Mimicking Casale, who died yesterday at the age of 61, was not as easy a task as I’d assumed. I gave up almost as quickly as I started, ditching the album’s opener, “Uncontrollable Urge,” for “Lexicon Devil” by the Germs, which shares a bit of the same intro, but is ultimately an easier song to play.
I never became an even halfway decent guitarist; I couldn’t solo, couldn’t hear a song and then play it, and according to some guy with a ponytail at Guitar Center, I didn’t play with “balls.” I just wasn’t good. At first I chalked it up to this idea that I was part of some grand tradition of crappy punk musicians, but listening to Devo and their contemporaries helped me realize that the whole “music for non-musicians” thing wasn’t totally true. Just like Devo, who are remembered by most of America solely for their weird red hats and “Whip It,” people have always misunderstood punk and new wave music. A good listen to the guitars on any album by The Clash, X, or Joy Division — and their influence on The Edge from U2 (who, regardless of what you think about his lead singer, is an amazing guitar player) — quickly dispels the whole notion that punks couldn’t play.
Casale was the best example of all of this, so it’s a shame that Devo still tend to get far less credit for their musical innovation than for their conceptual antics. The fact that his band is remembered as “punk” means that Bob Casale will never go down in history as a “guitar god.” That was never the point of his virtuosity, and maybe that’s for the best.