Certain Songs #309: Devo – “Space Junk”

devo are we not men Album: Q. Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!
Year: 1978

Arriving with a full-blown mythology that was half genius and half sub-genius, tons of jokes (many of them dirty ones), and bigger guitars than you’d expect from a band full of robots, Q. Are We Not Men A. We Are Devo! was far deeper than the new wave novelty it presented itself as.

Sure, they dressed up in silly costumes and wrote tight, precision-tooled songs, but Devo’s dirty little secret was that Mark Mothersbaugh & Gerald Casale were also pretty great pop tunesmiths.

Brian Eno clearly knew all of this, and on their debut he mostly assumed the position (in a way he never did with the far more serious and acclaimed Talking Heads) and let them have their way.

The result is an album that is completely of its time, and yet has aged tremendously well over the decades. Kinda like Eno’s 1970s albums. And it will surprise no one who has paid attention to my posts over the past month that I’m writing about “Space Junk,” because SPACE!

Clearly inspired by NASA’s prediction of Skylab’s, um, “re-entry,” Mark Mothersbaugh posits that Skylab just might be the beginning of something bigger:

Well she was walking all alone
Down the street in the alley
Her name was Sally
I never touched her, she never saw it

When she was hit by – space junk
When she was smashed by – space junk
When she was killed by – space junk

So if “Space Oddity” was all about the wonderment that we got to space in first place and “Space Truckin'” was about how it became routine, then “Space Junk” is about how we stopped giving a shit about any of it, and how entropy (some might say “de-evolution”) took its inevitable course.

With Gerald Casale gleefully shouting out “space junk,” at every opportunity, the whole thing turns into a demented call-and-response, and gets even more demented as Mothersbaugh lists all the places that are due for bombardment.

In New York, Miami Beach
Heavy metal fell in Cuba
Angola, Saudi Arabia
On Christmas Eve, said NORAD
A Soviet sputnik hit Africa
India, in Venezuela
Texas, Kansas
It’s falling fast, Peru too
It keeps coming
It keeps coming
It keeps coming

Near the end of this sequence, the aliens from The Byrds’ “CTA-102” also make an appearance, only instead of expressing wonderment at the music they’re hearing, they’re laughing at our total inability to keep anything in space. SPACE!

Fan-made video for “Space Junk”

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