Josh Freese, in-demand drummer who spent the better part of two decades anchoring Devo, reported late Tuesday night that the band’s crucial original time-keeper — Alan Myers, the man known as “the human metronome” — died of brain cancer earlier in the day.
Freese’s unedited post: “Sad day for Devo fans and drummers. Alan Myers died this morning of brain cancer. He was a huge influence on me and it’s been an honor filling his big shoes for the past 17 yrs in Devo and getting to play all those amazing drum parts. He was a cool guy and an a brilliant drummer. Underrated, unique, precise and exciting in his approach. RIP Alan Myers aka #humanmetronome”
Myers technically was the band’s third drummer, replacing Jim Mothersbaugh (brother of Devo principals Mark and Bob1) in 1976 — and instantly making all the difference in the world for the Akron, Ohio, outfit. Suddenly, this high-concept art project of the Mothersbaughs and their longtime collaborators the Casales (Gerald and Bob) was tightened into shape, its
space-age camp and de-evolutionary philosophy given a wickedly urgent beat, herky-jerky yet spot-on.
Devo would eventually veer deeply into synthetics, and as the ‘80s progressed Myers’ role grew more mechanical. But to appreciate the stamp he left on the group’s striking sonics, listen back to its first three albums, up through the multiplatinum breakthrough “Freedom of Choice” (1980), plus parts of “New Traditionalists.” And it’s still worth giving special
attention to the band’s brilliant 1978 debut, “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” — a statement of purpose like few others in rock history that continues to stand apart.
Replay their unhinged reworking of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” (particularly impressive in its live-on-SNL version) or the off-kilter grooves of “Jocko Homo” and “Mongoloid” — or, for sheer exhilaration, the breakneck pace of opening cut “Uncontrollable Urge” - and you instantly hear the importance of Myers’ contributions. So much of what was great (and punk) about Devo came through his rhythmic energy and precision. (Another astonishing example: his tempo-changing thrills amid “Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA,” from 1979’s “Duty Now for the Future.”)
Metronomic was right, but there were also heaps of unique style and personality that emerged from his playing. Compare him to any of his immediate peers — Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, Blondie’s Clem Burke, Television’s Billy Ficca, the Cars’ David Robinson, Marky Ramone, Patti Smith alumnus Jay Dee Daughtery — and he easily holds his own as distinctive, powerful and creative.
He left Devo in 1986, as the band was entering its most digital and esoteric phase, and Myers’ more organic contributions were cast aside in favor of drum programming. He would go on to play in various L.A. bands, including one that featured his wife (Babooshka) and another his daughter (Swahili Blonde).
But his role in Devo’s success, though often relegated to dusty history, can’t be overestimated. Freese — who also plays with the Vandals and A Perfect Circle and has supported a dozen more (including Nine Inch Nails and Weezer), yet credits Myers as a fundamental influence — had been a very solid replacement, as is the case with current Devo drummer Jeff Freidl.
What has made their performances so striking on recent tours, however, is the replication of those same unusual patterns Myers initially put down — and perfected.
As I write this, it isn’t readily known how old he was. The site Slicing Up Eyeballs, devoted to ‘80s college rock, also took note of some pointedly sentimental tweets from Gerald Casale in its obit post, all appearing at about 10:30 p.m.: 1) “In praise of Alan Myers, the most incredible drummer I had the privilege to play with for 10 years. Losing him was like losing an arm. RIP!!”
2) “RE: Alan Myers. I begged him not to quit Devo. He could not tolerate being replaced by the Fairlight and autocratic machine music. I agreed.”
3) “Alan, you were the best - a human metronome and then some. A once in a lifetime find thanks to Bob Mothersbaugh. U were born to drum Devo!”