Camel's Hair and Locusts

Are We Not Men?

Since the theme of last month's column concerned confession, and, as we Catholics have long been told, confession is good for the soul, I thought I would continue in this vein. The first confession I have for you today is that I have been a long time, and somewhat closeted, fan of the 1980s band Devo. Referred to as Alternative/Indie Rock, American Punk, American Underground, Techno Pop, Electronic Progressive, and Robotic New Wave, Devo always seemed a band hard to define and difficult to categorize. 

My dad’s definition of their music probably would have fallen into the category of “Turn that shit down!” And, to be fair, this was a rather broad category for him in the days of my youth. The old man was an aficionado of western music, and decried it as a travesty that his favorite genre had, at some point in the murky past, been merged with southern “hillbilly” music to form the country and western sound that he looked at (and listened to) with a certain disdain. He considered Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” [1] to be the greatest song ever written and recorded, and thought the world would have been better off if Buck Owens had left the Bakersfield sound in Bakersfield and stayed there with it. He thought enough of the guitar work of Roy Clark to tune in to Hee Haw every week, and tolerated the musical antics of Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl, not to mention the aforementioned Mr. Owens, to do so. He didn’t see what was so grand about the Grand Ole Opry, but he did drag us all to the Phillips Gymnasium at the old Alma High School to see Roy Clark when he came to town. And I have to admit, Roy was great and put on a terrific show – one that ranks right up there with my two favorite concerts, which were given by the legendary Willie Nelson and the incomparable Ray Charles.  

by DarKrow
Now my dad, in his own mind at least, considered himself to be a man of eclectic musical tastes.  This was never more in evidence than when Jean and I got married and he found himself conversing with my father-in-law and comparing life experiences. My father-in-law, who was a young swing trombonist in Chicago during the big band era, shared a story of how he had once been privileged to sit in with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and, on another occasion, had played with the Glenn Miller band. “It really wasn't so much,” he insisted with a false modesty. At that, the old man took on a superior air and replied, “Well, I’ll have you know that Lenny Clark and I once went to Lansing and saw Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica Rascals!” [2] While my dad’s mock condescension was purposeful, and aimed successfully at my amusement, this is not to discount the deeper truth we both knew, which was centered in his sincere respect and regard for Mr. Minevitch and his Rascals as serious musicians. He bristled at the very idea that so many thought of them as merely a novelty act, and considered their version of “Lady of Spain” as definitive and superior to the more heralded accordion versions. And, as he pointed out to my father-in-law, Len Clark thought so too.

My mother, on the other hand, considered herself to be a lady of rich musical tastes which, by her middle-aged years, had come to rest mostly in the song stylings of her idol, Jerry Vale. On those occasions when a break was needed from the excitement and emotion of Jerry Vale, she relaxed to the more soothing instrumental sounds of The Billy Vaughn Orchestra [3] and The Living Strings [4], and played her album collection to her great delight on the Mediterranean styled Magnavox stereo which sat in the living room. She found my dad’s less mainstream musical tastes something of an embarrassment, and often stressed to us, her children, how fortunate we were to have her more sophisticated ear for music to learn from.

As a child who liked to do things on his own and by himself, I often went downstairs to the basement and played my mother’s old collection of 78s on her tube-era RCA Victrola. Now this older collection of music was much more varied, and much more interesting, and I found my mom’s later musical taste to be degenerated in a curious way from the music that she had enjoyed when she was younger. There were the recordings of various pop artists from the 40s, such as Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Vaughn Monroe, and many others both male and female. There were, of course, the big bands: Miller, the Dorseys (Tommy and Jimmy), Harry James, Artie Shaw, and others. And there was also my dad’s smaller and more easily identifiable collection, which besides Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica Rascals, included the expected western influences of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Sons of the Pioneers, as well as The Three Suns, a pop group from the 40s who did a very nice accordion version of “Lady of Spain” that I personally liked better than the harmonica version of the Rascals. I didn’t tell my dad that of course. Oh, and there was also a representation of his favorite big band, Spike Jones and His City Slickers.

Given my musical experience at home, I was fortunate to take two years of vocal music in high school and come under the influence of George Robertson, who proved to be one of the best teachers I had at this or any other level. Late in the summer of what was about to be my junior year in high school, my friend Jim Feil suggested that I sign up for a choir tryout. I protested that I couldn’t sing and that the choir class consisted of mostly girls. His response was to tell me that because the class ratio was three girls to every boy, I didn’t really have to sing very well to pass the audition, and, once in the class, there were three girls for every boy. He repeated, “Three girls for every boy,” and just looked at me over the top of his glasses. Suddenly I caught on and the blinders fell.  I decided to give vocal music a try. Jim was right; I didn't sing very well, but I did pass the audition.  And vocal music proved to be my favorite area of study for the next two years. I had comedy leads in two musical plays, and learned to sing better than I ever thought I could. I found out that a little sound instruction can cover a large lack of talent, and to this day, with a little rehearsing, I can go down to the Safety Harbor Grill on Karaoke Night and rock the house. I do a killer rendition of “Mack the Knife.” But beyond this, what I really learned from Mr. Robertson was music appreciation.  There are not really good and bad musical genres, only those that we personally like better than others, and within each there is a wide range of musical quality. Learning to recognize the higher quality that transcends the genre is what music appreciation is all about.

Through high school I listened to the music of the Beatles, the groups that did anti-war protest music, and those who appeared at the legendary Woodstock Festival. [5] There was, of course, a great overlap here. I followed who played at the Fillmores, both East and West [6], and did this as the social necessity it was for any kid going through his teenage years in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. I learned the hard way that you didn’t want to tell a returned Viet Nam vet that you didn't care for the Rolling Stones, and heard the stories of how the Stones’ music, blasted from the PBRs that patrolled the Mekong Delta, “scared ‘Charlie’ shitless” and saved countless American lives. I don’t know that this made me appreciate the Rolling Stones any more musically, but it gave me a new respect for what their music – and music in general – was capable of doing.

During my college years, my own taste in music became more eclectic, and in a broader sense than my parents understood it. I became acquainted with those who studied music at a far more advanced level than I had done in high school, and began to listen to what they did and learned why they listened to it. The respect for classical music learned in Mr. Robertson’s class blossomed into a deep affection, and I also discovered jazz and blues. I listened much less to rock until I discovered how powerful a genre this could really be when performed by such progressive bands as Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. When Jean and I married, we merged our record collections, and through her I gained a new appreciation for some of the classic rock I had missed or overlooked, like that of Dave Mason, Rick Wakeman [7], and especially her favorite – Janis Joplin.

As the 70s drew to a close, Jean and I considered ourselves more mature married people, and were more concerned with starting a family than in socializing with friends and listening to music. My second confession that I have for you today is that by this time I had become something of music snob. I guess you could call this my classic period. I listened to classical music by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and especially loved the earlier Baroque masters who shaped it, such as Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. I listened to classic jazz, such as the “new” Harry James [8] of the late ‘50s, as well as Ella, and the Duke and the Count, Brubeck and Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. I listened to classic swing, classic rock, and rockabilly, as well as classic country, and even my dad’s classic western music. But as the 1980s dawned, the one type of music I eschewed was the contemporary ‘80s rock that came with the changing times.

Except for Devo. 

Maybe the reason for this was that Devo always seemed to convey the impression that they knew their music was something of a put on, and, at the same time, within the put on there was a more deeply embedded and serious message. The band’s most popular configuration was comprised of two sets of brothers, the Mothersbaughs, Mark and Bob (Bob1) and the Casales, Gerald and Bob (Bob2), along with drummer Alan Myers. The name and concept of the band comes “from their concept of ‘de-evolution’ – the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.” [9]   De-evolution seemed to be represented in my parents’ musical tastes, and it seemed to be evident more generally in the greater world around us. This idea of de-evolution was started as a joke by Gerald Casale and fellow Kent State University art student, Bob Lewis, but turned serious when Jeffrey Miller, a friend of Casale’s, was one of four students killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State in the famous incident there in 1970. This was the impetus for forming the band and spreading the message about de-evolution – the social de-evolution of an American society whose children are shot and killed by quasi-soldiers on the campus of a major university. 

Perhaps another and lighter way to look at this idea of de-evolution is from an historical and musical perspective. Devo is often recognized as representing the “cutting edge” of musical innovation in the 1980s, with a wide ranging influence on the development of popular music, transcending their own time and continuing to influence music to this very day. The same kind of thing was said of Mozart and the music he produced in the 1780s. The very fact that we can make this kind of musical comparison concerning Mozart’s contribution to music in the 1780s, and Devo’s to music in the 1980s, is to use Devo itself as proof of the veracity of the theory of de-evolution. I’m sure the humor in this isn’t lost on the guys in the band, and it shouldn’t be lost on us either.

by Malcolm Riviera
Devo’s debut album, which was released in 1978, was titled “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” The title refers to the call and response chorus in the song “Jocko Homo” in which lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh calls out the question, “Are we not men?” and the rest of the band, with nylon stockings pulled over their heads, answers, “We are Devo!”  This, in turn, is a reference to a scene found in Island of Lost Souls, a 1932 film adaptation of H.G. Welles classic novel from 1896, The Island of Dr. Moreau. [10]  In both film and book, mutants created by the erstwhile mad doctor's failed experiments in forced evolution and eugenics chant in this fashion: 

“Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”

The song’s original video version [11], taken from the short film, The Truth About De-Evolution, begins with Mark Mothersbaugh, in his “Booji Boy” persona, running through a parking lot, up a fire escape, and into a building that has emblazoned upon it a mural that reads “Shine on America.” Once inside, we learn that he has come to meet “General Boy,” played by Mothersbaugh’s father, Robert Sr. 

“Come in Booji Boy, you're late,” says General Boy. “Have you got the papers the China-man gave you?” 

“Here it is, Dad!” says Booji Boy, as he produces an envelope from inside his shirt. “Is it a surprise?”

“Yes, Booji. In the past this information has been suppressed, but now it can be told. Every man, woman and mutant on this planet shall know the truth about de-evolution.”

“Oh, Dad!” exclaims Booji, “We're all Devo!”

At this point, I must mention that the presence of Mr. Mothersbaugh in the guise of General Boy is a recurring and subtly humorous ploy in Devo music videos. In this example, the idea of de-evolution as a closely held secret of the United States military, which is about to be revealed clandestinely through papers garnered from the mysterious “China-man,” adds a touch of conspiracy theory wackiness that is priceless. In other videos, such as “Girl U Want” [12], he is in uniform and hard hat, and is observed operating equipment behind the scenes.  In the introduction to “Beautiful World [13],” he sits in his study in ascot and smoking jacket, as he lectures the audience in a deadpan and tongue-in-cheek fashion on the proper dress and etiquette for a Devo concert. He then begins the video by switching on a 1960s era Bell and Howell 8mm home movie projector just like the one my dad, and many other dads, used to have. The idea that Devo is somehow a front band and propaganda tool for a US government agenda concerning “the truth about de-evolution” suggests this de-evolution has infected the politics and governance of the nation itself. 

Now this is humorous stuff to be sure, but is it really a joke? Sixty years ago, America was deciding between President Dwight David Eisenhower and Senator Adlai Stevenson II in an election that pitted the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II, and then Commander in Chief, against the era’s most elegant, eloquent and accomplished diplomat and statesman. It’s hard to imagine how America loses that election and, of course, it didn’t. Ike won by an even bigger landslide than he did over Stevenson four years earlier. It was claimed by many at the time that the then current popularity of Elvis Presley, and the rise of Rock ‘n Roll, was a de-evolution in music from the big band sound of the 40s, but it is hard to argue that de-evolution had hit the political arena – at least not yet. Turn the clock ahead 60 years and we have little trouble making that case when we have the perpetually bombastic, boorish and inexperienced Donald Trump opposing the quintessentially corrupt, arrogant and inept Hillary Clinton. Just how does America win this election? What has brought us to this turn of events? Could it be de-evolution? It’s as good an explanation as any I’ve seen.   

Perhaps an even better example of this phenomenon of de-evolution is the one that should concern us Catholics and all Christians the most, and that is the spiritual de-evolution that is in evidence all around us. It’s no secret that church attendance and participation has been in a precipitous free fall since the days in which the nation's choice was Eisenhower or Stevenson, and it’s no coincidence that this is reflected in the quality of candidates, and the quality of life, we have in America and the world today. Crimes against Christian humanity are escalating worldwide, and crimes against our fellow citizens continue to escalate here in the US regardless of the lies our politicians and government functionaries tell us to the contrary. [14]

It wasn't that long ago it would have been hard to conceive of an America that tolerated the practice of Satanism and the celebration of the black mass in public and on public property, as is happening August 15th in Oklahoma City. [15] At that time, the satanic group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu’s [16] Church of Ahriman [17] will hold just such a black mass [18], aimed specifically at blaspheming the Catholic Faith, and desecrating the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the city-owned Civic Center Music Hall. This is a definite de-evolution from the views of our Founding Fathers concerning freedom of religion, which was essentially envisioned as the right to practice the Christianity of one’s choice without government interference. It would be horrifying enough to them to know that the voice of Christians in the public square is being stifled in our day, and doubly so if they knew that the voice of the devil’s worshipers now rises in its place, as they expect a sell-out crowd at the Civic Center Music Hall. Our Founders were not so removed from a time in which people were burned at the stake in public for this kind of thing rather than being defended by the Democrats, and ignored by the Republican [19], as they are today. And this as the petitions of Catholics [20], and the wishes of other Christians and people of good will, are ignored. This is most certainly spiritual de-evolution in action in the public square, is it not?

When we examine the Scriptures it should be humbling to all of us pseudo-sophisticated 21st century Catholics to see how spiritually de-evolved we have become since those halcyon days when Jesus walked the earth and the apostles ruled the Church.  In Luke 9 [21], the Master sends out the Twelve with “...power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” In Acts 5 [22] we read, that “...they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Today, we have great Catholic hospitals from which the poorest among us are excluded, as they huddle in the shadow of a towering edifice and die from our neglect. Many of those with the price of admission end up merely numbered with the corpses of the dead who are hauled away daily in an endless parade of hearses, as we put our faith in science and turn away from God.  In the Church we hear rumors concerning the enthronement of Satan in the Vatican itself, and see evidence of demonic activity run rampant in a clergy sexual abuse scandal that has more ugly heads to raise than the Hydra. And it should not be lost on us that in the movies The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, the recurring theme concerning demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren [23] is that the Church in the 20th century had become so self-conscious of its image in the world that it relied upon these laypeople to identify true cases of demon possession so they could be acted upon by an ever dwindling number of exorcists. And often this means the Warrens end up taking the needed spiritual cleansing into their own hands.

Impressive as the Warrens are in this regard, we should not discount the spiritual de-evolution present in the vast majority of today's laity. In Luke 10 [24] we read that “...the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” Now these 70 souls were not apostles but rather your basic garden variety disciples such as you and I are supposed to be. And the result at the end of their travels was to come back to Jesus and proclaim, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And so in our day the minions of Satan in the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu’s Church of Ahriman set up and perform public black masses in Oklahoma City, and we believe the only recourse we have is to petition the local government, which itself must arguably be possessed to allow such a thing in the first place. And perhaps the saving grace in this is that these clownish minions of Satan in the Church of Ahriman appear to be every bit as de-evolved in their evil as we are in our holiness.       

In the face of such an ongoing and escalating spiritual de-evolution, it becomes easy to understand why the Blessed Mother herself has, upon so many occasions, appeared to children and the most innocent of souls to proclaim a coming Great Chastisement [25] if we do not change our ways and find some way to turn this de-evolving spectacle we have created into something more godly and positive. And as these last warnings fall upon our deaf and de-evolved ears, we should realize that the ultimate result of our spiritual de-evolution will be to open the gates of heaven and bring down upon ourselves the wrath of the Lamb as described in Revelation 19:

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

“His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems... From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” [26]

As we cower before the King of kings and Lord of lords; as we huddle and struggle to keep to our feet as the multitude calls to the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, it will be only the bravest and boldest among us who will even have the courage and the presence to stand, stooped and huddled, as did the bent and deformed, subhuman creatures in the Island of Dr. Moreau, and offer their words as our last confession, “Are we not Men?”

And the Lord will, in turn, look at us with eyes like a flame of fire and, pointing the sharp sword of His judgment upon us, He will answer, “You are Devo!”

Phil Ropp

Phil Ropp is the owner of the Catholic news portal Radio New Jerusalem.

All Biblical quotes from The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.