Creative people sometimes start out isolated and different. No matter how positive and full of energy we are, we still stand out from everyone around us because we want to change their environment. We are full of ideas and questions things. The vast majority of people expend their energy making sure that nothing changes, so when someone creative appears, they are diminished and ignored. The urge to fit in and be like other people is strong and for a lot people, that leads to their creative side being completely submerged. They would rather be someone they aren’t than be lonely.
However, sometimes you get a signal that no matter how weird or different you are, there is someone out there just like you. That signal is an important indicator of the path you are about to go down. For some people it’s a book or a movie, sometimes it’s a person you meet or a specific location. Whatever it is, it’s an indication that it’s ok to be yourself.
For me it was the summer of 1979 and and I was 10 years old. I was riding to Graceland shopping center on my blue BMX bike with a banana seat. I made my way through all my usual stops — the hobby shop, the toy store — when I noticed a new store. It was a music store and I didn’t know anything about music. I hadn’t had much exposure to music beyond TV and music class at school. My parents played the occasional Simon and Garfunkel record and some Peter, Paul and Mary, but most of the music in our house came from a tinny radio in the garage as my father worked on Volkswagens.
I walked into the shop without any thought of actually buying something. It was more of an exploration to see what it would be like inside. I knew I enjoyed the Beatles, but not much beyond that. I wandered the aisles without direction, soaking in the hyperreal fluorescent ambiance and avoiding the vaguely punk cashiers, when a cassette tape caught my eye. It was a peculiar figure wearing a hat with the letters D-E-V-O next to him, and for some reason, I felt an instant connection to it. I was drawn to it. I knew, in that moment, that whoever had decided to put that image on that case was talking to directly to me. He was whispering a message directly in my ear.
“You are not alone.”
That’s what it said. Those words formed in my head. No exaggeration or hyperbole involved. If I made a movie of it I would animate the lips of the man on the tape saying them to me. Seeing this album cover was love at first sight – not me loving it, but it loving me.
I bought it, took it home and listened to it over and over again on my dad’s handheld, monophonic tape recorder. I memorized it. I was so unsophisticated that I didn’t even look for other albums by the group or try to look up any information about them at all. I didn’t even know that “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was a cover of a Rolling Stones song.
For at least six months, all that existed of those mythical creatures “Devo” was that one gray cassette tape in a cracked, clear plastic case. Even the album name spoke to that question of connection. Are we not men? We are DEVO! I included myself in that “we” as I sang along.
When he was asked about that album cover, Mark Mothersbaugh, one of the founding forces of Devo, told this story:
“We thought of ourselves as Fred Flintstone meets George Jetson, kind of, because at that time the artists that were influencing us were Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol — so we were influenced by a mixture of commercial art and fine art. We were purveyors of lowbrow and highbrow colliding, you know those Venus De Milo statues with a clock in the stomach? That kinda stuff. You didn’t even have to go that far, you could just walk through a K-Mart at the time and it was even funkier then than it is now. I remember seeing this beautiful airbrushed photo of Chi Chi Rodriguez, with his head over a golf ball, and it kind of mimicked an astronaut’s head in front of the moon. But it was this golfer’s head over a golf ball, and they used that logo on a line of products that were manufactured in China. So I bought it, ’cause it was the cheapest thing you could buy, golf tees with a little hanging bag, with Chi Chi Rodriguez’s head in front of a golf ball. And we later ended up using that as the inspiration for our first album cover.”
Maybe it was just that someone else saw the same strange cracks in reality that I did. But that image resounded in me too.
There were other signs that I was not alone: Dr. Who on our local public television station, and Fritz the Nite Owl showing movies on late night TV. I remember watching them on a tiny black and white TV in my room after midnight, covering it up with a blanket to hide the light.
Even when the movies were boring, the fact that Fritz was on and talking was a sign that there were other people up at that time. Almost as if there were a secret world the existed alongside the one I was familiar with. It seems that there was art hidden in the overlooked nooks and crannies of reality.