Devo in the People’s Republic

DEVO in concert 1978. © Malcolm Riviera, Creative Commons license.

DEVO in concert 1978. © Malcolm Riviera, Creative Commons license.

The passing of Devo guitarist Bob Casale made me oddly nostalgic for Gauss’s and my time in China in 1981-82. The discord between China’s efforts to emulate the Western world and Devo’s assertion that humans were de-evolving resonated with us. New Wave music was the soundtrack of our time there.

In the spring of 1982 a small group of us expat teachers discovered the rooftop bar of the newly opened Xi’an Hotel, and most evenings we had it to ourselves. The employees happily let us put our tapes into the boom box, supplanting the Lawrence Welk-styled “Chinese light music” that usually played.

We drank Tsingtao and Snowflake beer and danced like robots or jumped up and down like pogo sticks to the sound of Devo and The Cars. Pogoing to Girl You Want in the isolation of the hotel bar was the closest we could get to thumbing our noses at conformist Chinese society and our hovering minders.

The young bartenders didn’t really get the spare, discordant music but were nonetheless fascinated by the display. Christmas lights—the universal decoration for bars in the new foreigners-only hotels—twinkled all around as we flailed in the humid June air.

Want a Devo nostalgia trip? Videos from Rolling Stone here!


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