Bob Casale, “Bob 2,” of Devo died this week. Since I’m 40 now, I was clearly not in their target audience, though what child wouldn’t take “time out for fun,” be completely entranced by these strange men in their red flowerpot hats? Though I was under 10 at their peak, I had that most powerful of all forces shaping me: a cool older sister.
Amber and I define “closeness,” as many sisters do, in complicated ways. I could say that we are close in that we share a range of comic facial expressions only we find hilarious. We can guess the joke the other one is heading for at any given moment. I could also say we are not close because of the many ways in which we are different, in all the most stereotypical ways: I left for the city, while she stayed in our home town in Kansas. She got married and had two children, while I went to graduate school. Once, when visiting me in Seattle, she saw the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on a friend’s bookshelf. Turning to my friend, Amber asked, casually, “Don’t you think that girl is SO much like Bryn?” “She’s a . . . sociopath,” replied my baffled friend. (I have no tattoos and can do almost nothing with computers, for the record; additionally, Amber shares exactly the same percentage of Swedish blood I do.) Of course, these differences generate conflicts over the years, and I know I am also to blame. Amber would say we are not close because I am terrible at calling and miss all the important life events of our family since I moved away. I send presents late or not at all.
We are distant, in ways both physical and emotional, and because she was six years older, we weren’t as intimate as many sisters growing up. But grow up together we did, and, like catching the flu, influence is often spread by sheer proximity, and her musical influence on me had less to do with emotional connection than with thin walls and access to her record player when she was dressing like Jennifer Beals in Flash Dance. I would sneak in while she was at pom pom practice and listen to Asia, to Foreigner, to Sukiyaki’s “Taste of Honey.” But most of all, I listened to Devo. At age ten, in Kansas, what could be stranger, sillier, more fun to dance to, more intriguing?
When I speak of Amber’s influence, though, I speak of it as one always does: in the past. Now, I am inoculated against the non-stop Mariah Carey Christmas album every other Christmas, when I do go home. She thinks my music is boring; I favor walls of guitar or atmospheric dream pop. Though we are both strong singers, when I am at home, she always beats me at Guitar Hero or Glee karaoke because I simply do not know any of those songs in the fashion required. (You have to sing “Don’t Stop Believing” exactly as some character sings it, and they just don’t have an “indie” version of those games yet.)
But this is why I love my sister, and why I like to think we still count for each other: she loves music. Really, really loves it. She taught elementary school music for years. Her Christmas programs were creative, engaging. Once, she put on a Christmas musical called Elfis, complete with an Elvis-impersonator elf and hula-dancing reindeer. Children would actually follow her around town, as if she were a more benevolent Pied Piper, waving excitedly at her in the grocery store. When she quit for upper administration, she bemoaned the decision over the phone to me. “But this new job could be a great opportunity for you,” I said. “Nooooooooo! I want to sing and dance and roll on the ground, like I did in my old job!” she wailed.
She loves music. And even if it means a very Celine Dion Christmas, I can appreciate the need for 24-hour sound.
And once, Amber’s tastes were quite avant-garde, for a ten year-old. My first taste of “cool” came from listening to her Devo records, and Devo still captures best why I insist we will always be, sometimes, the same: they were funny, they were fun, and they were weird. We are Devo.