“Are We Not Little Men” : Some Notes Toward a History of Shut Up, Little Man!
“Are We Not Little Men” — We are Devo
One of the true highlights of the Shut Up Little Man odyssey came in 2002, when I received a postcard and an email from a man for whom I cannot under-estimate my fondness, respect, and esteem: Mark Mothersbaugh. Mark is a highly coveted film soundtrack composer in Hollywood, but he had originally come to prominence as the principle force in the New Wave performance art sensation that was Devo. I have always had a great irrational love for Devo from the first time I heard them in 1978 and especially since the first time I saw them in 1979 performing “Jocko Homo” and “Satisfaction” on Saturday Night Live. I was a huge fan of their first independently produced single and the first two Warner Bros. albums Are We Not Men? We are Devo and Duty Now for the Future. The Devo songs “Gut Feeling,” “Space Junk,” and “Mr. DNA” have been the soundtrack for many unhinged moments in my life.
Mark wrote to explain that his brother Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob 1 of Devo) had been inflamed by Peter and Raymond after hearing the recordings through a friend. Inspired by their vitriolic arguments, Bob 1 had written a song to be performed by the members of Devo. So, Mark was seeking my permission to use Peter and Raymond samples and the name “Shut Up Little Man” for the song. The track was intended for the upcoming Devo side-project - a playful spudly take on surf music. For this project Devo had christened themselves 'The Wipeoutters' after the famous surf tune by The Ventures.
Many years ago I was browsing in a used bookstore and come across an artist's book by Mark Mothersbaugh entitled What I Know. It was a quirky little self-produced thing full of Mark's drawings, writings, and obsessions. The book had the same skewed take on the world as Devo's lyrics. Standing there in the bookstore, I fell in love with everything about the book - the way it looked and felt, the bizarre images, and the fact that it was by the main guy in Devo. But, at the time I lived so hand-to-mouth that I literally couldn't afford the $15 to purchase it. ($15 was at least 5 burritos back then, and 5 burritos was a weeks worth of lunches.) This may sound absurd, but not buying the book had plagued me for years -- because I loved it so much. And, with all of my trawling of used bookstores across the globe, I had never again seen another copy of Mark’s book. So, when negotiating with him for the right to sample Shut Up Little Man, I asked him for a copy of that book. Mark graciously sent me a copy of the extremely scarce book, inscribed to me with a man eating a sausage of the Eddie Lee variety [see illustration]. He also sent me a Devo t-shirt, the entire Devo back-catalogue (cleverly inscribed to me - see illustration), and the agreed-upon cash. Months later, the Wipeoutters CD was released with its Venture’s like surf guitar line and cleverly composed samples of Peter and Raymond bitching away at one another. It’s like a soundtrack to an imagined movie, Beach Blanket Bickering. You can hear the Devo song here.next article »