Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh & Other Arists Tell Their Musical Stories in the Animated Video Series, “California Inspires Me”

I’ve lived all of my life in var­i­ous cities on the East Coast, north and south. Var­i­ous cul­tur­al and geo­graph­ic fea­tures of the mid-Atlantic have shaped me in ways I’m prob­a­bly only par­tial­ly aware of. But this past sum­mer I spent more time on the West Coast—L.A. to be precise—than I ever have before, and I found it com­plete­ly refresh­ing. Of course, mass com­merce being what it is, no mat­ter where you go in the U.S., you run smack into a Tar­get, usu­al­ly flanked by strips of oth­er tedious­ly famil­iar chains. But instead of the tow­er­ing pines of my cur­rent locale, I gazed up at lan­guid palm fronds, and instead of the typ­i­cal East Coast swel­ter, I rel­ished the arid heat and the faint ocean tang in the air. A change in cli­mate changes one’s per­cep­tions of the world, and that’s not even to men­tion my—admittedly superficial—tourist’s appre­ci­a­tion of myr­i­ad archi­tec­tur­al, culi­nary, and oth­er SoCal eccen­tric­i­ties.

On return­ing and set­tling back into the grind, I still felt the pull west­ward, toward L.A.’s weird­ness. This is unsurprising—it’s a city, and a state, that have always sym­bol­ized escapism, as well as dis­ap­point­ment, whether that of the Joads, Nor­ma Desmond, or count­less real anony­mous hope­fuls. The sto­ry of mov­ing west in pur­suit of some Amer­i­can Dream is as old as Lewis and Clark and as new as Devo, one of whose found­ing mem­bers, native Cal­i­forn­ian Mark Moth­ers­baugh, nar­rates above his jour­ney to Hol­ly­wood with his band­mates after col­lege at Kent State (at the top of the post). He begins with some for­ma­tive child­hood experiences—getting his first pair of glass­es in 2nd grade (Moth­ers­baugh is legal­ly blind), see­ing the Bea­t­les on Ed Sul­li­van. He then tells, in brief, the sto­ry of Devo vs. the record com­pa­ny, or how a quirky art-rock band co-opt­ed Madi­son Avenue strate­gies to “tell the good news of de-evo­lu­tion,” only to them­selves become a com­mod­i­ty after scor­ing a hit with “Whip It.”

The video is part of a series called “Cal­i­for­nia Inspires Me,” a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Google Play and Cal­i­for­nia Sun­day mag­a­zine. Beneath Mothersbaugh’s ani­mat­ed sto­ry, see one from film­mak­er and artist Mike Mills, who talks about skate­board­ing and punk rock in his L.A. youth. In the video above, singer/songwriter Thao Nguyen shares her “real­ly deep appre­ci­a­tion for the his­to­ry of San Fran­cis­co in music.” And below, Jack Black relates his expe­ri­ences grow­ing up in the “deep, deep South” of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, specif­i­cal­ly Her­mosa Beach, with its surf cul­ture, and “free-wheel­ing hip­pie love.” If there’s one thing that ties all four videos together—besides the music by Shan­non Ferguson—it’s the mel­low per­son­al­i­ties of the four Cal­i­forn­ian artists. Watch­ing the series from my cur­rent­ly blus­tery win­ter cli­mate gave me the East Coast jit­ters, fir­ing up that urge again to hit the dusty trail and revis­it, or maybe relo­cate to the Sun­shine State.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Huell Howser’s Decades of Tele­vi­sion Trav­els Online. It’s Cal­i­for­nia Gold!

The Mas­ter­mind of Devo, Mark Moth­ers­baugh, Shows Off His Syn­the­siz­er Col­lec­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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