I’m back. Lets get to it. The above clip from Human Highway, directed by Neil Young or to be exact his film-making alter ego
Bernard Shakey was actually filmed in 1978 prior to the release of Young’s seminal 1979 record Rust Never Sleeps. The film, mostly funded by Young himself is an eccentric anti-nuclear comedy and remained on the shelf for several years before finally being released in 1982. Ignored in its day, the film is a fascinating historical document of where Young’s head was then creatively as he attempted to understand and take part in the spirit of the then burgeoning punk movement of the late Seventies allying himself with Akron, Ohio‘s determinately weird art rock outfit Devo.
There’s an interesting symmetry in both Young’s and Devo’s history. Young was a member of Seventies supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young who wrote their 1970 track ‘Ohio‘ as a reaction against the Kent State Shootings in 1970 when unarmed student protesters found themselves under fire from the National Guard at Kent State University, Ohio during an anti-war demonstration. Four people died and several injured. Two of the victims were friends of Gerard Casale, one of the founding members of Devo who was attending Kent State at this time. This incident had a profound influence on Devo’s philosophy; determinedly anti-hippie, anti-rock, projecting disgust and anger at what they viewed as the ‘devo-lution’ or regression of civilization.
Seemingly the polar opposite of died in the wool hippy Young in their outlook and musical style, Devo’s sound was unique as if beings from another planet had suddenly stumbled upon an intergalactic transmission rock and roll music and appropriated the sound but this time minus any recognizable elements of blues or soul, a white boy alien funk filled, rock music turned inside out, anxious, disturbed, offering not release but queasy discomfort.
So what drew these seemingly disparate artists together? Well you can find a more detailed history behind their relationship and the full story behind the genesis of Rust Never Sleeps on the excellent radio programme entitled Sound Opinions, hosted by Chicago music critics Jim De Rogatis and Greg Kot. Just click here for a podcast of the show, broadcast on the 26th of August. Listening to the show rattled my memory and forced me to seek out this fascinating version of Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) in which Devo and Young perform a twisted, almost punk disco version of the track which was then slowed down, turned up and transformed into a typically primitive piece of Crazy Horse heaviness on Rust.