AARON ZIMMERMAN

postcard print by Mark Mothersbaugh



"Mark Mothersbaugh: Interviewed" NYArts Magazine Vol. 8 N. 9 (September/October 2003) pg.84



            Before Bill Gates made it perfectly clear that nerds do, in fact, rule this planet, the band DEVO gave geeks in America their first signs of hope that there may be a way for us to be heard. By both posing and answering the question "Are We Not Men?" (The stern reply, of course, being "We are Devo.") Mark Mothersbaugh and his band of super-dweebs from Akron, Ohio put forth a roboto-futuristic sound that defined a stance somewhere between punk rock and new wave. Their influence is still felt today.
            Mark is now best known for scoring television and film projects like The Rugrats and The Royal Tennenbaums via his company Mutato Music. But all this stuff is widely known. What you probably didn't know is that Mark has been making and exhibiting artwork for more than 20 years. A quick visit to his website (mutato.com) will reveal a history of exhibitions all over the world. I had no idea.
            I found this out recently when I saw the New York stop of the "HomeFront Invasion" tour (which will continue through the fall) at The Fuse Gallery in New York's East Village. The tour is a traveling exhibition of Mark's drawings made on postcards that are then digitally enlarged, printed on archival paper and framed. After seeing the show I got a chance to talk to Mark about this tour, postcard art, the philosophy of DEVO, Angel Dust and Andy Warhol. The following interview is the result.
            (This is the best part of an extremely long interview. To listen to an MP3 of the full interview click here.)

AZ: So tell me about Andy Warhol. You said you did some things with him. I was interested in that interaction because I read an interview in, I can't remember what it was in, it might have been in Mean magazine or something like that, where you talked about the divide between commercial art and fine art and you said that...
MM: He was an influence yea.
AZ: Right, you said that you were influenced by him and Roy Lichtenstein. Did you ever have a chance to hang out with Andy Warhol?
MM: Well, I had one really bad experience with Andy Warhol.
AZ: Oh.
MM: This was back before DEVO had a record deal but we had pressed these records back in Akron, Ohio. We had 3 singles we put out. It was "Mongoloid", "Jocko Homo" and "Be Stiff" and we did a cover of The Rolling Stones "Satisfaction". So we had these 3 singles we did and nobody saw them in the US. But they did get to Bleeker Bob's in New York City. A guy from Stiff Records in England, Dave Robinson, he was in there looking for stuff you know and he picked them up and took them back to England and the next time he came back to town he called and said, "Hey you guys, if you let me distribute these for you in Europe," you know because we said we didn't want to sign a record deal with anybody but he said he would distribute those records the way we did them. He said he could sell a bunch. So we were like, "Really? Ok." So, he took them and it was kind of funny because within 4 months of him taking the 3 singles 5 of the 6 sides all charted in Europe.
AZ: Wow.
MM: "Mongoloid" was number one in France. At the same time "Satisfaction" was in the top ten in England and it was number one in Yugoslavia. "Jocko Homo" was in the top ten, no it was in the top 40, but that was good enough for us, in Scotland. We thought, how good could that be? "Jocko Homo" is number one in Scotland! That's better than reality: "Jocko Homo" in Scotland!
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: And "Be Stiff" was in the charts in Germany all at the same time. So there was this interest in Europe where they were like, "Hey! They're not only weird they're commercial."
AZ: Right.
MM: You know, so then we had all the different record people trying to sign us... Now, why am I telling you this part?
AZ: About Warhol.
MM: Oh Warhol! Ok, anyhow so once when I was in New York he came to a DEVO show and afterward he was like, "Wanna go out sometime?" So I was like "OK" and one of the girls who was in his movies who is now a publicist. What was her name? Hmmm...
AZ: I can't remember.
MM: It doesn't matter. It was one of his actresses. She, at the time, was working at Columbia records. They were one of the record companies that were interested in signing DEVO. So she was going to be my date. I was all excited. So she came and picked me up at Gramercy Park Hotel. We were on a triple date with, wait, no it was a double date with Michael Jackson. He had just finished doing "The Wiz".
AZ: Nice!
MM: Yea, so he still had big hair, and a big nose and he was still a black man and he had patch suede pants...
AZ: (Laughter)
MM:...and a big apple hat and it was him and Andy Warhol and then this guy in bib-overalls who looked like ÔLil Abner.
AZ: Uh-Huh.
MM: I can't remember the guy's name. I just remember that Andy would, the guy had a bare chest with just bib-overalls on over it and Andy would put his hands under the guy's bib and fuss with the hair on the guy's chest and go, whatever the guy's name was, "'Roberto's' going to be a star!"
AZ: (Laughter) Did he put him in his movies and stuff?
MM: Yea, ÔRoberto' would go, "Andy's going to make me a movie star!" So they took me to Studio 54, which I'd never been to or heard of before. It was a little intimidating because at the time I was living out of a suitcase. I didn't have an apartment. I didn't have a car. I didn't have a job. I was just trying to make this art music happen you know?
AZ: Yea.
MM: So we went to this place. We're sitting there and there's this dance floor and they've got these makeshift light fixtures that come down and they kind of look like drag strip things, you know, that look like Christmas trees? They were on hydraulics. So they go down and come back up. But we were all sitting around on a couch in a circle and somebody brings over something to smoke and Michael Jackson hands it to me. I didn't look to see if he had smoked it or not but he hands me a joint and I'm like, "Whoa! In Ohio we can't afford marijuana! So I'll have some." So I took a nice big hit. And I look around everybody's talking and they're just casual and I thought, "Well I just might try a second one!"
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: You know because we never had drugs. We couldn't afford them.
AZ: Right.
MM: It was part of the reason we didn't fit in in Ohio. None of us liked drugs, none of us owned a van and we hated the Cavaliers. So there was nothing for us to do there except entertain ourselves.
AZ: Well, it seems like you guys did all right without drugs.
MM: Yea, so anyhow, I take a couple of hits of this stuff and I pass it on and this woman...Susan Bloomberg? Or...what was her name? Susan...something.
AZ: Yea.
MM: I'll think of her name. She was in a couple of Warhol's movies. She was on the Blue Channel when the Screw Magazine guy did that thing where... She was like this curly haired Jewish girl with big tits who was like an Ed McMahon on the Blue Channel back in the Seventies.
AZ: Oh boy.
MM: Anyhow so you can imagine my excitement.
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: You know, an older woman. I'm in my early twenties and...
AZ: ...You're in New York...
MM: Yea, I'm in New York, and...
AZ: ...And you're totally stoned...
MM: And I'm totally stoned. So she goes out on the dance floor and she goes, "Come on out here and dance!" And I go, "No, no. I'll watch." And so I come over and I'm watching her out there dancing. You know it's like "Boogie Fever" kind of music.
AZ: Uh huh.
MM: And the light fixtures are turning around. There's like nine of these things that are like drag strip Christmas trees and they're turning around and they come down low enough so that they can be in the middle of the dancers. Everybody had to kind of like make up what Disco lights were like back in the Seventies because it wasn't worked out yet.
AZ: Yea.
MM: Anyhow, these lights are turning around and they're going really fast. But they're kind of like out of control. They're lowering them and they're letting them kind of get out of control and I'm like watching them lower down and I'm going "Oh, My God! Those things look like weed-whackers!"
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: They're out of control. The guy had them going way too fast.
AZ: Yea.
MM: They're not just straight up and down. Now they're going out kind of at an angle. They're doing a big circle.
AZ: Shit!
MM: They lower them down and they start hitting people in the head!
AZ: Are you kidding?!
MM: People start getting hit in the head with these things! And they're going really fast! I'm seeing like twelve or fourteen people go down all at once!
AZ: You're totally bullshitting me! You're serious!
MM: And I'm like "OH MY GOD!" And she's over there and she doesn't see it. She's over there going, "Come On! Come On!" like making these motions for me to come over there and dance with me and I'm like...
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: ...totally pissing my pants looking around like, "Oh my God! Look what's going on!" And I'm yelling and she's like, "What? What?" and she comes over and says, "What did you say?" and I say, "Look at that!" And we both turn around and look and there's nothing there.
AZ: Nice.
MM: And she goes, "Are you OK?" and I go, "I just saw the weirdest thing!" And she goes, "You didn't smoke any of that Angel Dust did you?"
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: I go, "What?!" What's that?! What's Angel Dust?" and she goes, "Oh No!" And the next thing I know she's got me by the wrist and she's dragging me over to the table and she's talking to them and she goes," He smoked some of that nayah,nyah, nayah, nyah, ... and now I gotta get rid of him and ruh,rhuh,ruhh,ruh..." So the next thing I know she's got me in a taxi cab and she takes me back to the hotel and basically she had come over earlier and she had changed into my clothes and left her clothes in the bathroom and I thought, "Ok this is going to be sweet!"
AZ: (Laughter)
MM: But by the time we got back there and I'm tripping my brains off she's like, "Ok, shove off!" and she like grabs her clothes and says, "I'll send you you're clothes back tomorrow!" and she locks me in my room and I sat there and fried for the rest of the night on Angel Dust.
AZ: Oh man!
MM: The one thing that it made me realize is that, Angel Dust man, anyone that's doing it I can totally believe any of the weird stories that you hear about it. (laughter)
AZ: Oh, I know.
MM: But it seems like people aren't doing it anymore.
AZ: Actually the first time I ever smoked marijuana I found out later that it was laced with Angel Dust...
MM: Oh so...Ok so...
AZ: It fucked me up and I thought that's what pot was. Like, I thought that's what pot did to you all the time and I thought, "Jesus Christ! This shit is crazy!"
MM: How can people do it? Yea.
AZ: Yea! Cause it was in my room and I was like thirteen. I was listening to Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" or something like that and these little bunny rabbits were playing it in these leather jackets were playing it in front of my stereo. It was nuts!
MM: (Laughter)
AZ: I was like, "FAAUUUCK!" So I know what you mean. That's all I'm saying.
MM: Yea so that's...
AZ: So that's the story of Andy Warhol and Angel Dust? (Laughter)
MM: Yea, that was my Andy Warhol Angel Dust story.
AZ: Nice.

For installation shots and more on "The Homefront Invasion" show click here.