Watch Neil Young jam out with Devo for his 1982 film ‘Human Highway’
Neil Young’s career is one flecked with golden moments of musical grandeur and ranges from the sublime to the surreal. The singer-songwriter has long claimed much of the American songbook as his own—but even for an artist as acclaimed as Young, there are some serious misses.
One such miss saw Neil Young direct a largely forgotten and totally terrible film titled Human Highway. Among a lot of famous faces, one such group of faces was that of ‘The band of the Future’, Devo. They would not disappoint within their roles.
The film was directed by Young under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey and saw some notable stars including, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Sally Kirkland and Russ Tamblyn all take on a part, one suspects in thanks to Young for the music. It was quite the cast. However, our favourite role was Devo’s roles as employees at a nuclear plant on the last shift before a nuclear holocaust swamps the world—and that’s just a taster of how weird the film gets.
The film is largely unavailable on the shelves but one hero has uploaded the film onto YouTube and shared with us the greatest piece of the whole film—as Neil Young and Devo conduct a 10-minute jam on ‘Hey Hey, My My’, with Mark Mothersbaugh using his alter-ego as Booji Boy to devastating and surreal effect.
“Back in Akron, we couldn’t afford drugs, we hated to bowl and we had no recreational activities,” Mark Mothersbaugh once told Rolling Stone in 2010. “So we used to buy masks. Booji Boy was one of the characters we created. Jerry [Casale] would often be the all-knowing China Man. I’d be Booji Boy, the infantile spirit of de-evolution. A crib was an easy prop. I got it from the Salvation Army.”
After Young saw the band play at Starwood Club in West Hollywood in 1977 he was captivated by the band’s unstoppable creative energy. Devo were unlike anything around at the time and while the punk fires began to rage, Devo went about their business of creating music for the future, no matter how few people were intent on listening to them.
Young needed them on his film ASAP, “We played nuclear waste workers complaining about our jobs,” said Casale. “We then sang a parody of the Kingston Trio’s ‘It Takes a Worried Man.’ But then, as Neil was free-forming this movie, he started asking us to be in other scenes.” It’s an image which we love to languish in, the idea of Neil Young in his director’s chair offering advice and frames to Booji Boy and his crew.
The atmosphere on set was something that Devo found difficult to bear. “We were kind of repulsed by the whole experience,” recalled Mothersbaugh. “I thought Dennis Hopper was retarded when we met. He couldn’t say his lines. He couldn’t speak a sentence. He just ignored every direction he got. He was a short-order cook in the movie and he was playing with a knife and he ended up cutting Sally Kirkland really bad. She ended up suing Neil Young.”
Though it was an impressive cast list, many of the stars in the ensemble were a little long in the teeth. “Russ, Dean and Dennis were all these kind of lost souls,” said Mothersbaugh. “It was gonna be another couple of years before David Lynch reignited their careers with Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.” Casale remembers Dean Stockwell frequently showing up on the set unsurprisingly intoxicated.
The band’s connection with Young continued too after the singer named one of his album after some inspiration form Devo. “Years earlier, Jerry and I had a design company that we put together specifically for the purpose of making our film The Truth About De-Evolution,” said Mothersbaugh.
“It took us half a year to raise the $3,000 we needed. One of the jobs we had was for some local Rust-Oleum. We printed this logo ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ on t-shirts and underpants. Booji Boy was wearing a pair of the underpants and Neil saw that and later he said to me, ‘Hey, can I name something Rust Never Sleeps?’” And he did.
The Young/Devo jam is certainly the best thing about Young’s film Human Highway, but the best bit is that it was all unrehearsed. “He told us what the chord progression was and that was that,” said Casale. “It was hippie style.” Whatever style it was, it was certainly full of it.
Watch below as Devo and Neil Young jam on ‘Hey Hey, My My’ as part of Human Highway in 1982.