(ed: i am a yuge devo fanboy – and my best devo-memory was when i took my (then 13 yr old) step-daughter to see them at hordern pavilion in sydney – she also was a big fan – and it was her first concert – cool in oh so many ways…)
The unexpected message of New Wave’s defining anthem.
Let’s get one thing clear about Devo’s biggest hit of all time: ‘Whip It’ is not a song about masturbation or S&M.
At least that’s the story that everyone involved is sticking to and it seems unlikely that a band who in 1974 had recorded a demo with the lyrics ‘I need a chick to suck my dick’ (later released on Hardcore Devo: Volume 2) would demur on this point.
According to Jerry – who wrote the lyrics ‘Whip It’ is a tongue-in-cheek pep talk satirizing hollow American optimism.
“I had been reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and he had these limericks and poems in there that really made me laugh – where he was making fun of all the American capitalist can-do clichés—Horatio Alger—‘there’s nobody else like you’ – ‘you’re number one’ – ‘you can do it.’
And I was just trying my hand at it’.
While it would certainly be consistent with Devo’s methods to include a knowing double entendre – they are adamantly ambivalent about the common misunderstanding – which both goosed the song’s popularity and made it ever more clear that the masses would never quite get what the band were trying to do.
‘We wrote it as a ‘you can do it – Dale Carnegie’ pep talk for President Carter’ says Mark.
‘We were afraid that Republicans were going to get in there [in 1980] and they sounded very nasty at the time.
They were running this guy – Ronald Reagan – that seemed like a total—he seemed like he didn’t even have a brain.
We were like ‘How could that be our president?
(ed:..and then along came trump – smooth-talking trump..
and young people wouldn’t know what a dribbling fool reagan was – especially in his second term – when the dementia was really kicking in…)