R.I.P. Alan Myers, the Human Metronome

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 26 2013 2:04 PM

R.I.P. Alan Myers, the Human Metronome

devo
Devo on the cover of their album Freedom of Choice. Myers stands second from the left.

Alan Myers, one of the foremost drumming talents of the punk and new wave era, died on Monday from cancer. Myers is best known as the drummer for Devo; he was featured on six albums and live tours during the height of their creative and commercial success, from 1976 to 1986. Their iconic 1980 single, “Whip It,” is marked by Myers’ shuffling high-hats and metronomic kick-snare combo.

Indeed, Myers was fondly referred to as the “human metronome” by bandmate Gerald Casale. His role diminished over time as the band gradually embraced more straightforward rhythms and electronic percussion, but Myers’ almost super-human power and precision were the pumping robot heart of Devo’s harder-rocking early material. Myers’ deconstructed drum part on the bands’ radical interpretation of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” is especially memorable. You can watch it below in a 1978 performance on Saturday Night Live.

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During this era, Devo’s live act was both weird and powerful, and Myers’ drumming was an authoritative presence, pounding the band’s message of de-evolution straight into the audience’s cortex.

In their book We Are DEVO! Jade Dellinger and David Giffels write that the band reacted to the rock music of their early years—acts like the Rolling Stones, in other words—with an “intent to strip out one kind of artifice (white artists acting like black men) and replace it with another (white artists acting like robots).” Alan Myers’ idiosyncratic jerky grooves, evocative of a robot learning to dance, were one of the essential musical tools they used to achieve their particular and unforgettable sound. R.I.P., human metronome.

Chris Wade is a producer for Slate Video and occasional contributor to Brow Beat. Follow him on Twitter.