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Music

How Devo was inspired by H. G. Wells to write one of their greatest songs

There are a lot of weird bands out in the world, and then there’s Devo. They seem intent on capturing the wonderfully absurd before presenting the absurdly wonderful to the masses. It’s hard to find a song that’s battier than ‘Jocko Homo’, a number with a curious genesis that’s even further left of field than the scintillating hooks might present themselves as. 

“Jocko Homo’ was one of the first songs I wrote for the band,” said Mark Mothersbaugh. “The whole song was meant to be a theme song for the theory of de-evolution and for Devo, what we were about. It was meant to lay out the story right there. It was a collection of discussions we had where we sat around in Kent after students had been shot, and decided that what we were seeing happening on the planet, when we looked at the news and read the paper, was not evolution but was more appropriately described as de-evolution.”

Mothersbaugh added: “The chorus that keeps repeating the ‘Are we not men’ is directly from the very first Island Of Lost Souls (1932). There were two remakes that were both tepid and not nearly as compelling as the original. The original had a mad scientist on a deserted Pacific Island where he operated on animals – beasts from the jungle, in a room called the House Of Pain. He operates on these beasts to try to raise them up on the evolutionary chart. It’s a very painful operation and when he does this, you can hear them screaming in the middle of the night in the House Of Pain.” 

The chorus forms the dissertation of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! , the band’s first album. Everywhere we look, questions arise, whether querying man’s existence or examining the idiocy (or odyssey), we push ourselves down. Even for the punk genre, this was bold stuff, and it makes for prescient listening in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. 

Which begs the question of whether or not Island of Lost Souls was a warning to the future of humanity? Like many sci-fi epics, the book presented a warning to the future, that was later unveiled into a form of reality. Other contenders include Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Moore’s Watchmen, two probing essays on man’s inability to learn from their mistakes. 

This isn’t a philosophical magazine, so let’s focus on the song’s bouncy hook and kaleidoscopic production design. The piece is fresh with ingredients: There’s the wailing vocal performance, the thumping keyboard line, and best of all, the song is free from a wailing guitar heard too often in seventies rock. 

Which is why the record sounds so fresh, so free, so liberating, and so…well, it’s just very Devo. They’ve earned their own adjective in the English language, and this song is a Devo filled devofection, with extra devos on the side of the delicious devo pie.