TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Mark Mothersbaugh: The Craziest Day of My Entire Career

Mark Mothersbaugh doesn’t need much of an introduction. He’s a composer who’s worked in TV and film for almost 40 years now. And, of course, he’s also the co-founder and frontman of Devo, the beloved new wave/post-punk band. The band got its start in Ohio in the early 1970s, and had hits like 1980’s Whip It. And they’re touring again! So we figured we’d reach out to Mothersbaugh for a segment we call The Craziest Day of my Entire Career, and boy oh boy, did he deliver! This story has it all: celebrities, disco, wild miscommunication, Andy Warhol. You should also know that there’s some drug use and descriptions of violence in this segment. Mark is still scoring movies and TV shows — you can hear his music in the upcoming movie Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, which also stars former Bullseye guests Kathryn Hahn and Steve Buscemi.

Guests: Mark Mothersbaugh

Transcript

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Gentle, trilling music with a steady drumbeat plays under the dialogue.

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

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“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks, then fades out.

jesse thorn

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. Next up on the show, Mark Mothersbaugh. Mark Mothersbaugh doesn’t need that much introduction. He’s a composer. He’s worked in TV and film for almost four decades. That includes classics like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Rushmore, and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.

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“Thor: Ragnarok Main Theme” by Mark Mothersbaugh. [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Mothersbaugh also cofounded and fronts Devo, who are Devo! The beloved new wave, post-punk band.

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“Whip It” from the album Freedom of Choice by Devo. Now whip it Into shape Shape it up Get straight Go forward [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

And guess what? Devo’s back! They’re touring the US with a handful of dates, still as fun as ever. So, we figured we’d reach out to Mark Mothersbaugh for a segment we call The Craziest [Censored] Day of My Entire Career. And wow, [chuckles] when we asked Mark Mothersbaugh for such a day, he delivered! This story has it all: celebrities, discos, wild miscommunications. There’s also some drug use and descriptions of violence in this segment too, so we wanted to give you a heads up about that. Anyway, let’s do this. Mark Mothersbaugh on the craziest [censored] day of his entire career.

mark mothersbaugh

Alright. Um. Months I’m not gonna get exact on this story, but I can tell you the year. It was 1977. Devo had gone to Germany to record an album with Brian Eno and David Bowie

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“Uncontrollable Urge” from the album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, y-y-y-yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, y-y-y-yeah! Got an urge, got a surge, and it’s out of control [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

mark

And then, when we finished, we were flying back to the US and Jerry and I stopped in New York before going back to Ohio, where we lived. The day I get into the—into my hotel, a woman who was an AR person from Columbia called me up— [A phone rings.] And said, “Hi! I’m Susan Bloom. What are you doing tonight?” And I go, “Well, I have no plans.” And she said, “Would you like to go on a double date with me?” And I go, “Sure.” She goes, “Well, we’re going out with Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson.” I said, “Okay! Sounds good to me! Where’re we going?!” And she goes, “Studio 54.”

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Funky disco music. [Music continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

mark

I’d heard of Studio 54. I didn’t know much about it. I knew it was about disco, which I was critical of, at the time. And a little bit jealous, at the same time. Disco was antithetical to Devo because it was apolitical, nonpolitical, and the thing that I—that I was jealous about was it—there was a lot of good sounds in disco music. So, going to Studio 54, I was kind of like, “Well, I have no idea what I’m in for, but I’m gonna be in good company.” So, I went and looked through my suitcase and I had Dickie’s janitorial outfits, which I wore every day. I just went to Sears Roebuck, and I used to buy like grey shirts and grey pants so that I kind of looked like I could’ve been the high school janitor. You know? Custodian. ‘Cause that’s the look I was going for. Yeah, so I put that on and then it came time, and she came over to my hotel room and she goes, “I’m wearing this silly dress from work. What do you have in your suitcase I could wear?” And I’m like, “What? You don’t wanna wear any of my clothes. It’s—you know, I don’t have—” And so, she went through my suitcase that’d just come back from England with and found a pair of blue jeans. And so, she said, “Ah, these are great.” So, she put on my blue jeans and a t-shirt, and we went out the door. [The low murmur of a crowd.] And we went to Studio 54, and we got ushered in some VIP thing while people in a long line are craning their necks to see who it is. And nobody knew who I was, you know, so I’m like—I’m like waving and people are like, “Who’s that? Is—you know, is that—” You know, and we go in and we get taken over to a special, roped off seating area.

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Upbeat music interspersed with the cheers and noise of an excited crowd. [Music continues under the dialogue.]

mark

Definitely we were in the VIP area, and it was like a sunken living room. And we’re sitting there with Andy Warhol. We get introduced to Andy. He goes, [nasally] “Oh hiii.” And Michael’s very quiet and he had just finished doing The Wiz, so he was dressed in all like patchwork suede. And he had a big apple hat on. So, we all sat down and then of course, ‘cause it’s Andy Warhol and Michael, people are trying to reach over the curtain thing, and I’m turned around saying hi and those guys are ignoring them. And I’m like, “Wow, where am I? This place is—” And I felt totally out of place. Nobody knows who the hell I am or why I’m there. As far as they know, I’m like a valet or—I’m dressed like a TV repairman, so maybe I’m fixing one of their TVs. And they’re chatting with everybody and somehow I see a joint get passed around. And, you know, it goes to a few people. And then it gets over to Michael and he just like waves it off. He doesn’t want it. And it comes to me. And so, I thought, “Well, you know, we don’t have marijuana in Ohio.” You know, it’s 1977. And I didn’t have money if we would’ve had it! So, I thought, “Better try it.” So, I take a big hit of this joint and start coughing and nobody’s paying attention to me anyhow, so I pass the joint over to Susan who’s next to me, and she like waves me off like, “No, no, no. I’m—” You know, she’s leaning into a conversation with somebody. She’s having this heavy, important conversation about nothing. And so, I go, “Well. Okay.” So, I still have the joint, so I take another hit. And I figure, “Might as well take a big one while I’m at it.” You know? And so, I’m taking a hit off this joint and I—you know, after that I’m like, “Okay, I’ve—I smoked most of this thing, so I should just—” So, I pass it somewhere. I don’t know where it goes. You know, somebody gets it.

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Surreal, up-tempo electronic music. [Music continues under the dialogue.]

mark

Not long after that, Susan goes, “Hey, you wanna dance?” And I’m like—I go, “Well—I really don’t know how to da—” And she’s like frustrated that I’m not gonna dance. And so, she brings her girlfriend with her. And the three of us go out and she just has me stand there next to this big, filled dance floor. But I’m looking at my outfit and I’m feeling even more like, “Woah, I really don’t belong here. I don’t look the part. I look totally wrong for this place.” ‘Cause these—you know, ‘cause these guys have like these big, fat, stacked shoes and they got—you know, like Rod Stewart haircuts and they’re like flapping their arms like birds while they dance. Like, they’re doing like these flamingo dances. And everybody knows what to do and they’re all doing the right thing. And I’m like, “Man, I wouldn’t even know how—I don’t even know how to do that. I would just laugh at myself if I saw myself in the mirror making those moves. I couldn’t do it. I would—” I just stayed off the dancefloor.

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A soprano voice adds light, lingering vocalizations to the electro pop music. [Music continues under the dialogue.]

mark

And, you know, the songs are playing and it’s all the songs you know from the world of disco from those days. You know, all the hits are playing. And it was kind of interesting, ‘cause they didn’t have a lot of fancy lights back in those days. But you know, Studio 54 was on the cutting edge. And they had these things. They had these lights that went up into the ceiling and it was like outdoor colored light fixtures. It’s not really—you know, there’s no LEDs in those days, yet. There’s nothing like that. There’s no tech stuff. They had like a strobe light, you know, that they were showing some of the time. So, there was a strobe light and then there were these things that were three-sided like six foot tall, very angular-sided light fixtures that—they had this thing where they could lower them down to right above the heads of everybody that’s dancing so that the lights would slowly turn, and those three sides of colored lights would be like making the room full of color that was like washing. It was like crazy disco time. It was like—that was like really—that was what disco really was. And there’s a DJ and a lighting guy and they’re in this booth, you know. And there’s a Donna Summer’s song or something playing. And I’m watching, and they’ve like—it’s a really intense song, whatever it is. And they’ve turned the revolving lights—they’re bringing them down again to right over top of the crowd, you know, that’s dancing. And the place is packed with people dancing. I can’t even see Susan, ‘cause she’s kind of like about 15 feet away from me, out in the middle of the dance floor. You know. And so, I’m watching though. This thing happened and this guy turns these light fixtures really fast. And the song gets really intense, whatever song it is. [The music builds to a crescendo.] They’re like blasting the volume. You know? And these fixtures, they start going faster and faster, these lighting fixtures. And they’re like picking up speed and they’re picking up speed and they’re not like just twirling, you know. Like twirling on their axis. They’re like—now, they’re like swirling more like a weedwhacker, and they keep coming down closer to the audience. And I watch them come down far enough—this guy must be out of his mind over there in the lighting booth. He brings them down so close, they start hitting people in the head. The lighting fixtures are flying really fast and they’re hitting people in the head. And I see blood spurt out of this guy’s head, and he drops to his knees. And then—but then he’s covered up by other dancers. You can’t see him. And then I see it happen to a girl and she screams out, but you can’t even hear her ‘cause the music’s so loud.

mark

And Susan Bloom’s out there dancing, and she looks at me and she goes—she puts her hand out and you know makes her fingers in this motion like, “Come ooon! Come ooon!” And she’s doing this, you know—this disco move. You know? With her—with her shoulders and her—and her hips. And I’m like, “Oh what the hell?” I go, “Look at that!” And she’s like, “Come ooooon!” And I’m looking and more people are getting hit and there’s screaming happening all over the room. This thing is out of control. All these people have gotten hit by these lighting fixtures. And she looks at me and she comes over and she goes, “What is it?” And I go, “Did you see what happened to those people just now?! Did you see what those lighting fixtures—? They’re hitting people in the head!” And she’s like, “What?” And she looks over and then I look over too and they’re just hanging there normal. They’re just hanging there and they’re just slowly twirling in a circle above everybody’s head, two or three feet above people’s heads. She looks at me in the eyes and my eyes probably looked crazy. And she goes, “You didn’t smoke any of that PCP, did you?” And I go, “What’s PCP?”

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“Satisfaction” from the album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo. [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

mark

And so, she takes me by the arm, and we go back over to where Andy is and he’s like, “Heeeeey! What’s going on?” She goes, “Andy. He just smoked a lot of PCP, and I better get him out of here, now.” She takes me out to a cab, and we get in it, and she takes me back to—I think it was Helmsley… Hotel? Helmsley Estate. Something like that. It was like the hotel I was staying at, at the time. And she gets me up to my room, gets behind me, and pushes me into the room onto my bed. And she goes, “Good luck! I’ll give you your pants back tomorrow.” And then just pulls the door shut. [A door slams.] And I just remember I sat there, and I was hallucinating and going, “What just happened?! What just happened?!” For like the next four or five hours before I finally passed out.

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[Volume increases.] Supposed to fire my imagination I can’t get no [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

mark

[Sighs.] So, that was my one and only visit to Studio 54. I became the guy in Devo that had absolutely no interest in drugs. I didn’t wanna have anything to do with drugs, to be honest with you. For—until I found out about—Aleve saved me from a back problem I was having.

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[Volume increases.] And I try, t-t-t-try, try, try I can’t get no [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

Mark Mothersbaugh on the craziest [censored] day of his entire career: the time he lost his mind at Studio 54 in the company of Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson. Devo, as we said, are back touring. They have a handful of dates set for this year and next. Mark is still scoring movies and TV shows. You can hear his music in the upcoming movie, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, which also stars former Bullseye guests Kathryn Hahn and Steve Buscemi.

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Cheerful synth with light vocalizations.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created in the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where, here at my house, I have to time all of my recordings around the, uh, [chuckling] the regular passing of the ice cream truck. Um. And unfortunately, it’s not because I’m running outside to get ice cream. It’s that the song it plays is super loud! Our show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producer is Jesus Ambrosio. I used to be a Bomb Pop guy, but they have IT’S-ITs at this ice cream truck. So, when I do run out, I usually end up dropping the dough on an IT’S-IT. Anyway. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. We get help from Casey O’Brien. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. The other day I went to a movie about Bert Reynolds with Dan Wally. He told me about a record come-up in San Diego. Good guy, Dan Wally. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Thanks to them and to their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it with us. You can keep up with our show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post all our interviews there. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

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