There is something undeniably intriguing about Devo; their repetitive lyrics, the overbearing synthesizers, the kooky barking voices and of course the costumes. As a child, I was obsessed. My aunt played me some of their stuff and I enjoyed them but it was not until seeing the “Whip it” that I became a devotee (eek, pun not intended). They became the band I most wanted to play my birthday party and maybe adopt me and at least give me one of those red hats.
I wanted to be in Devo so badly that I learned all the lyrics, constructed a futuristic hat out of paper towel rolls and mastered Mark Mothersbaugh’s diction and mannerisms. I was missing one key element: a whip.
My father, an antique dealer, had a whip. It was not ideal. It was designed for horses for buggy driver. It was stiff at the end and significantly taller than three year-old me. (The video was in syndication a long time, for the record. I am in my twenties.) The last few feet of it were loose and, well, whip like.
I would go outside and play Indiana Jones with it and never manage to hurt anyone, myself included. That involved mostly whipping carves into trees and soda cans off of the back deck. Devo gave me a new idea: whipping clothes off of people. That idea was shot down immediately.
The idea that followed was whipping a cigarette out of a person’s mouth. My father smoked at the time and I began begging him to let me try. He quickly denied me. I told him I had practiced and had gotten my precision down. That was probably false. I was only three. What sensible person would let a three year-old whip a cigarette out of their mouth? I would offer him incentives like doing well in school and not bothering him. The answer was still, “No. The whip is bigger than you are. I will not let you hit me in the face with it!” Promises and assurances followed these words. No go.
My grandmother, Mimi (I will talk about her a lot more later) was the only other potential candidate. She smoked and was kooky and up for anything. I asked her if she would let someone whip a cigarette out of her mouth if they knew what they were doing. She cocked her head to the side, which usually indicated momentary thought.
“I suppose.” She replied in her airy Southern voice.
“Suppose, I knew how to use a whip pretty well. Would you let me do it?” I trembled with anticipation.
Again, she cocked her head to the side and was silent slightly longer than longer. “I would.”
I took this conversation as a formal contract and made plans. As I was going over to my great grandmother’s, I tried to hide the whip unsuccessfully. Think of a three year-old with a four foot whip behind her back.
My father instantly saw this, “What ARE you doing?”
Lying failed me so I told the truth, “I was bringing it to Mimi’s house.”
He snatched it out of my hand, “No, you are not going to hit my mother in the face with a whip. Give me that!”
It is rare that I say this but my dad was right. I was not master enough to whip a cigarette out of either of their mouths. I probably still can’t. It makes for comic fodder though.
As always, I will still rock it out Devo Style and maybe learn how to use a whip. It seems like one hell of a cool party trick.