Wall Street Journal Article
January 20th, 1999
Special thanks to Rob Tomsho for writing the original article.
Excerpts from the article (in white) and comments (in purple) from Robert Kidney follow.
KENT, Ohio - Robert Kidney still gets
up every morning believing that he could
be a rock n roll star. "I'm not grasp-
ing at straws," declares the founder of
a local outfit known as The Numbers Band.
The 51-year-old guitarist is, however,
bucking odds that grow more astronomical
by the day.
"Rock star" is not a term I apply to myself.
I have a great respect and understanding for
the writer (who's article was edited, though
well intentioned), but I wake up in the morning
thinking about the remodeling job I have to do,
and what materials I need, and if I can keep
from screwing it up.
After observing and reading about the lives
of the rich and famous, I feel the desire to
be rich and famous is old-fashioned, and it comes
at too great a cost to the quality and richness
of a life that can be obtained by focusing on
things that are of a truer value. These things
need not be listed. However, spending a lifetime
learning and attaining ability in an art form
which involves performing in front of an audience
as one of its most important aspects, exposure
to a larger audience, or the ability to make
recordings of your work, is worth effort and
In contradiction to the industry, I see our
recordings as historical records of a musical event.
The music is sold as revenue so we can record more
music. It's all about the music, after all.
"Kids want to buy records of artists
they perceive as their peers," says David
Simone, the top creative executive at Los
Angeles-based Geffen Records. "My ad-
vise to them is to get a day job."
"I have a day job. We all have day jobs
and have for a long time. This guy is
obviously suffering from RCI Syndrome
(Rectal Cranial Inversion). Kids will buy
what they are told to buy. They do not have
choices. Television, MTV in particular, is a
Sears catalog from which our children buy their
personalities, their clothes and their politics.
We are the first victims of this culture.
I refuse to be a product of this culture.
I will not allow my heart and soul to be bought
and sold in the marketplace. I will remain a
voice of obscurity, riling against the vast
grayness created by the tellusourvision."
But there are still people like the Kidneys,
who discover that there is sometimes
more to a dream than simply making it
"There are a lot of brilliant musicians and artists
in America who are never heard or seen. They may
live an entire lifetime without recognition. Fame
does not make an artist great, it just makes him
or her profitable. I see Americans with blinders on,
afraid to explore anything that makes them feel
uncomfortable or emotionally challenged.
People are living stressful and frantic lives so they
can stay ahead of the neighbors down the street
who are paying outrageous mortgages on McMansions.
More and more people do not want entertainment to
ask questions, they just want to be entertained.
That kind of society makes for boring music on
the radio, and obscure artists even more obscure."
Every move they made seemed wrong. Fired from the
Numbers Band one night after wearing a chimpanzee
mask on stage, bass player Gerald Casale formed a band
called Devo, which almost instantly became a top
recording act for Warner Brothers.
"In no way could firing Gerald Casale be considered
a mistake. I remember the event quite differently.
Gerald became extremely difficult to work with. He
was very unhappy with the music and the band. The other
band members and I were fed up with his insistence of
playing his bass at a deafening volume. When I asked him
to turn it down, he told me to come over and turn it down
myself. He told me I was a lot like Adolph Hitler. Then
Gerald began suggesting that everyone wear masks on stage
in order to shock the audience. I would never wear a mask
on stage for any reason, I wasn't into gimmicks.
I told him at the next band meeting that I tought he was
an intelligent and creative person, and he should leave and
form his own band. Four or five years later, Devo was signed."
More drink, darker music...
"I was told at the age of 27 my kidneys were malformed
at birth, and I had been suffering from progressive kidney
failure for most of my life, and eventually I would have to
face life threatening disease. A lurking unconscious fear of
death contributed to my destructive behavior, but I drank
and smoked because I like it. I liked to excess.
I became a professional alcoholic.
My main source of frustration concerning the band at this time
was their disgruntled attitude. They wanted success.
I wasn't in it for success. I just wanted to play music, and
I took shit for it from everyone, constantly."