Archive for February, 2012

It’s been many years since DEVO released an album. Hek, nowadays albums are being questioned as a form of experience delivery. Ever since their magnificent masterpiece Oh No It’s DEVO!, the record induhstry has slowly managed to disrupt their energies and subsume their influence into the blood pool of sacrifice to the ownership.

Not that they were wholly defeated, mind you. They survived as best they could, finding ways to continue to be creative and get their work out in some form to people in need of it. Their concerts especially allowed them to continue to perform and keep the baseline light glowing.

Watching them sing a sad version of “Jocko Homo” in concert, I was struck by how they recognized their shadow—that their best years were behind them and they had served their purpose. That’s a hard truth to allow into your depths, to affect you. It changes you and your work, oftentimes beyond recovery.

So out comes their latest effort, Something For Everybody. I want to be wowed and thrilled by this development. Their concerts are great and their connectedness is cool. I’m digging that they have survived and have not given up that last inch.

But after their last album, and the intervening years, are they still able to reach me? I’m not the same as I was when I grew up with them, their every word humming in tune with how I felt and how I saw the world.

Having listened to the songs for a while and listened to what the spud adventurers have mixed up for us, I can only say the result is mixed. Is it possible to both get it and not get it? At times songs like “What We Do” and “Watch Us” are such devastatingly spot-on pieces of mutato beauty it brings a moisture to my eye.

Other songs such as “March On” and “Human Rocket” just don’t connect with me at all. They resemble a strip-mined DEVO that has played out.

There’s the sorrowful “No Place Like Home”, full of fatalistic remorse at the end. It makes “Beautiful World” from New Traditionalists seem hopeful by comparison.

The humorous “Don’t Shoot I’m A Man” cribs on previous insights, yet still manages to be good. It’s hard not to like the current DEVO bridging the past and present with skill.

Straight up pop songs like “Fresh” dance along a similar knowing playfulness and innuendo. Not my cup of tea, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they are having fun and showing us a secret passage in the heart of darkness.

One thing that strikes me is DEVO’s utter mastery of electronic music making. They demonstrate fluency and command of just about every techno trick in today’s music. That’s the benefit of being a pioneer in the field who has stayed dialed in, practicing every day with devotion.

In a way they are showing off and in another way they are showing how out of tricks today’s popular music is. It isn’t even shallow any more; it’s got nothing at all. Is it any wonder today’s music business is fading away? It’s all been done and there’s nothing new left to explore. And copyright forbids us from remaking the older stuff into something new.

I’m left considering how this album leaves me mostly in the middle. Is it that I only like their unabashed forays into utter creativity and this tempered metal is somehow less palatable? I suppose so. I do come away with some gold, so can I really complain?

There’s a song called “Step Up”, which in my mind stands up as a hidden alloy of metals surprise. Insightful, hopeful, but also realistic of what needs to be done. Wasn’t it always up to the listener to hear the message anyway? DEVO have done their time, dug up their gold, and shared some with us. Do we want to become dependent on them for what we ourselves need to do work on?

We need the prophets to reflect back to us how we have gone astray. But if we do not heed them and find our own way what good have they done? The call of the divine could saturate us with every kind of delightful revelation and treasure of form to reassure us. Yet if we do not live it, respond, are we alive? Are we DEVO?

The other day I was reading a book for a class I was taking. One of those woo-woo marketing and business books barely above the level of pseudo-science called The End of Membership As We Know It.

There’s a part listing the three dominant generations of people in the country, along with characteristics that supposedly define them. I’m only doing a drive-by deconstruction here, so I’ll list some of the more interesting elements to me here:

  • The Boomers—Typically hard working, loyal, confident, competitive. These folks grew up in a time of affluence.
  • Generation X—Typically anti-authority, self-reliant, family focused. These folks grew up with workaholic and/or divorced parents, cable TV, and were reared to be self-sufficient (I take this to mean they were latchkey kids).
  • Generation Y—Typically digital thinkers, feel entitled, needy. These folks grew up micromanaged by parents, with technology, always rewarded for participation, and were reared to be high achievers.

Okay, I get that generalities are a good starting off point for discussion. I understand that in order to make sense of things you have to try and identify qualities people seem to have in common so you can take the discussion further.

I also get that generalities never survive close scrutiny. Once you start narrowing your peepers in at the details, you start to see how different people really are and how useless it is to try and ascribe labels to people. The individual always throws the bell curve of conformity, so to speak.

Forget all that. This list of qualities is almost complete and total junk. It’s a bunch of lazy half-baked imagery taken from the minds of business blankers who have strange fantasies of what the hoi-polloi are composed of.

It is, to put it not so nicely, wrong in the way phony people deceive themselves to cover up unpleasant truths about how people really are.

For example, “Gen X is anti-authority.” Really? Coming from parents of divorce and workaholics, of having to come home to a TV dinner and take care of themselves I would think it would be the opposite. That they are looking FOR authority, for structure, for someone or something to believe in. For a generation known for being “slackers”, how does the self-reliant come in?

I mean, this is so dysfunctional a description as to make absolutely no sense.

If anyone were “anti-authority” it would be the Boomers. You know, the flower children, the hippies, the children of the generation before them known as the Traditionals? Of course, what about all the anti-authority boomers who sold out to work for The Man? Is that the definition of “loyal”?

Generation Y are digital thinkers? What, they have electricity for brains? Okay, okay I get that it probably means they grew up comfortable with the Internet. Hello? Generation X grew up with Atari, ColecoVision, Apple II and the original Macs.

A lot of the Gen Y descriptions sound patronizing to me. Boomers were never raised to be high achievers or weren’t needy? George Carlin did a brutal comedy routine that mocked the Boomers as the most needy and entitled generation to ever exist.

Boomers didn’t grow up with technology? Some of the most significant technological advances in history were made while they were growing up. I know—television, the space program, the atomic age and the first computers don’t seem very exciting now that big business has moved on. But dude! Come. On.

See what I mean? There’s no depth or insight to these stereotypes. And that’s what they are—stereotypes that business leaders have towards middle class white consumers who have the money to spend on their products.

You want to know what I think the defining characteristics of these generations are? Okay get ready for this.

The Boomers are really Generation Boom, as in an explosion announcing the imminent end of the industrial way of life. They are the heralds and prophets of what will be.

You think the sixties are over? Dude, they are just getting started. The Booms were just the warm up act to the main event.

Or to take a bit of off the cuff from Rambo: “I’m alive, it’s alive, innit?”

Generation old X, middle Y and youngest Z are all siblings. They are the Omegas. The last generation to know mobility and prosperity. They are the disciples of the prophets, spreading the message and laying the foundations of the time to come.

They are more clever and resourceful than can be imagined by the vampires in suits.

No wonder the ownership struggles to understand these strange hybrids. So much promise! So little return on investment. Thus the narrow-minded and pathetic attempts to label them into alphabetical batches of human capital by manufacturing date.

Into this fun and exciting historical moment of decline and DEVO-lution will come into existence what I can only conceive of as Doom Generation, or “Doomsers” for short. They are the generation that will know war and collapse, as the end of the industrial age gives rise to an age of electro-agriculturalism.

They will see the rise of kings so powerful and horrific as to make Henry VIII look like a homesick hobbit. They will carry swords and use the telephone. Their children will be part monster, part truth-seeker and will grow up to build the foundations of an inner life beyond the reaches of academic or mystical conception.

No, you won’t be marketing to the Doomsers. They will see right through your medieval attempts to deceive their buying habits and laugh at your quaint nostalgia for the past.

And the Omegas will be stuck in the middle of two worlds, transition to transition, circuit to switch as the old world crumbles before a revelation of individual consciousness that will seem to the owners of the world like a zombie apocalypse, where a single scratch or bite will spread the venom of life to their cold blood.