The Beginning Was the End: Devo in Ohio
New Wave ’80s band Devo isn’t just from Ohio. Devo wasn’t just created in Akron. Devo was forged at Kent State University under the pressure and turmoil of the late ’60s and the events surrounding May 4, 1970.
Authors David Giffels and Jade Dellinger brought their love for the band Devo to Kent State University’s campus on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the May 4 Visitors Center for a book signing and discussion of their book “The Beginning Was the End: Devo in Ohio.”
As guests waited for the event to start, they looked at the artifacts from the current exhibit of Allison Krause in a series titled Snapshots in Time: The Lives of Four Students.
Alison Caplan, director of the May 4 Visitors Center, kicked off the event by welcoming guests and introducing the mediator of the discussion Jason Prufer, author and assistant service desk coordinator for University Libraries. Prufer wrote “Small Town, Big Music: The Outsized Influence of Kent, Ohio, on the History of Rock and Roll,” which is a book that explores musicians in the ’70s in Kent, including Devo.
Both young and old audience members were captured by Dellinger, Giffels and Prufer as they went through the band’s history in their discussion. Included in the audience was Devo founding member and Kent State alumnus Bob Lewis.
One thing was prevalent during the discussion: Even though the band was founded 50 years ago, its legacy is strong in Kent.
Just before the event, Kent State Today sat down with Giffels and Dellinger to learn more about their passion for the band and the writing of the book.
Giffels and Dellinger met more than 20 years ago at a Devo fan conference and were introduced to each other as “the other person writing a book about Devo.”
“Our theory was there’s not room in the world for two Devo books, but there’s definitely room for one,” Giffels said. “When we put it together, it really was the perfect fit.”
From there, Giffels and Dellinger decided to work together on one Devo book. After three years of researching and writing, their book, “Are We Not Men? We are Devo!” was published in 2003. Their book was the first book published about the band and would pave the way for other authors to follow.
After being out of print for 15 years, Giffels and Dellinger decided to revisit their first book and give it a revamp, telling the story of the band’s early Ohio years in the new edition. This new edition includes more than 80 never-before-seen photos of the band taken by a Kent State student of the time, Barbara Watson, who documented the band’s beginning years at Kent State.
“She was very involved intimately in the beginning with the band. She managed, during those Ohio years, to fully document everything that had happened. Her photographs are incredible,” Dellinger said.
Dellinger and Giffels wanted to focus on the band’s Ohio years because the majority of Devo’s history took place in Kent, Akron and at Kent State.
The environment of Kent State’s campus and the encouragement from faculty members at the time encouraged the band members to explore any and all creative ideas. That academic atmosphere mixed with the events surrounding May 4, 1970, created the perfect storm for the band to start publishing their ideas about de-evolution.
“They were exploring all different ways of artistic expression and what they wanted to say and how they wanted to say it. They had this concept that humans were evolving in reverse. When they were present that day and witnessed the shootings, Gerald Casale, one of the founding members of Devo, said, ‘That was the most Devo day in my life,’ that changed things for the band from approaching this idea conceptually to centering it as a political statement,” Giffels said. “It galvanized them to use their art to say something much more direct and important than they were thinking before.”
Dellinger agreed, stating that May 4 helped push the band to start seriously pursuing their ideas.
“May 4 really was a catalyst for the band to then begin to write about and publish their ideas, theories and philosophical musings on the idea of de-evolution. It’s really in Kent that those foundational things occurred for them,” Dellinger said.
As the interview wrapped up, Giffels spoke on the upcoming discussion he and Dellinger were having with Prufer, another ’70s-era music expert.
“We feel very fortunate that we’re going to be joined today by Jason Prufer, who works on special collections here, but also is an expert on Kent’s music scene and the culture of the 1970s,” Giffels said. “It’s going to be really cool to talk specifically about the experience of this campus and the profound impact of the campus, the professors and the culture of Kent, at the time, had in shaping the members of the band as artists and as thinkers.”