Jukeboxes are hard to come by in the digital age. But Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh brought one with him when his band played in Denver last week. And it isn't just any jukebox; it's one made more than fifty years ago by AMI Music and filled with sixty vinyl records of mostly unheard recordings by Mothersbaugh himself. It's currently at Forest Room 5, where it will stay for at least the next few weeks.
The records, labeled by hand in the jukebox's display, include unheard demos from Devo practices, remixes of commercial uses of the band's most famous song, "Whip It," spoken-word pieces by members of the band, Mothersbaugh's own musical experiments, and other miscellany. Many of them are the only existing copies, created just for this jukebox. "When they're listened to enough, the grooves will wear out enough that it will be gone," Mothersbaugh says. "Hardly any of it is digitalized."
Mothersbaugh is from Ohio, but there's a reason that Denver has this incredible piece of his story. "Last year, I was so fortunate to have a meeting with Adam [Lerner, director of the MCA] and hit it off," he says. He and Lerner started talking about Mothersbaugh's work as a visual artist, much of which has never been seen publicly. For example, over the years, he has exchanged thousands of postcards with other artists. "I started drawing postcards and sending them out and getting them back," Mothersbaugh says. "Then I realized they were like a diary, and I started keeping them."
Lerner helped him develop an exhibit called Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, which is set to open October 31 at the MCA. "He evolved into being my partner for this," Mothersbaugh says.
In addition to the postcards -- Mothersbaugh gave Lerner 300 red binders full of them -- and the jukebox, the exhibit will include over thirty years of Mothersbaugh's drawings, sculptures, photographs, videos, prints and rugs. "It's something very special to me," he says. "MCA has given me a unique opportunity to bring things together that, throughout my whole career, people have tried to keep separate." He credits Lerner with creating this opportunity for him to show his whole artistic self to the world.
Mothersbaugh has had a widely successful musical career, not only with Devo, but as a soundtrack composer; his credits include The Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street. But he feels unsatisfied with the public perception of his work. "When we started Devo, we wanted it to be more about the art, but record companies fought against us and didn't get it; they just wanted a hit record," he says. "They tried to marginalize us. They referred to us as 'quirky.' But they were missing the point, he notes: "We are always looking for ways to stimulate people's thoughts."
It's a mission he hopes the exhibit will serve, as well. In particular, he hopes it will inspire young people. "I want to make kids who are artists realize they do not need to be trapped," he says. They'll have to wait until fall to experience Myopia -- but the jukebox is at Forest Room 5 right now, hinting at all Mark Mothersbaugh has to say here in Denver.
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