His Is Not a Holy War
Charles D.J. Deppner
As one of the co-founders of DEVO, as well as a cutting-edge video and commercial director, Gerald V. Casale has spent decades distinguishing himself as both pop icon and a cultural force to be reckoned with.
As Jihad Jerry, Gerald has traded in his trademark Energy Dome to don a turban and assume the wrath of a world gone mad.
With the inclusion of fellow DEVO alumni Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh and Robert Casale, as well as a unique rehash of devolved tracks like “Beehive,” “Find Out,” “I Been Refused” and “I Need A Chick,” Mine Is Not A Holy War initially appears as yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of De-Evolution. But appearances can be deceiving.
Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers is distinctively Casale and unabashedly caught in the now. They take their aim at President Bush with “If the Shoe Fits” and a misguided military with the song and video “Army Girls Gone Wild.”
I spoke with Casale’s alter ego, who took the time to repudiate the idea of being a cynic, warn of an unchecked future, and, of course, talk all things DEVO.
The juxtaposition of Abu Ghraib and “Girls Gone Wild” is truly inspired. As far as the concept, was that an immediate reaction?
Sure. I mean, first of all, you know, you’re inundated with these moronic images of Girls Gone Wild — you know the guys on Girls Gone Wild giving girls trinkets in Mardi Gras, wherever, you know, college parties, and they all like lift their tops and show their boobies. And they all do the same thing — Wheeww!
And it’s so kind of perfectly mindless that I thought combining those girls with girls in the United States Army was not much of a stretch because obviously there’s a kind of fraternity/sorority mentality running through the army.
And, with the Abu Ghraib scandal, we saw how that works when there’s massive groupthink and they take leave of all the supposed values they uphold.
So I thought, “Okay, it’s Girls Gone Wild: In Iraq. So it’s Army Girls Gone Wild. Not much of a stretch.
And then I found out, unbeknownst to me even at that time, there were a bunch of girls — female soldiers — who had already posed for a kind of Girls Gone Wild photo-spread and gotten in trouble. But, you know, I didn’t know at the time that they’d ever done that. And they had posed in their camouflage stuff (obviously) in the desert.
So, you know, when a world’s gone as crazy as the one we’re in- everybody’s so twisted, so fear-driven I guess you can’t even outdo reality with satire. Whatever you can think of is actually happening.
Have you ever created satire that missed its mark with significant results?
Oh sure. Yeah. Absolutely. That’s easy to do.
I wrote something in one of my blogs that was supposed to be clearly like satire — like [Swift’s] “A Modest Proposal.” And a lot of people wrote and believed that I meant what I was saying and I was shocked that it wasn’t obvious that I was joking. So I realized I had to be even more obvious than I thought I needed to be.
Well, DEVO always kind of aspired to “fly under the radar,” so to speak, and mesh with Pop Culture… On the other hand as “Jihad Jerry,” you’re taking the battle more “head on.”
Well, I guess I am… I guess I’m asking for it.
Jihad — poor Jihad — is a masochist. He sees so much hate and fear out there, that what he wants to is absorb it all so that others can move on and quit being in a rut that they’re in.
I mean we’re told everyday that we’re at war and we’re at war all the time and Bush likes to act like a mean hillbilly on a front porch. It’s a downer, to say the least. The message is being sent out every day. It’s ludicrous. We can’t possibly go on living this way. So Jihad decided to start his own war. It’s not a holy war. It’s a very “unholy war” against all the morons that run things.
Are there any advantages to being this “lightning rod?”
Yeah. I’m an equal opportunity target. Like Christians are offended by me and Muslims are offended by me. So I’m doing a good job in that respect, because, obviously, I’m an anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist. I’m here to put the “fun” back in fundamentalism.
The problem with the fundamentalist is there’s no sense of humor. They believe what they believe so passionately that they’re ready to kill for it and this is the biggest danger in the world today.
You sound pragmatic — at best. Is there any room for hope whatsoever?
Well, you know, I’m not sure about that. It’s looking pretty dismal as you might agree. And I’m sure there’s no argument either that De-Evolution is in fact real because if anybody would’ve told you in 1980 that this is where we’d be today, would you have believed them?
Exactly. So it makes people wish for the “good ol’ days” when there was still some semblance of civilized life. But I really think that it’s gonna get so bad that possibly — at that point — people will be interested once again in men who are logical and rational, men who are wise, and not these kind of fanatical men of faith who keep taking us off the edge of a cliff. So it’s possible it’ll get just so bad that people will go, “You know we’ve had enough of this.”
Could it get worse?
Oh it’s gonna get really bad. You know what’s funny is it won’t be these “barroom brawls” in the Mid East or anything, it’ll be the total meltdown of the land and the sea which is going on at a startling rate. And then people will — just like those science fiction movies in the fifties where they all of a sudden had to band together to survive the aliens — WE’RE THE ALIENS. I mean we’re attacking ourselves.
The snake’s eating its tail. And so somebody’s gotta do a sea change in the way they think if they even want humans to be on the planet anymore. The planet will be fine without us. It’ll look beautiful again. So it’s really up to us to decide if we even want to survive at this point.
Well, that addresses pretty much most of my follow up questions dealing with your cynicism…
What is cynicism?
Well, take my definition of cynicism… I guess it would be lack of faith in —
I see. “Lack of faith.” Okay — if that’s what it means — that’s right. I have lack of faith. I go on hard facts. F-A-C-T-S. I’m a logical, rational person. I don’t listen to what people say about themselves or what they believe they are doing or how good they think they are, I look at what they actually do. That’s what I do. So I guess by being realistic, I’m labeled a cynic.
How big of a departure is the cynicism of Jihad Jerry from that of DEVO?
Well see, I didn’t think I was being cynical ’cause I’m not hiding behind something cool with a smirk. I’m like you mentioned earlier, I’m just sticking myself out there. I’m a lightning rod for hostility. Some people get and say, “Right on” or laugh with me and other people want me dead.
Cynical seems like you’re trying to protect yourself or you’re too cool. I’m not. I’m really freaked out and pissed off — for real. I just think humans are now outta control. And the leaders of our country and other countries in the world are completely on the wrong path — 100% on the wrong path.
Would you say you’ve always felt this way? I mean is this an expansion of disillusionment with the Ssixties?
This is new. This is new. What we went through before is kindergarten compared to now. There’s massive lunacy.
On a lighter note, you’ve defined yourself as one who has embraced new media and technology, such as DEVO often being defined as video pioneers. Do you have a particular opinion or approach to the current explosion of digital technology?
Well, you know, it’s the same double-edged sword where it’s a “world of possibilities,” but usually the way it’s used is silly and obvious.
You’re obviously involved in many different things. Does it take any balancing between your various roles such as Jihad Jerry and more “family-friendly” projects such as DEVO 2.0?
That is a funny dichotomy. That’s like two sides of a coin — like a yin-yang, dark and light side…
Well, no. Because Jihad Jerry was something I was personally invested in. It was more like a poet who says, “Here’s who I am now.” And DEVO 2.0 was more like when I direct TV commercials where there’s an idea.
And the idea was really being driven by Disney. And we were there to solve the problem of making the idea real. So it’s almost like it didn’t really originate inside me. It was external.
You weren’t passionate about it?
Oh no. I mean, I don’t do anything unless I try to do it right, but I’m just saying DEVO 2.0 was NOT me — on purpose. And that’s why all the hardcore DEVO fans from the old days hated it because we cooperated in completely softening DEVO and making it palatable for 5-to-8 year olds which is what they wanted.
So that’s why I cast a band of 11-to-13 year olds who would represent the older brothers and sisters of the target audience, so that they could identify with this band rather than look at a bunch of old guys.
And it took a long time to find kids that could sing and play and we found them. I enjoyed working with them and I love Nicole the singer and Kane the drummer — he’s gonna be a star no matter what he does. Something will happen for him. They were very talented and they are very bright kids.
Well, I enjoyed the whole concept because the thing I liked about DEVO originally — as bizarre as it was — was that it was on TV. It was on the radio. The thing I found appealing, it was always “pop-friendly” and chances were a lot of people like me would’ve never heard of DEVO if it weren’t such.
That’s correct. We straddled two worlds and, against all odds, we had a voice in the marketplace. And certainly 5-to-8 year olds would never have known DEVO ever existed — historically even — unless they listened to DEVO 2.0 and found out later that it was based on DEVO. And they’d seek that out like somebody goes to a library find the source material.
I think we have some infantile appeal to our music. It goes to the brainstem. You know, the primitive brainstem.
With that in mind, does DEVO still feel “scalped or short-changed.”
Oh I think so. I mean we definitely were “the Pioneers Who Got Scalped.” We were criticized and reviled for all the things that bands after us all do to be successful. I mean we were hated ’cause we had merchandise we created and they said that wasn’t “rock ‘n’ roll.” Were we a band or were we an ad agency? Or were we a brand?
And when we had video in synch with us live, rear-projected… Robert Hill, being the foremost rock and roll critic of the West Coast, said, “Give us rock ‘n’ roll or stay home, DEVO. We don’t need to go to a video arcade if we come to your concert.” Meanwhile you got seven thousand people going crazy and loving the idea. It’s exciting and that’s the way people wanted to see it.
It reminds me of that movie Babette’s Feast where she works for three days to bring people that fantastic meal and they all feel compelled not to enjoy it.
And, finally, how does De-Evolution fit into the argument for “Intelligent Design”?
Well, I wish design was intelligent. De-Evolution bridges the gap between the Evolutionists and the Intelligent Design people. I mean I think if Intelligent Design is going to be taught in schools, then you’ve gotta teach De-Evolution as well. So you got all three: Evolution, De-Evolution and Intelligent Design.
Look, you know, quite seriously, it’s so sad to me that this argument is given sway as if it’s a serious valid argument. It is so silly. One is just pure subterfuge trying to reintroduce belief and religion into science and the other one just has to do with what we know. And they’re really apples and oranges. And yet De-evolution explains why there isn’t linear progress and things aren’t just getting better and that if humans are in fact the pinnacle of the evolutionary chain, then we’re in big trouble.