May 24, 2002

I'm not the most fervent Nick Drake kneejerker, but I've always considered Pink Moon one of those albums -- one of those special, private experiences that signal a communication between someone in distress and another whose ship drowned years ago. It's like drinking tea when you're sick, and you hold the cup to your nose so the steam can come up through your nostrils and make your eyes tear -- that tea is a remedy, it's homeopathy, your best friend when you're grouchy and curled into an antisocial knot left on the sofa to be otherwise choked on by your stupid cat. It's not modern medicine, not a multimillion-dollar miracle of research and development, not shelling out kickbacks to charlatan medics, no apple-cheeked actresses breathing easy on mountaintops as African music zoom-zoom-zooms away. And that's what I find hard to stomach about this Volkswagen business.

But what about Target using Devo's "Beautiful World"? The song's pure sarcasm, from one of the most virulently anticorporate rock bands ever to have a fleeting moment of mainstream success. Target uses the "It's a beautiful world..." refrain and leaves out the table-turner: "...for you / It's not for me." Devo and the Mothersbaugh/Casale franchise are a different story from Drake, though: They embraced media and propaganda from the very start, and used it to spread their subversive tracts about everything from the perils of mind control to the pleasures of simple sophomoric sex. Mark Mothersbaugh, now a composer for film and TV, pens advertising jingles from a lofty Hollywood perch, dropping subliminal messages into the mix whenever a Kool-Aid commercial gets too boring for him.

But that's now, and "Beautiful World" is then as recontextualized for now -- Devo were pretty radical in 1981, before they let their Rugrats boomer instincts get the better of them. Devo and Target should have nothing to do with each other! Devo is Booji Boy and "Oh, that Alan!" and Timothy Leary! So how much leeway should we give them to join the ranks of the ninnies and the twits?