JIHAD JERRY is the latest project from Gerald V. Casale, a founding member of DEVO, one of the most intelligent musical groups ever to crack the best-seller charts worldwide. JIHAD JERRY’s debut album, Mine Is Not a Holy War, beautifully captures the zeitgeist of America under the illegitimate authority of George W. Bush, Inc. Interview by V.Vale
JIHAD JERRY: In a way, there’s nothing better than a prank. Pranks should never be thought of as menial, or light, or pejorative, even. If you think about all the best things in history, they qualify as pranks, including DADA. So I never mind being associated with pranks–pranks need to be elevated.
Why? Because pranks are confrontational; pranks are creative; pranks are in that realm of transgressive art; a creative response to ludicrous situations that people find themselves in, in society, faced with illegitimate authority, illogical explanations, and mind-sets that are very, very unhealthy. A good prankster, basically through a creative act, breaks through all of that, and questions that and makes other people participate in that questioning. So, I would like to think that any good art is a prank on some level that is for the audience’s own good. The intention isn’t evil.
VALE: I like the idea of the prank as a cultural Trojan Horse, and I’d like to think that Devo’s songs, at best, gave people little conceptual ‘barbs’ that were like time bombs. People think they’re getting something funny or light or amusing, but then it turns out you’ve given them something that keeps rising up out of their subconscious, provoking them to think about things.
JJ: A good prank definitely scrambles the assumption field, and as a result you’re forced to re-think all your assumptions–which is fantastic. The latest example of that, which was great, and I hope it’s still available on-line, was the comic Stephen Colbert, from Comedy Central. Somehow–and this is a very important part of the concept of pranks, by the way–because of his fame within his little area, and because of his ability to have a voice in the marketplace due to Comedy Central, he was able to more or less sneak into the foreign correspondents’ dinner in Washington, D.C., attended by no other than George W. Bush, his wife, Tony Snow, and assorted other nefarious characters from the junta that runs our country.
Stephen Colbert got up at this traditional haha roast situation and proceeded to pretend to take on a persona of being this conservative comic who’s on Bush’s side, and using that as a platform to ridicule and mock Bush, twelve feet away from him, for a complete 25 minutes. Nonstop, no falterings, as the laughter and titters turned to deathly silence; as it got really, really personal and really mean. And he nailed Bush in a way that nobody from the straight press could ever come close to doing, and said things that nobody else could get away with, ‘cuz he was a ‘comic’ at a roast. And it was incredible.
It was on YouTube for awhile in three parts. It was brilliant, and I would recommend it to everyone, to watch this guy. Rarely does one get the opportunity in life to actually, in reality, get a position like that where your big fantasy would be, ‘God, if I ever got to talk to Bush, I tell you, I’d give him a piece of my mind,’ and of course, that’s just like bravado and front-porch posturing that never could happen. But this guy–not only did he get the opportunity; he didn’t squander it; he didn’t blow it; he didn’t get nervous; he wasn’t afraid–he did it. And it was stealth, and it was perfect.
V: That’s fantastic–
JJ: It is fantastic. You should watch it. [Google ‘Stephen Colbert’] It starts with a knife to the gut and then just keeps twisting. It doesn’t even mess around. He gets up and goes, ‘Wow, I am just so lucky to be here tonight. I can’t believe this. Ohmigod, whoa, lookit, here I am, ten feet away from one of my all-time heroes: George W. Bush. I can’t believe it; here I really am. Somebody pinch me–I must be dreaming.’ Then he goes, ‘No no no–no, I’m such a deep sleeper . . . somebody shoot me in the face! Oh . . . that guy isn’t here tonight. Gee, just when you need him for something he can do!’ [he was referring to Dick Cheney, right after he shot his friend in the face.] And you watch Bush quit smiling at that point, and you never see him smile again. His lips are pursed; his brows are furled, his wife is losing it and wants this guy killed, and Bush looks ahead straight-faced–can’t look at him, and starts turning red! And the camera keeps going to him because it’s C-Span, and the coverage was just standard C-Span coverage, so they’re cutting to him a lot. So what you see is just the actual C-Span coverage of the foreign press corps dinner. And it’s devastating. That’s enough on that; I just want to tell you that he is a prankster and he did a great job–I salute him; it’s his finest moment.
V: Well, putting this in a pranks history book helps preserve it–
JJ: This could never now be suppressed effectively; it’s out there. And of course, due to White House pressure, the very next day C-Span used a never-used tactic, because they’re always on these Internet services, and the Internet services show everything from C-Span. They cited ‘copyright infringement’ to make all these sites take it off– obviously, because they were being threatened!
V: That’s a whole legal arena whereby truth can be suppressed: invoking ‘copyright infringement.’ Now it’s used punitively, too–
JJ: All the time. None of these kind of corporate whores and corporate criminals have an ounce of humor . . . certainly no ability for introspection! And so they hide behind litigators just using pure, raw, brute power and money to just subjugate and threaten everyone so they’re too afraid to make fun. It’s so typical. And they’re getting better and better at it.
Pranks used to be much easier. Today, it requires a lot more sophistication. In the case of Stephen Colbert, who booked him for the foreign press correspondents’ dinner? Who got who to agree that Stephen Colbert would be the last speaker of the night? Obviously, somebody had to see the script beforehand–see his monologue. And somehow, he was able to do this. That’s what’s interesting there.
What’s important about the prank is the energy that goes into organizing it . . . into getting yourself into a position to do the prank. The prank itself is actually just the coup de grace; the icing on the cake. The foundation is actually more interesting to me: the planning; the energy it takes to realize the idea.
V: Right. Often, there’s a direct relationship between the thought and preparation, in regard to how much the final prank is truly satisfying.
JJ: A lot of people have great, funny ideas, and nobody does anything about ’em. The prankster sticks his ass on the line. He actually sets about, with the time and energy, to do the deed and reap the consequences of his action.
V: Somebody sent us an email that it was kind of amazing that DEVO was able to plant subversive thoughts in people by the millions, under the guise of humor–
JJ: Well, we lucked out. They looked at us, and felt superior to us, so that was a good start! Like with JIHAD JERRY, it’s always good to leave being ‘cool’ to everybody else, and let people think you’re an asshole and a clown and a pathetic person . . . which is what ‘they’ all thought DEVO was. They came to laugh at us; then they felt very superior and condescending, and then that made ’em like us! [laughs] But then they’ve subjected themselves to you, so now you have an audience; now you have a platform.
V: A pop song can implant one-liners that you can’t get out of your head–
JJ: When you think of the fact that Bob Dylan, in 1965, had an AM hit called ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ which was a scathing, incisive samurai sword to the mainstream culture and the people that were backing the Vietnam war, it was amazing.
V: We should have a history of subversive songs that became popular–
JJ: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ are right up there, in all time.
V: Did that Stephen Colbert video reach millions?
V: I don’t have anything against the goal of trying to get a large audience, especially if you’re trying to plant subversive ideas or thoughts or memes or soundbites–whatever you call them–
JJ: In a way it used to be easier, because there wasn’t as much narrow-casting in media available to whoever, whatever subgroup wants to keep preaching to the choir, so that there’s, like, skinheads who like Samoans, skinheads who hate Chinese people, and they all stay in their little groups. It used to be that there was a mass media and there was radio, and either you were on it or you were off it. So if you actually survived and ascended into having a voice, you were reaching millions, because there weren’t any of these little sub-markets–everybody participated in this; it was a mass experience.
It’s very strange, but it’d be like: if the Beatles were around today–if there were somebody like the Beatles for now, that the Beatles were to their time then, it’s possible that they would have, like, a little fan base, an Internet following, and that’s how it could stay. [laughs] And the people who ride Vespas would be into them, and they could sustain a nice life–they’re making enough money off their ‘merch’ and their shows and their web-site, but that’s it.
Today it’s almost like there’s niche markets for everything, and nobody’s participating in some mass experience . . . because all the content is meaningless. There’s just no meaningful content. So, everything has just been homogenized and stripped of any force, so that it’s not threatening. So, you have the freedom to be as weird as you want–as long as your weirdness means nothing…