Bob Casale: Benevolent Revolutionary

GP Editor in Chief Michael Molenda salutes the late Bob Casale of DEVO.
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DEVO guitarist Bob Casale dying "suddenly of heart failure at 61" is not the news you want to start your day with, but there it was. And that fact is a tragedy for music fans, guitar players, innovators, and future feats of creative bravery. He was called "Bob 2" because DEVO had another "Guitar Bob" with Bob Mothersbaugh, but he was no second-banana in the band's journey through de-evolution, as he often added programming, background vocals, engineering, and production to his rhythm-guitar duties. 

When I last talked to Bob before DEVO's March 18, 2011 show at San Francisco's Warfield Theater to promote the album Something for Everybody, he was funny, self-effacing, happy to be on the road, and eager to share his signature BOB 2 picks with me (I must admit, I grabbed a handful). I told him that I discovered the band around 1974, when one of its early promo FILMS was broadcast during some San Francisco avant-garde festival. Mind totally blown, I immediately sought out one of the band's beautifully designed, self-produced vinyl singles (a four-color, fold-out cover for a 45!). The fact that a CONCEPT was being followed/promoted in print, film, and music completely destroyed me. I was shocked and humbled at how much these guys were doing ALL ON THEIR OWN. No big record label at the time would even look at them, and they seemed as if they could care less about that. From afar, they appeared so confident in their concept and their execution that, yeah, all the desperate "make me successful" strategies that everybody else in the SF music scene was deploying appeared extremely silly and lamely normal.

For example, if you can, think back at just how revolutionary it was in the '70s to mangle one of rock music's iconic classics into a deconstructed art piece of robotic, steel-cold anti-passion, as Bob and the gang did with the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." This was like a bunny rabbit taking on a puma and thrashing the big cat's butt for a while until the inevitable kicked in. But the act also made a large platoon of future punks, new wavers, and alt rockers realize that popular songs could be made into anything your creative little heart desired. DEVO proved that a lightning bolt from Zeus would not burn you to dust if you dared to thumb your nose at convention or, heaven forbid, rock godliness. (Here's the "Satisfaction" clip below if you want a reminder.) 

The old cliche that "you don't know what you've got until its gone" is clearly evident in Bob's passing. He put a ton of fun, excitement, enjoyment, and, well, perhaps, at times, confusion into the lives of a whole lot of people. He was, of course, a piece of that artistic puzzle called DEVO, but he was a large piece, and I'm saddened that Bob will no longer be smiling and playing and making quirky music and giving out picks on this planet.