There’s a chance something miraculous might happen tomorrow: Art school project turned synth-rock pioneers Devo might get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They wouldn’t be the first weirdos to crash the Rock Hall — Frank Zappa had that honor in 1995, followed by Parliament-Funkadelic in 1997 — but for a band that’s still unjustly known more as a one-hit wonder than as a groundbreaking conceptual group, it would be a pretty major coup for them to be enshrined alongside The Beatles and Elvis and Bon fucking Jovi and all the other canonical rock gods. There’s even a very, very slim chance that they’ll be in the same induction class as Kraftwerk, who are also nominated this year — which would make 2019 the weirdest and synth-iest R&RHOF class ever. (But don’t hold your breath — Stevie Nicks, The Zombies and Def Leppard are nominated, too, and they’ll almost certainly be at the front of the line with voters this year.)
To celebrate this fleeting gesture of mainstream acknowledgement, Devo founder Gerald Casale wrote a remarkable open letter to fans on Noisey, Vice’s music website, reflecting on the band’s history and the prescience of their kidding-but-not-really theory of “devolution,” which posits that humans are doomed not to evolve, but to devolve, as our increasingly sophisticated technologies, marketing methodologies, and political systems cater ever more effectively to our baser instincts. “When Devo formed more than 40 years ago, we never dreamed that two decades into the 21st century, everything we had theorized would not only be proven, but also become worse than we had imagined,” Casale writes.
I encourage you to read Casale’s whole letter, which is a brilliantly cranky screed. It’s especially enlightening if you don’t know Devo’s full history (for the uninitiated, here’s a teaser: The band was founded by a group of Kent State University grads in the early ’70s, after a certain infamous shooting took place there). But here’s the heart of what he’s getting at:
We are drowning in a devolved, WWF Smackdown-style world, with warring, huckster TV pundits from “The Left” and “The Right” distracting the clueless TV viewership while our vile, venal Mobster-in-Chief (who makes Idiocracy’s Macho Camacho look fit for office) and his corrupt minions rob the nation’s coffers in a shamelessly cruel, Grab-‘Em-By-The-Pussy Kleptocracy. …
So, let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late. Perhaps the reason Devo was even nominated after 15 years of eligibility is because Western society seems locked in a death wish. Devo doesn’t skew so outside the box anymore. Maybe people are a bit nostalgic for our DIY originality and substance. We were the canaries in the coalmine warning our fans and foes of things to come in the guise of the Court Jester, examples of conformity in extremis in order to warn against conformity.
Casale ends his essay by describing Devo as “the house band on the Titanic” and asking rhetorically, “Is there any question that De-evolution is real?” Nope, Jerry, I’d say you and your bandmates pretty much nailed that one. Well done! Except we’re probably now all doomed and, if your theory of “de-evolution” applies to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which it clearly does — did I mention they inducted Bon fucking Jovi?), then they’ll almost certainly induct the strip-club soundtrack machine that is Def Leppard and pass over Devo. So you won’t be inducted but hey, at least you’ll be proven right.
If by some miracle Devo does get inducted, we’ll be back tomorrow with some exploding head GIFs.