DEVO co-founder to speak at kent

Sarah Lack

One of Kent State School of Art’s most provocative and innovate alumni, Gerald Casale, will be the keynote speaker at the reception for the Centennial Alumni Exhibition: Firsts on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Room 202 of the Art Building.

Casale, who graduated in 1970, is most known as co-founder of the music group DEVO, which formed at Kent State during a pivotal time in the university’s history.

His speech, “Freelance in a Corporate World: an Artist’s Journey,” will document his time at Kent State, including his role in the May 4, 1970, protests, and how his experiences while on campus served as a catalyst for his creative career. He will also discuss the issues facing artists in today’s world.

Casale was on campus on May 4, and he remembers how the intense political activism at Kent State culminated in the famous 1970 protest. Students gathered at noon for the protest, and the numbers got larger as people were making speeches, Casale remembered. He was further away from the action when the National Guard arrived, but still recalls the shock of the first shots.

“We watched them stop and aim, and we were wondering what the hell they were doing,” Casale said. “Nobody thought they were going to shoot bullets at us. We didn’t know the guns were loaded. It was quite a shock.”

Casale knew Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, two of the four students who were killed. He had helped them move in as freshmen.

“They were smart. They were cool,” he said. “They were good people, and they were certainly doing nothing that day that would have made them deserve to be shot dead.”

That day, according to Casale, changed his life. The shootings on May 4 inspired Casale and his friends, including band mate Mark Mothersbaugh, to start the creative movement that was the beginning of DEVO.

“DEVO started as an art idea, and the whole thing was headed towards literature and art,” Casale said. “It was going to be the next art movement. The music came later.”

Known to many as the thinking man’s pop group, DEVO is probably most known for the 1980 song “Whip It.” The song’s success still remains a bit of a mystery to Casale.

“DEVO was a multimedia art band that was trying to connect with the public and culture, but we didn’t sit around saying ‘let’s write a hit,’” he said. “We didn’t put any song on the album that we didn’t love.”

The band continues to write music and perform today, and recently released its ninth album, “Something for Everybody.”

He comes to Kent State with advice for students who plan to build a career on being creative.

“You have to understand more than ever exactly what’s good about what you do in terms of how it relates to the culture,” Casale said. “You have to be a relentless self-promoter and be able to swallow lots of rejection and not let it break your spirit.”

He admits that pursuing a career as an artist of any kind is a challenge, but insists that artists continue to be important in today’s culture.

“A part of being human is having an imagination, and somebody has to give form to that imagination,” Casale said. “They have to be able to do something for you that you couldn’t do yourself. But when you hear it, or see it or wear it, it changes your life.”

Despite the success of his many creative endeavors, Casale has not forgotten the place that sparked his career.

“I have to say that I wouldn’t trade my experience at Kent State for anything,” he said. “It defined in the end who I was and where I was going. It all happened there.”

Contact Sarah Lack at [email protected].