how to do anything, but instead aligns with what I said in the first paragraphs.

One topic discussed, which actually came close to interesting was that as digital music rose in prominence, downloading went way up, but money to musicians went to shit, because of the ease of digital piracy, though the majors are raking in billions (using piracy as an excuse not to pay their artists?). But what does this have to do with becoming successful in the music biz? Dunno.

And The New Vitamin, who formed in 2008? Well, I noticed that their last post on Facebook is dated June 2013. That does not bode well, and it seems they haven’t followed the “advice” of this documentary and played the machine successfully.

Whether you like one of the Legion of musicians here or not, there is so much partial and muddled data that the end result is that there is no useful information in the long run, so this DVD defeats its own purpose by overkill. Pretty to look at, nice to see what Suzi and Kim look like now, but mostly this is an example of a failure of its purpose. Shame, though.

 

Bonus Video:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

BILLY IDOL: By Himself [1981 Interview]

Text by Marc Perton / FFanzeen fanzine, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was conducted and written by Marc Perton.

While I never saw Michael Broad, aka Billy Idol perform live, somewhere there is a photo of his first solo band in New York City playing Max’s Kansas City. The drummer was Steve Missal, of the Ronnie and the Jitters band, and he is wearing a FFanzeen tee-shirt. I’ve also never seen this photo, so if you have a copy somewhere, as it was published in Billboard around the time of this interview, I’d love a copy of it.

Billy Idol was a bit of a contradiction to me. In the States, many saw him in his band Generation X as a British punker, but back in the U.K. he had a reputation for being a “pretty boy” poseur, even dating back to his time as part of the Bromley Contingent. Either way, “Your Generation,” an obvious answer to the Who’s “My Generation,” was a great song. Upon the split of the re-titled Gen X after a couple of critically lambasted albums, he moved to New York, had a short fling with a good friend of mine, and then hit it big.

Most of his solo stuff is pretty obnoxious, such as “Dancing With Myself” and “Rebel Yell.” His one-sided lip curl (one might call it a sneer), short dyed-blond hair (implemented by the Spike character in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series) and fist pump became iconic thanks in part to MTV’s repetition. Some of his solo releases are actually quite good, though, like his cover of “Mony Mony” and “White Wedding,” but it’s also ironic that in this interview he talks about how turning “heavy metal” is undesirable, but he ended up jumping on that wagon. Wisely, he collaborated with Steve Stevens, a whirlwind guitar player with more stage presence than him, and is still doing so today as he tours the world, quickly approaching his 60th birthday in November.

There is one brilliant comment below that actually helped me put the difference between British punk rock and American hardcore into perspective: “it's not the same as English punk rock, because it's about how much more problems it is having things than not having them.“ For that, he’ll always have a bit of my respect. – RBF, 2015

The end was this January, when Billy Idol, almost without prior warning, left Generation X (or “Gen X” as they had taken for calling themselves). Billy left England for New York, where he began working with Bill Aucoin [d. 2010], the manager of KISS. Tony James, Billy’s songwriting partner in Gen X, did an interview shortly thereafter in which he claimed that Billy left the group quite suddenly, and that he only found out in advance “by accident.”

On this side of the Atlantic, Billy went through what his management called “five months of self-abuse” while getting used to New York. Suddenly, he released a single and began to speak to the press, who had denied a rebuttal to the charges against him. I spoke with him and found that his time in New York hasn’t consisted entirely of self-destruction.

But, first, the means.

Generation X was one of the countless punk rock bands that sprang up, almost out of nowhere, in England in late 1976. Billy idol, a member of the “Bromley Contingent,” the original Sex Pistols fan club, met up with Tony James, formerly of the London S.S., a garage band which featured, among others, the Clash’s Mick Jones, Billy and Tony, along with a singer named Gene October, who formed the group Chelsea. The band didn’t work, and Billy, Tony, and drummer John Towe left to form Generation X, along with guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews. Towe soon left the group and was replaced by Mark Laff. After gigging around England for a few months, the group released their first single, “Your Generation,” which was followed by an album, Generation X. The group attracted quite a sizeable following in England, where young audiences flocked to hear their anthems, “100 Punks,” “Wild Youth,” and others. They were branded “pop-punk,” and Billy’s face was splashed all over British teen magazines. Generation X was released in 1978 in America to an enthusiastic response, but the group never toured here.

In 1979, while in the midst of legal proceedings to end their relationship with their manager, Stewart Joseph, they released their second album, the much criticized Valley of the Dolls. Produced by Ian Hunter, the album marked a major stylistic change for the group. Anthems were replaced by heavy metal guitar solos and the one song on the album which retained a hint of the original Generation X style, “King Rocker,” became immortalized as an example that not all loud, fast music can be danced to. In spite of the many complaints against it, the album featured some of Billy’s best vocals (notably on “Paradise West” and “The Prime of Kenny Silvers”), and also stands as possibly the most workable synthesis of punk rock and heavy metal to date.

After Valley, Andrews and Laff left the group, and for a year, it seemed that Generation X was no more. In mid-1980, however, tales of a new Gen X began to surface. The new group was reputed to feature various guitarists, including ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones, ex-Magazine/Siouxie and the Banshees John McGeoch [d. 2004], and ex-Rich Kids Steve New [d. 2010]. Also to be featured in the group was former Clash member Terry Chimes, on drums.

The rumors proved to be not without validity, and the third Gen X album, Kiss Me Deadly, was released in late 1980. The album featured a return to pop, in the form of “Dancing With Myself” (which has been released in four versions, on eight different records). The group did a brief tour of small clubs in England with former Chelsea guitarist James Stephenson, and then Billy left. That’s my story. Here is his:

FFanzeen: How do you like New York?
Billy Idol: It’s great.

FFanzeen: What have you been doing with your time here?
Billy: Well, to be honest, I’ve been getting to know it, really. It’s a foreign country. In America, people think completely different from English people. Their whole attitude toward things is a hell of a lot different.

FFanzeen: For instance…
Billy: For instance, people in America really believe that they are creating the history of the world, while in England they’re just watching what’s’ going on. If you apply this to every form of life it makes a totally different thing. In England, the green grocer just things he’s selling fruit. The block here thinks he’s feeding the world.

FFanzeen: How do you think things are musically different here?
Billy: Of course it’s the same thing; there’s a totally different approach to music. Music here isn’t seen as something quite so serious. It can be fun as well as serious; whereas in England, people sort of make everything serious – it’s culturally stemming from some class system or something. Things can be superficial here without necessarily being bad.

FFanzeen: Your music was often more fun than serious.
Billy: Well, yeah, that’s right. Not to say that we weren’t serious, but we were interested in it being fun, because I like fun things. In some ways we were quite American in our approach, in that at times we would play candy music for candy’s sake. Other times it was deadly serious, never more so than in “Kiss Me Deadly,” which totally typified British life. And “Dancing With Myself” is totally New York. It’s just completely Quaaluded out zombie-like dance music. I don’t mean that it’s for stupid people or anything like that. I just mean that it’s got the total –

FFanzeen: Blind dance beat?
Billy: Yeah, almost like you’re never gonna stop. It’s always gonna go, Bomp bap! Bomp bap! Bomp bap! It’s about people dancing crazily, almost with themselves, because it’s easier. That’s the way you get when you get zombied out[I wonder if he uses zombies in his video for the song out of an idea he had before, or that was enlightened in this interview; see video below – RBF, 2015]. I think that’s great. That’s what I believe in. All my life I’ve got completely wrecked. Ever since I was fourteen, I’ve got drunk, pilled out, or something, so a lot of the music we made was purely because we were into high-energy excitement and watching audiences go completely crazy; jumping up and down, ripping each other to shreds, having a great time, going home and saying, “Cor! Wasn’t it fun tonight! A bit more exciting than working in the factory!” Sometimes candy music’s worthwhile because people really have great fun. But Gen X did say things, too. Like “Kiss Me Deadly” really typified British life in 1977.

FFanzeen: Is that why you called the new album Kiss Me Deadly?
Billy: Well, in a way, it was more of a joke, really. I knew it was the last one. “Kiss the group deadly.”

FFanzeen: You knew you were going to leave the group when the album came out?
Billy: Yeah.

FFanzeen: How about claims by Tony James that you didn’t tell the group you were leaving until the last minute?
Billy: Well, I didn’t say that much, I’ve got to admit – but I didn’t think it was any of their business, really. It was a lot to do with the record coming out. I more or less told Chrysalis that if they didn’t put it out that we’d have a big barmy over it; you know, we’d have trouble. And I said it wasn’t fair to the other people in the group not to put it out ‘cause we had worked on it for a year, and I had just worked at it for a month trying to make it sound good. So I made them put it out, and that’s why I couldn’t say that much to the other members of the group; ‘cause they would have said, “We don’t wanna play,” or something. And we had to do the tour to get them to put the album out. We had to do something to support it. So I did all of it a bit underhanded at first. We got the album out, and everyone like Tony and Terry, and James Stephenson and John McGeoch got paid back for being on it. I only really told them after the album was out and all we had left to do was a TV thing. The tour was over. And I think even they could see, from the way the tour went, the way we were playing together –

FFanzeen: How did the tour go?
Billy: It was pretty good. It was probably better than the Valley of the Dolls stuff. But it just wasn’t that exciting. We played really good, so [the audience] were really excited by it, but I don’t think it would have gone any further. But that’s ‘cause of the way the group was. We just weren’t feeling good. And I just wanted to get the energy back, and I wanted to do it with other people. And playing with John McGeoch, Steve Jones, makes you seem – there’s this guy, he comes in and rocks on your songs; he gets excited. He really likes it! Steve Jones is going, “I wanna play on it!” Steve New – completely out of his head – but he’s still trying to play it. Great! You start thinking, these people are excited by it, that’s who I wanna be with. Tony and them, well obviously they’re excited, but we’ve all been in that little thing for so long that it was crushing us. So [with new people] it’s good fun. When we get to the audience, we’d give them what Generation X originally gave people, which was like four blokes saying, “Yeah! Don’t stop! Come on! Always get drunk if you want to! Chaos and get away with it!” The whole thing – we loved it. But we had lost it by the time we were playing the last stuff.

FFanzeen: So you’re working by yourself now. You have a new single out, right?
Billy: Yeah. It’s an old Tommy James song called “Mony Mony,” and a new one called “Baby Talk.”

FFanzeen: You used to do “Mony Mony” with Generation X.
Billy: Well, Gen X learned it, but we only ever did it twice in a soundcheck, and it was with me playing guitar because Derwood didn’t really want to do it.

FFanzeen: How come you didn’t play guitar on the first two Generation X albums?
Billy: Well, I really believe in “everybody does their bit,” and you don’t step on someone else. At that time the whole idea was to get back to basics, so if I’m gonna be the singer, I’m gonna be the singer. If he’s gonna be the guitarist, he’s going to play guitar. Now, I might think up some bits which I’d show him, but he’s gonna play them, ‘cause the whole basic idea was to get everybody doing their role to the utmost. I play on the new album, on “Untouchables” and on “Happy People,” and a few tracks there. On the last tour I played quite a bit of guitar and got bored with it.

FFanzeen: How much of the music did you write in Generation X?
Billy: I wrote all of it.

FFanzeen: And Tony wrote the lyrics?
Billy: Yeah, he wrote all the lyrics on the first album, except for “Listen” and “Too Personal.”

FFanzeen: Neither of which appeared on the domestic [American] album.
Billy: Yeah. “Too Personal” was replaced by “Gimme Some Truth,” which was unpopular at the time because it was a John Lennon song, which was, like, old wave. He wasn’t hip in England at that time.

FFanzeen: Why did you record it?
Billy: Well, I did it because it said the right thing. Most punks didn’t realize it was a John Lennon song.

FFanzeen: How were you affected by John Lennon’s death [December 8, 1980 – RBF, 2015]?
Billy: I was a John Lennon fan, and I was a bit upset that he got shot. He made some great records; “Jealous Guy” and a lot of those ones. And a lot of Beatles stuff was good. I do think he was great. I just think it’s a bit sick that mad people shoot John Lennon, and fail when it comes to others.

FFanzeen: Meaning the president and the Pope [Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, respectively – RBF, 2015]?
Billy: Yeah, that’s right.

FFanzeen: What do you think of them?
Billy: He’s a two-bit actor who’s having a laugh on everybody. He’s got the biggest role and he’s enjoying it. And the Pope hasn’t done anything. He’s just letting the status quo stay the same. He looks smooth, going around everywhere, but he doesn’t affect anybody in the Vatican with any real power; they go along exactly as they always did. He’s like a pop star. People go “woo!” when they see him but don’t do anything after he’s gone.

FFanzeen: And Reagan?
Billy: Well, he’s very clever because underneath him he’s got all these millionaires who are secretly cultivating the economy, while he makes it look all smooth and pop-starry on top. And it’s cool for pop stars, but it’s not cool for politicians. But most Americans like him because he’s the American dream. And he’s more exciting than Jimmy Carter.

FFanzeen: So Americans have elected a pop star president. How do you feel about that?
Billy: Well, y’see, it’s almost so ridiculous that I admire it. You know that anybody can do it. And I do believe in all that. Anybody can be a pop star.

FFanzeen: Enough of American politics. What do you think of the music here?
Billy: I like the Bush Tetras. I think ESG’s [Emerald, Sapphire and Gold – RBF, 2015] brilliant. If I had a record label I’d put them on it.

FFanzeen: How about all these young [hardcore – RBF, 2015] punk groups that are sort of acting the way you did five years ago?
Billy: Well, it’s difficult for me to get into it really, because its’ not the same as English punk rock, because its’ about how much more problems it is having things than not having them. And also the fact that those people are writing about having lived in the local LA movement, or the local New York movement, whereas I’m writing about me, wherever I am, or about what I see around me.

FFanzeen: How about the kids themselves?
Billy: Well, I think they’re great because they’re really into having fun in a kind of good sort of way. New York’s a pretty tough place. It’s real expensive to live, so if these kids are walking round looking like – and they work anywhere to get the bread to say alive – it’s a real scavenger city, and that’s what I’ve always been, a bit of a scavenger. I’d always survive and scrape it together. And that’s what groups are, usually. They have their record contract, but it’s never enough money, and these people are always scrounging. These people are real good. They’ve got great attitudes. They’re really friendly and stuff. They don’t waste too much on snobbery, which you can get in London. But England has some great people. England, New York, L.A. – I’ve met some of the greatest people. Some real cruds as well.

FFanzeen: What do you think of these British bands like the Clash and [Adam and] the Ants, that have come over here and made it big?
Billy: I think it’s great, well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s going to make it easier for me , because there are already people having similar stuff to what I do and it’s getting through on the airwaves, but it’s more because I think some of the stuff they do is good. It’s definitely preferable to REO Speedwagon.

FFanzeen: In England, punk rock was always more of a lower-class movement. How do you feel about being in America, where most of your audience is likely to be middle class?
Billy: It’s the same thing. They have to go to work and go through things they don’t really enjoy because either they haven’t got the talent to do what they really want to do, or they haven’t got the guts. I like going to the Ritz because there’s a lot of straight people out from New Jersey and places like that who are there to see the group because they like them.

FFanzeen: How did you get started in rock’n’roll?
Billy: Lots of reasons. For me, when the Beatles were 24, they said more to me than my dad who was 50, or something. Everything I liked he hated, so I thought, Christ! Either I’m right or I’m wrong. I’d better make up my mind. And I thought I’m right and I’m gonna like it. I proved that I know what I’m talking about. I can make people excited and do things for them and say things they find interesting. That’s what people who believe in the things we do have to do. We have to make other people accept us for it.

FFanzeen: Do you plan on staying in rock’n’roll for the rest of your life?
Billy: Probably, because I don’t know how long I’ll be able to last out living. It’s a lot of wear and tear. I don’t know if I’ll be doing it until I die. I think I’ll probably move onto something else. I might even go back to driving a van if I fancied. I did like driving a van; it was a laugh. But I’m gonna do it as long as I think I’ve got the energy and the right attitude. But if I ever thought I didn’t have the right attitude, I would just stop and disappear. I ain't gonna drag it out if it’s boring. That’s why I wanted to stop Generation X. I was getting bored with it. But I still got a lot in me, and there’s a lot to do. If I can push my things out to the people, and they get into it, they’ll start putting more things on the radio.

FFanzeen: Are you aiming for the mass media?
Billy: Of course. That’s what punk rock was all about: taking over. And that’s what I want to do here: Take over for the people who like music. I want to give them the opportunity not to always have to listen to REO Speedwagon; they never hear reggae here, they never hear simple rock’n’roll anymore. I don’t. It’s always heavy metal or something. It’s good to have Van Halen and all those sort of groups if you like them. But it’s great to have the Bush Tetras and ESG and Billy Idol and Johnny Rotten, and the Plastics [the Japanese band, not the more mundane, present one from South Africa – RBF, 2015]. It’s good to have everybody; Frank Sinatra [d. 1998] and all those cunts – everybody. And I just don’t think they are. You’ve got a big network out there, and not much going on. It seems a shame. I meet so many people who love it and they say, “Christ! Why is the radio so boring?” And I say I know what you mean – I thought England was bad! The whole thing about getting the power is that maybe we could put our own records out eventually, and maybe make it okay for our friends to get stuff out.

FFanzeen: “Billy Idol, record company executive”?
Billy: It wouldn’t be like that; wouldn’t think of it like that. I’d get somebody else to handle the business. But I wouldn’t mind if I had the money to put it somewhere that other people would use it. So that we could have some people out there helping to promote young groups who haven’t got any help.

FFanzeen: How did you get involved with Bill Aucoin?
Billy: Well, actually, Tony made a joke to one of the Chrysalis people, and they put us in touch with Bill Aucoin because they knew him. And we came out there and met him, and instead of him asking us the usual boring questions like, “Do you want to make a lot of money?”, he asked us the all-time classic: “Why are you doing it?”

FFanzeen: And you said –
Billy: We said we’re doing it ‘cause we’ve got something the people should have. We know how to make simple rock’n’roll.

FFanzeen: Why didn’t you ever tour America with Generation X?
Billy: Because things were never really right. We had a manager who was really more intent on having a Lamborghini than putting the money up for us to tour America. He was such a dork, such a fucking idiot, that he preferred to try to rip the record company and us off, instead of doing a little hard work.

FFanzeen: What were your problems with that?
Billy: I didn’t really like it because I felt completely divorced from it, and yet I did it, so it was my fault really. It was more like writing songs to order than doing them ‘cause you like them. We were in real trouble. I really wanted to get rid of Stewart Joseph [the band’s manager when Valley of the Dolls was released – MP, 1981]. That fucked things up a lot. And Ian Hunter, he was Tony’s idea, really, and I sort of went along with it, although I really liked Ian. It’s just that he ain’t right for me. I just didn’t like the way we were playing.

FFanzeen: Would you have preferred to do back to Martin Rushent [producer of the Generation X album – MP, 1981; d. 2011 – RBF, 2015]?
Billy: Well, really, I would have preferred to have stuck to the original Generation X style, which is what I made the group go back to.

FFanzeen: Well, you didn’t really go back to doing anthems or anything like that.
Billy: No, but we went back to simple guitar, simple bass, simple drums, rather than [turning to] heavy metal.

FFanzeen: What made you want to get the group back together and record Kiss Me Deadly?
Billy: It was a continuing attempt to go back to basics; and the other thing was, I didn’t want to leave Generation X with Valley of the Dolls.

FFanzeen: On Kiss Me Deadly, and even Valley of the Dolls, there are a lot more slow songs and ballads than on your first album. Do you plan to do a lot more slow songs in the future?
Billy: I want to do quite a lot more ballads, but not because they’re ballads. Certainly I’m not gonna do all slow songs live, it’s gonna be all fast ones. I couldn’t stand to do slow ones live; it gets boring. I’d like to do a couple more [slow songs] because I’m more adept at singing those things, and I’ve grown up slightly, so I can use it in what I’m doing. I ain't gonna ignore it, that would be pointless. That was the whole thing about punk rock: that you tell the truth, and if I’ve fallen in love, or this, that and the other thing, I ain't gonna keep pretending it’s not happening. I’ve gotta write about it because that’s what it’s still about for me. That’s why I’m still a punk rocker.

FFanzeen: When do you plan to start performing live?
Billy: I hope November. I hope we’ll have recorded some more stuff, too.

FFanzeen: Will you perform any of your old material live?
Billy: I’ll probably do “Dancing With Myself.” I might do “Wild Youth.” I’ll do some of my old stuff ‘cause it’s just as much me as anything else, but I’ll have to see what the group plays best, ‘cause it’s up to what they feel, too, really. It’s gonna take a while to get it to be as sophisticated as Generation X could be, like in “Happy People,” mixing reggae with rock.

FFanzeen: Is your new group going to be a real band, or just a bunch of people backing you up?
Billy: At first it’s gonna be mine, because the main inspiration is going to be coming from me. But if it works out properly, I hope we’ll be able to make an entity out of it. I don’t want four idiots playing with me.

FFanzeen: What does the future hold for you?
Billy: I ain’t gonna change. I’ve been wearing leather trousers too long to take them off now.

FFanzeen: You could get rich and buy some more pairs.
Billy: No, I’ve only had one pair. You only want one pair that you’ve worn for the past five years.

FFanzeen: In a simplistic sort of way, clothes are part of the Generation X image. You and Tony wore shredded, hand-painted t-shirts. That caught on, didn’t it?
Billy: Well, yeah, ‘cause it was something creative and yet simple. It was something that could be made at home. You don’t have to go out and buy an Adam and the Ants one; you can make your own Billy Idol one at home.

FFanzeen: Do you think you can get popular in America dressing like that?
Billy: I don’t know about that. Probably not.

FFanzeen: Will you change your image to get popular?
Billy: No, I’m only gonna be what I want – though I’ve got to admit I wear some flashy clothes sometimes – I don’t know. People are just touchy about too many things; they get jealous about too many things. I’m not particularly jealous about people. I don’t wish I was someone else, or wish I’ve got what someone else has got. Whatever I get, I get ‘cause I earned it. I’m not really bothered. It’s too much. They kept trying to make me bother at school and I wouldn’t. They kept telling me it was some sort of competition and I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. I ain't competing with Johnny Rotten or Robert Plant. I don’t give a shit what they do. I’m just doing what I do; they can go and do what they do as long as they leave me alone. He [Rotten] says things about me and they laugh, and I say things about him and we all say things about each other, and when it comes down to it, we don’t give a bullock about what each other’s doing as long as we can do what we want. The people who really matter are the people who come to the gigs and get excited, and a lot of people in the odd little places in England where they get pretty bored ‘cause they work in a car factory and they don’t wanna see people come along and tell them how rotten it is. They want a few people to come along and say, “Look, it is rotten, but we’re gonna have a great time tonight,” and that’s what Generation X’s thing was. I’m up here playing to make myself feel good. We said, “Look, it’s rubbish. Don’t work in a factory if you don’t want to. Try and find something else.” But if you have to work in one, which a lot of kids in England have to do, you got give them something to think about when they were young. When we were young there was punk rock; at least I can say that.

FFanzeen: What direction do you think pop music is taking today?
Billy: Well, I hope it’s taking my direction. It’s just got to get a whole lot simpler. It’s not true that people haven’t got simple problems that can be expressed in two or three verses. A lot of American people don’t listen to their own people. I mean, if you listen to Jim Morrison, he says something totally different than heavy metal bands. He doesn’t say nonsense. So many American records, the heritage is so good. So many brilliant people who made some great records. What’s the point of listening to fuckin’ Led Zeppelin when you’ve got your own guys on your doorstep? There’s a lot of good things around. It just seems a shame that there’s not a lot of bands that are like the Dolls were for their time, or Lou Reed [d. 2013] was for his time, and Iggy was for his in Detroit. There’s not really a New York sound, but maybe that’s good. There’s the Cramps, Suicide.

FFanzeen: How about rockabilly?
Billy: I’m not interested in all that. I like the old records, if I’m gonna listen to it. It think they’re all gonna change pretty soon.

FFanzeen: How about you; are you going to change?
Billy: Not me. I’ll always be just pummelling it out in one way or another – but in different sort of ways.
* * *

Shortly after this interview was conducted, Billy’s Don’t Stop LP was released. Yes, Billy is still pummelling it out, in the same way, but differently. The record features “Mony Mony,” the powerful “Baby Talk,” and new mixes of two songs from Kiss Me Deadly: “Untouchables” (a superior version), and the ever popular “Dancing With Myself.” It looks like he just might make it now, and become a successful solo performer. What Tony James and the rest of Generation X will do now is not yet known (although Andres and Laff have an album out with an AOR group called Empire). Billy, however, for better or worse, is now truly dancing with himself. – MP, 1981

 
[Is it me, or is this video stunningly misogynistic? – RBF, 2015]

 
[Celia and the Mutations, aka the Stranglers, did a great version of this, as well – RBF, 2015]

 [Now, did I get it wrong that he insulted heavy metal in the interview? – RBF, 2015] 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

DVD Review: DEVO – The Men Who Make the Music / Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig


Text © Robert Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet


DEVO – The Men Who Make the Music / Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig
Directed by Chuck Statler and Gerald V. Casale
 MVD Visual
114 minutes, 1981 / 2014
I’m sure there are going to be those who are interested in this mix of live and video footage, but I’m going to do something rare and actually start with the bonus film, called Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig. This is a 65-minute live concert the band did in nearly two decades ago in 1996, at the overhyped (sorry but it’s true, Redford) Sundance Film Fest.

Introduced and patted down by Robert Rodriguez film star Cheech Marin (much more interesting to me than that stoner “comedy” duo he was in), Devo appears on stage in 1920’s prison uniforms and jumps right into the music.

With both standard instrument, some cool ones (Gerald Casale’s headless bass), and some modified (three pedals embedded directly onto Mark Mothersbaugh’s guitar), the troupe (including the late Bob Casale, d. 2014) keep their classic dit-dit-dit sound as they pound through their bigger and lesser known repertoire. The concert lasts more than an hour, and is filled with flights of fancy, some theatrics and non-dance choreography, and other madness. To me, this is more of what makes this DVD enjoyable. I just sat back and enjoyed the show, which was visually decent and had a clear sound taken straight off the boards.

I never noticed before just how much their material is in some sideways way similar to They Might Be Giants, but with more of a lean towards the industrial and less in the Bohemian. Both groups like to take the unusual road and, again use theatrics, though TMBG feels more organic and less rehearsed. Also, I hadn’t realized how much of Devo’s sound is actually centered on drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese.

The crowd is enjoyable to watch as well. There isn’t much moshing or stagediving as much as pogoing, but it’s interesting to see people body surfing to songs like “Mongoloid” (query: why does Mothersbaugh grab his own crotch every time the lyric “Brings home the bacon” comes up?).

Yeah, the usual mix-up of their songs like “Satisfaction,” “Everybody Wants a Good Thing,” and “Whip It” makes their presence, but that doesn’t mean it’s all predictable. For example, they do a slow, emo version of “Jacko Homo” while sitting on stools.

Of course, Booji Boy makes an appearance at the end.

The main feature is 49-minute glom of music videos (all of which had been collected in a previous DVD release called The Truth About De-Evolution, released originally in 1993, and then released in 2014; reviewed HERE), and varied live performances from 1978 through 1979. The boys are a lot younger, obviously, and much more mobile onstage. Yes, they still moved quite well in 1996, but by that show, they were around 50 years old, as opposed to being in the late 20s/early 30s, so energy levels are definitely different. Also, Mothersbaugh has kept his voice, which is easily identifiable, but it was much stronger in the early footage.

A lot of the live songs from 1996 are also performed in the early 1978-79 footage, such as “Praying Hands,” which again makes interesting comparisons. Truthfully, most of the music video footage was okay, but it’s same-old-same-old that I’ve seen before (and yes, I did sit through all of it again); it’s the live performance that make this for me. In all, they wear their now iconic yellow jumpsuits (aka onesies) and/or black shorts and tees as they jerk around the stage.

Whether you like Devo or not, and I do to some extent, their musicianship is undeniable, such as those mentioned above, and I also need to give credit to guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh, who sadly has a tendency to be drowned out by the electronica.

Which brings me to the next thing: when Devo first struck it big, they actually had a very large influence on mainstream music (thanks in part of constant rotation on MTV), being one of the forerunners of the ‘80s sound that would mix pop, electronic and industrial together, in the same way Blondie was in the lead bringing punk into vanilla pop overproduction. While Devo became famous talking about De-Evolution, they actually revolutionized radio, and also brought then-futuristic technology (computers, for example) into their media. Even more ironically, in rear-view mirror looking, the quality of the images here are not that great, being shot on video in the pre-HD world, including the 1996 footage which looks better, but is still a bit muddy.


This is an interesting collection of old and new, live and video, and if you’re a D-E-V-O fan, it’s a M-U-S-T have.

Song List:
Jocko Homo (Music video, taken from "The Truth About De-evolution")
General Boy 1 (talking video)
Wiggly World (Live)
General Boy 2 (talking video)
The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise (Music video)
Roll Out the Barrel (AKA "Rod Rooter's Big Reamer")
Praying Hands (Live)
General Boy 3 (talking video)
Uncontrollable Urge (Live)
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Music video)
General Boy 4 (talking video)
Jocko Homo (Live, partial performance)
Secret Agent Man (Music video, taken from "The Truth About De-evolution")
Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA (Live)
Come Back Jonee (Music video)
General Boy 5(talking video)
Red Eye (Live)
Devo Corporate Anthem (video)