Songfacts®: You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.
Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh told us: "Jocko Homo was one of the first songs I wrote for the band. The whole song was meant to be a theme song for the theory of de-evolution and for Devo, what we were about. It was meant to lay out the story right there. It was a collection of discussions we had where we sat around in Kent after students had been shot, and decided that what we were seeing happening on the planet, when we looked at the news and read the paper, was not evolution but was more appropriately described as de-evolution."
Jocko Homo means "Monkey Man." Mothersbaugh was a student at Kent State University when a friend gave him a pamphlet called "Jocko Homo, Heaven Bound King of the Apes." It was a religious pamphlet debunking evolution, explaining how absurd the idea was that a man would descend from a monkey. The pamphlet was printed in the '30s by a religious zealot from Rogers, Ohio. One of the pictures showed a devil pointing up a staircase that said "2 million years along the stairway to heaven." The devil had 'De-Evolution' written on his chest and was laughing and pointing up the stairs. The stairs had names like slavery, world war, drunkenness, adultery - it kept going with horrible attributes of man.
When we spoke with Devo co-founder Jerry Casale, he said: "That was kind of our position statement. It was our mission statement saying, 'Hey look, humans are making up stories about why we're here and how we got here and who we are and what our importance is and it's all basically rubbish, it's absurd. You don't know what's going on, and that's OK. In fact, if you admit you don't know what's going on and you admit there are alternative explanations for things, then you're already better off, and there's a lot of things you won't do because you'd quit believing in ridiculous things that drive you to actions that cause more pain and suffering in the world.' It was kind of a Dada, self-effacing kind of statement, like, 'Look, we're all pinheads here on this planet together.'"
Mothersbaugh: "The chorus that keeps repeating the 'Are we not men' is directly from the very first Island Of Lost Souls (1932). There were 2 remakes that were both tepid and not nearly as compelling as the original. The original had a mad scientist on a deserted Pacific Island where he operated on animals - beasts from the jungle, in a room called the House Of Pain. He operates on these beasts to try to raise them up on the evolutionary chart. It's a very painful operation and when he does this, you can hear them screaming in the middle of the night in the House Of Pain. His biggest success was a female named Lota who used to be a panther, but these animals keep devolving backwards. Lota gets cat claws, and she knows she's devolving. He has to do a painful operation to bring her back again, but in the meantime you see all these characters that are like sub-human, half-animal, half-man creatures that stumble around the jungle. Some of them could hold menial jobs at the House Of Pain. At one point, they were walking in a line around a fire in the woods at night while the doctor's working in the House Of Pain, and they were casting shadows on the side of the House Of Pain, and I saw these shadows of these sub-human creatures just slouching past the wall, and I was like, 'Holy crap, I know all those people, they live here in Akron with me.' That's where the inspiration came from. The mad scientist would crack a whip standing on a rock and all the animals would come to attention, and he'd go, 'What is the law?' Usually it meant one of them had broken the law, like bad dogs that aren't house trained yet. They would all go in kind of a humble fashion, 'Not to spill blood.' Then he would go 'Are we not men?' and he'd crack the whip again and then he goes, 'What is the law?' and they'd have another law they'd have to repeat like 'Not to eat flesh' or 'Not to walk on all fours.' Then he'd crack the whip again and go 'Are we not men?' So that's where the line came from. There were like, watered down, wussy versions of it in the later Islands Of Dr. Moreau stuff, but that was a really intense movie. If you were sitting in a living room in Akron, Ohio in 1972 with some quack religious pamphlet sitting on your lap, the next thing was easy."
Casale: "We moved the debate sideways - you believe what you want, but we like this guy that said we're all descendants of cannibalistic apes that ate the brains of other apes and went crazy and lost their tails. That explained what we were looking at in the world better than Darwinism or Creationism."
This was Devo's first album. It was produced by Brian Eno, who was in the band Roxy Music and also produced Talking Heads. He was an innovator of electronic, synthesizer-based music.
Casale: "We were kind of poetically explaining what it meant to be Devo, and what de-evolution was. We didn't see any evidence that man was the result of some never ending linear progress and everything was getting better. When we were growing up, the magazines would show the world in 1999, and it'd be this beautiful, futuristic, domed city with everybody going around in jets and space-cars. Everybody was fed and everybody was groomed and everybody seemed to have tons of money. It's such a joke, what really happened was: the planet got more and more overrun by population, greater gaps between the rich and the poor, more new diseases, decimation of the environment. It seemed like even though people were getting more 'free' information from television and newspapers, they were actually less informed, less thoughtful, and acting dumber. So we saw de-evolution. The fact that a bad actor could be elected president was more proof to us. Things have just gone downhill from there. We didn't really want it to all be true, instead it looks like de-evolution was clearly real. In retrospect, compared to what's going on today, Reagan looks like a serious guy."
With the exception of "Whip It
," Devo didn't have any big hits, but their music was very influential and continues to be in demand for movies and commercials. Mothersbaugh runs a production company called Mutato Muzika, and has worked on the music for many movies, including Happy Gilmore
, and Rushmore
. Casale directed all of Devo's videos, and continues to work on music videos and commercials. He has directed music videos by The Cars, The Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and Rush. (Thanks to Jerry and Mark for speaking with us about this song - check out our Devo interview
This mysterious and wildly eclectic singer/songwriter talks about some of his most memorable songs and collaborations.
Shaun Morgan of Seether
Shaun breaks down the Seether songs, including the one about his brother, the one about Ozzy, and the one that may or may not be about his ex-girlfriend Amy Lee.
A popular contemporary folk singer, Williams still remembers the sticky note that changed her life in college.
Ville Valo of HIM
The lead singer for HIM shares some surprising insights about their songs, which he says can take years to complete.