Arts DEVO turns half-a-hundred
The half-century mark Two-and-a-half weeks before I was born, Neil Armstrong planted his big puffy boot on the moon’s surface. By the time I turned a week old, Richie Havens was starting his three-hour-long festival-opening set at Woodstock.
Arts DEVO turns 50 years old this week. I really didn’t want to mark the occasion in this space by sharing a Wikipedia rundown of the year I was born, but I can’t deny that 1969 was a mind-boggling year, and it’s proven difficult for me to ignore. In addition to that giant leap for mankind and those three days of peace and music, it was Richard Nixon’s first year as president, the U.S. was deep in the thick of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, and the good vibes of Woodstock and the flower-power movement were dashed when 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death in front of the stage as the The Rolling Stones performed at Altamont. It was also the year of the first HIV death in the U.S., The Beatles’ last live performance, and the transmission of the first message on an internet (the ARPANET).
The same week I was born, the Zodiac Killer sent his first cryptograms to newspapers, and a week after that, the Manson family pulled up to the Benedict Canyon home of actress Sharon Tate and started their infamous two-day murder spree. And we think life in 2019 is stressful?! (Imagine the shit show that would’ve played 24/7 if social media existed then?)
Actually, there are a lot of parallels between ’69 and ’19, and it’s depressing and infuriating how, in the 50 years I’ve been dragging this meatsack under the sun, many of the ills of society remain unchanged or worse from the days of that crook Nixon to these of that crooked Trump. Marginalized groups still struggling to make strides in America today trace their activist roots to 1969: LGBTQ folks (Stonewall riots), Native Americans (occupation of Alcatraz) and African-Americans (FBI kills Black Panther Party leaders). The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was the impetus for the creation of Earth Day and the spread of modern environmentalism, yet greenhouse gas emissions have nonetheless doubled since then. The poverty rate in America is unchanged, while the share of national income of the top 1 percent has doubled in half a century.
I know, it’s not the most uplifting birthday speech ever, but if I’m going to look outside my personal bubble, it is the picture formed by drawing that 50-year line. Thankfully, there are also a bunch of Clash and Prince records on that timeline, and legalized same-sex marriages, and Larry Bird threes, and Bernie Sanders, and tacos, and the Woody Guthrie archives, and David Lynch films, and Toni Morrison, and watermelon slices in Whiskeytown Lake, and driving lessons in the Galaxie 500, and Sonic Youth concerts, and people having sex and creating rad humans that have become my friends and bandmates and wife, and glasses of rosé in a garden in southern France, and stories shared over beers with sisters and in newsprint with Chico.
I, personally, have a lot to be thankful for. I am living a very good life thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people. Nearly every single success in five decades has been due to some degree to someone else doing something on my behalf. Mrs. DEVO asked me out. Former CN&R Editor Tom Gascoyne hired a college dropout to be an arts editor. Aunt Lori gave me my first guitar. Uncles Rob and Craig home-schooled me with their record collections, and lifelong friend Conrad Nystrom continued my education with decades of countless mixed tapes and CDs. I’ve been given cars, airline tickets, tools, more instruments, free rides and the benefit of the doubt. My grandma gave me the superpower of making the best of any situation (aka creating my own luck), and my sweet mother gave me an unending example of kindness and being generous of spirit—together the three guiding principles of my life.
At 50, that’s what I’ve got. Thanks, everyone, for my life.
Be kind, fight the jerks, have fun with people, and create stuff—especially your own reality.