Bob Casale, guitarist of the new wave band Devo that infused the 1980’s with a herky-jerky electronic sound has died of heart failure at the age of 61. He is survived by his wife Lisa and his two children, Samantha and Alex. Older brother Gerald who founded the band expressed his dismay in a recent Rolling Stone interview with what he calls a “dumbed down culture” because after decades of musical contribution, so many of the headlines consist of two things, “Whip It” and “Guitarist Dead.” Casale was much more to all who knew him and the one hit wonder song, Whip It, was just one of many tracks that Devo fans appreciated.
According to Gerald Casale, Bob died on Feb. 17 from health issues that eventually caused heart failure. Apparently, he had bleeding of the stomach lining which caused his blood pressure to plummet, the low pressure caused his heart to stop and doctors were unable to revive him. Gerald released the sad news of the premature death of his little brother and Devo bandmate via social media saying Bob always, “…gave more than he got.” When asked about whether Bob’s death means the end of Devo, the elder Casale could not give a definitive answer but did remark that if they did perform again, it would be the first time without his brother in 40 years.
Devo came into the spotlight in 1978 when the band covered The Rolling Stones song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction on Saturday Night Live. The band asked Mick Jagger to approve their cover before they performed it. According to Gerald Casale, when Jagger heard it, he put on some moves (like Jagger) and claimed it was his favorite version of the song. This was two years before Whip It made its MTV debut with the lyrics, “When something’s going wrong, you must whip it, whip it good.”
While the Whip It lyrics were relatively innocuous, the video imagery was considered risqué for the times with its exaggerated sadomasochism flavor. The video can be credited with grabbing the attention of young and older viewers alike and bringing the band out of relative obscurity and into new wave fame.
The name Devo is an abbreviation of the word “devolution” which is the opposite of evolution. The elder Casale once defined the band’s name in reference to the regression of humans into a “destructive herd mentality.” In the 1980’s the group was considered innovative, edgy and technologically skilled by some, and simply a bizarre concept band with a warped sense of fashion by others. In the age of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe choices, warped has become the new vogue and electronic music is the new cool.
In fact, Devo was intent on a comeback having released the band’s ninth studio album; Something for Everybody in 2010 and performing live at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. As quirky as ever, in an attempt to be relevant, in 2012 they released a politically snarky video and song, Don’t Roof Rack Me Bro! The song was aimed at former presidential Republican candidate Mitt Romney and ridiculed Romney for once traveling with his Irish Setter strapped in a carrier on the top of his car.
In-depth coverage of the brothers and their relationship with fellow band members Mark Mothersbaugh (the main vocalist) and Bob Mothersbaugh is included in a phone interview that the elder Casale gave to Rolling Stone shortly after Bob died. The elder Casale detailed much of the history of the band Devo and the meanings behind many of their songs and videos. On a more personal level however, he also spoke of his deceased brother in terms of who he was before the band ever got together, how Bob was a self-taught guitarist and a family man who once pursued a career in radiology.
Most importantly, Gerald Casale has never defined his brother as the Whip It guitarist from Devo. In life, Bob Casale was much more than has been expressed about his death by the number of “dumbed down” headlines from a devolved media culture.
By Alana Marie Burke