Thursday, August 27, 2015
On Saturday August 15, 2015, Akron Ohio’s finest post-rubber export DEVO were honored in their hometown with the dedication of a piece of public art. The iconic 1978 Janet Macoska photo of the band in full stage uniform in front of the late, lamented hot dog stand Chili Dog Mac was colorized, enlarged to life size, and placed over that onetime landmark’s former facade next to the Akron Civic Theatre. This dedication is the first part of a planned renovation of that entire block, which has become a bit rundown and suffered vacancies despite having an anchor in the popular theater.
The event was a stone hoot. DEVO’s bassist/co-mastermind Jerry Casale and photographer Macoska were present, free chili dogs were available to all assembled, and the event began with a surreal and hilarious stunt, the Running of the Booji Boys. A couple dozen revelers in identical Booji Boy masks and blue jumpsuits danced in the middle of South Main St while a DJ pumped out DEVO music. The masks, not incidentally, are recreations by Akron’s SikRik Masks. DM has told you about them before. (All photos are by Ron Kretsch except where noted.)
Rick “SikRik” Fisher of SikRik Masks, in a sea of his handiwork. Photo courtesy Fisher.
Following this wonderful bit of insanity, we were treated to reminiscences from Casale and Macoska, a longtime music photojournalist who’s been honored with a retrospective at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (to which, ironically and bafflingly, DEVO themselves have yet to even be nominated, let alone admitted), and her work has been the subject of the books Jews Rock: A Celebration of Rock and Roll’s Jewish Heritage, It’s Always Rock and Roll, and the brand-spankin’ new All Access Cleveland. She spoke first:
Hello spuds! I’ve got to say that when we did these photos, the guys from DEVO and myself, we were all just starting out. I was 23, you guys [addressing Casale] were probably about the same age, and this was true collaboration, this is when there’s no barriers between artists and we had fun… “Iconic,” I’m not sure how it turned out that way, but I’m so thrilled, 37 years later, to see this have another life, and to pay tribute to our Akron hometown band, international superstars DEVO!
Casale, possibly the most fan-friendly major figure in pop music history, and certainly among the most thoughtful, reminisced at edifying length about the circumstances that colluded to produce the familiar photo.
This photograph by Janet was taken on a break from filming at the Akron Civic, when we were filming the video to “Satisfaction.” That’s why we have the guitars and gear and everything straight off the stage. We were filming a mock performance as one scene from the video, and we had just returned from Germany, from just recording our first record with Brian Eno as producer. We were back and we were on a break preparing to go to California, to move there to kind of police our label Warner Brothers Records, our domestic label—you had to be in proximity back then when there was a real record business. And we got a desperate call from Virgin Records, which was our European label, that our song “Satisfaction” was getting airplay, and they needed a video. They offered us fiiiiive thoooouuusand doooollars, [crowd laughter] which was actually, in ‘78, a big hunk of money for a starving band. And we were still starving, we were still a cult band, nothing had happened yet…
So we got busy and Mark [Mothersbaugh] and I quickly came up with an idea and fleshed it out. I filled in all the storyboards with a shot list and a description, he put the drawings in. We called Chuck Statler, who had moved to Minneapolis—he had done our film with us in 1976, “The Truth About De-evolution,” that kind of put us on the art crowd map because it went to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and we thought “let’s keep the team together, let’s keep doing this,” and we brought him in from Minneapolis to produce. It was crazy. Everything was do-it-yourself, no permits, this-and-that. And we came out here on a break, with Janet, on the street, while we were changing camera angles and stuff, and started shooting and having fun just coming up with things to do around here. And of course Chuck Kozelski, Chili Dog Mac, was a MUST, we all said “we have to take pictures in front of Chili Dog Mac!” That day, the filming produced a wealth of photographs in a lot of locations here on this street, but this one out of all of them became the one that kind of stood the test of time, because it’s so incongruent that these five guys that looked like they got plunked down from another planet, from a spaceship, stuck on the street in font of this populist hot dog joint.
L-R: Bob “Bob 2” Casale (RIP 2014), Jerry Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob “Bob 1” Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers (RIP 2013)
Photographer Janet Macoska with Jerry Casale
Takes guts to draw comparisons to your young self on a good day four decades ago…
After the ceremony and audience Q&A, the assembled mob of fans took turns posing for photos with the life-sized artwork, and Casale joined in on that action as well. Later that afternoon and evening, the annual DEVO convention/fan gathering DEVOtional was being held a quick hop up I-77 at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, and Casale made his seemingly annual appearance there, as well, signing memorabilia and taking more questions. (His Q&A was brutally frank and pretty amazing, though regrettably I can’t reproduce it here, as the organizers of the event only permitted recording on the condition that said recordings not be publicly shared, a condition I’m perfectly happy to honor.) But before his Q&A, Casale joined the Georgia DEVO tribute act DEVOMATIX onstage for their encore, and to the surprise and delight of a full house of assembled DEVOtees, he sang the songs “Beautiful World” and “Be Stiff” with the band. At age 67, the man is still a spry and engaging performer.
Seems fitting to end this one of my all time favorite DEVO clips—VERY old film of the band performing “Satisfaction” in 1977. The differences between this early version and the one you know are HUGE.