Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Devo -- "Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)" (1978)

Something about the way you taste
Makes me want to clear my throat

Herewith begins a new series of 2 or 3 lines posts.  (The old series rarely if ever truly end -- they just fade away when I forget about them.)

This series will feature the music I liked in the time period that began when I left law school and ended when I had children -- mid-1977 through mid-1983.  I'm going to serve you up some new wave, some punk, some art rock, and who knows what else.  (I usually have no particular plan when I start a new series, and this one is no exception.)

(I read it in translation)
Here's a quote from Michel Houellebecq's novel, La carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory):  

Jed would be asked numerous times what it meant, in his eyes, to be an artist.  He would find nothing very interesting or original to say, except one thing, which he would consequently repeat in each interview: to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive.  Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages . . . messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner . . . to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all.

Exactly.  Which explains why I am writing about a group that I haven't thought about for three decades or more -- a group that I would have remembered as recently as last week as being the object of a short-lived and rather shallow enthusiasm of mine, which was based almost entirely on their novelty and eccentricity rather than any real musical merit or significance -- a group whose music I have suddenly realized is brilliant and absolutely original.

Devo (wearing energy domes)
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I speak of . . . Devo.  (Of course!)    

A funny thing happened to me recently while I was on the road to Damascus.  (Actually, I was taking a walk in my neighborhood with my dog and my iPod.)

The long instrumental introduction to "Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)" -- you'll find it on side two of Devo's debut album, Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We Are Devo! -- was playing, and suddenly a light from Akron, Ohio, flashed all around me, and I fell to the ground and was blind.

As I lay on the ground, I listened to the song three times, and something like scales fell from my eyes and I could see again.  A neighbor who closely resembled Brian Eno (the producer of We Are Devo!) placed his hands on me.  A mom driving her kids to the local pool stopped her minivan and asked if everything was alright, and the neighbor who looked like Brian Eno told her, "This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim Devo's name to the residents of Flower Valley, and the people of the Parkwood High School class of 1970, and those all around the world who randomly stumble upon the wildly popular 2 or 3 lines."

Hearing his words, the mom in the minivan rolled up the window, locked her doors, and got the hell out of there -- no doubt calling 911 as she drove away.  As for me, I got up and returned to my home, where I took some food (a slice of leftover pepperoni and mushroom pizza).

(I had a similar experience)
Now that I have regained my strength, I am ready to preach to the unbelievers that Devo's music is unexcelled.  I will talk to and debate with the followers of of Supertramp, and John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen, and they will try to kill me.

But I will speak boldly in the name of Devo, and 2 or 3 lines will enjoy a time of peace and be strengthened, and those who click on its ads will increase in numbers.  

(Apologies to Acts 9:1-31.  You don't think you-know-who is going to find this blasphemous, do you?  I'm just funnin' a little.)

"Gut Feeling" is worthy of comment in part because it has an unusual structure, consisting of phrases that are five measures long.  Each measure features a different chord -- E, G, C, A, and D (in that order).

This five-chord progression is repeated relentlessly throughout the lengthy instrumental introduction to the song, and the same pattern continues through the verses and chorus, which are sung by Mark Mothersbaugh.  It is as compelling as it is simple, and I wouldn't mind it a bit if the song kept going for an hour or so.

Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh at age 60
The "(Slap Your Mammy)" part of the title comes from the last minute or so of the track, when the five-measure phrase are abandoned and Mark Mothersbaugh (who wrote the music for the Nickelodeon Rugrats series, among other things) sings "Slap your mammy down, slap your pappy down again" over and over.

Here's a clip featuring the instrumental introduction to "Gut Feeling" from the 2004 movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  The whole movie (like all Wes Anderson movies) is just as nonsensical as this clip is, so don't feel bad if you don't get it -- the only thing to get is that there's really nothing to get.  

Believe it or not, the Weather Channel has used "Gut Feeling" as background music for its local forecasts.

Here's a fascinating old video of Devo performing "Gut Feeling" live at the late, great Max's Kansas City club in New York City in 1977.

Here's Devo performing the song at an outdoor concert in California in 1996.

The drummer is fan-f*cking-tas-tic, n'est-ce pas?  And note Bob Mothersbaugh's LaBaye 2x4 guitar (so named because the body resembles a 2x4):

Here's "Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

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