DEVO’s Gerald Casale Shares His Prince Picks
DEVO officially signed with Warner Brothers Records in the spring of 1978. Warner Brothers had signed Prince to their label in the fall of 1977, so, when we first began our frequent visits to Warner’s ugly brown wooden ski lodge-style headquarters in Burbank, California, we saw photos of the Purple One on the walls and his audio tapes on the desks of several of the A&R executives there.
Bob Krasnow, who had spearheaded signing DEVO, pointed to a Prince poster and declared, “This guy is so freaky we don’t know what to do with him. The guys in the mailroom think he’s going to be big.” I couldn’t really relate to what I was looking at being fully immersed in my Bauhaus and Dada influenced futuristic aesthetic that, in collaboration with Mark Mothersbaugh, propelled DEVO’s minimal, industrial rock sound, costumes, videos and graphics. With his unspecified ethnicity, big, Keane-like penetrating round eyes and retro, hippie hair, Prince seemed like an alien time warp. I noted that and went back into my own world.
A year later, about the time DEVO was gravitating toward more synthesizer-based songwriting with funky white boy techno-beats, head of Warner Brothers’ publicity, Bob Merlis, sat me down and played me a demo tape of Prince’s latest tracks. Dirty Mind blasted from his boombox and suddenly Prince made absolute sense. Freaky in just the right way, it mashed up black funk, disco and DEVO techno. The sounds were brash and nasty with a primal DEVO style edge. I was on the road to conversion.
A year later, at Flippers in West Hollywood, my conversion was complete. Flippers was a converted roller disco with a stage at the rear of the main floor and tiered booth seating ringing the oval floor on two sides. Prince came out in a trench coat, leather jock strap, garter belt and high, blocked heel boots and proceeded to overwhelm us with showmanship and virtuosity. Sex exploded from every cell in his tiny, lithe body. It was as if Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Salome had fused in a recombinant DNA experiment.
Other than “Dirty Mind,” I don’t remember the songs he played. It didn’t matter because he embodied such a signature motion and sound it was “ALL GOOD,” to borrow a nauseating neo-hippie rationalization for life’s cuts and punches. Except with Prince it was true: it was ALL GOOD.
Prince music became a staple in my car and in my home. I saw Prince live in many types of venues, large and small, over the years. Whether it was an arena-size venue with bigger than life production like the Forum or 3 a.m. at the House of Blues with no stage lights whatsoever, Prince was nothing less than brilliant.
I imagine being at the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami: Prince taking the crowd on a religiously sexual, mass experience in the rain complete with a phallic silhouette projected Super Bowl size on a huge white sheet of fabric blowing in the wind. Even on my TV, it was mind-blowing.
That said, I suppose I am in league with mainstream tastes if I am forced to choose my favorite Prince songs. Even though his work is “all good,” some songs are better ear worms than others. In no particular order:
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