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Mark Mothersbaugh Revisits His Literary Roots

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Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh has a lot to say about literature. Most famous for his musical talents, both in Devo and as the composer responsible for the sounds of Rushmore, The Rugrats and The Sims 2, Mothersbaugh is also a visual artist who has ventured into painting, drawing and customized 'art rugs.' While his exploits in the world of letters have been less well-documented, Mothersbaugh's literary roots run deep. He spoke with Huffington about his obsessive writing habit, love of Pynchon and secret desire to accidentally run into Jonathan Safran Foer.

What was the first book you remember thinking was worth reading?

Gravity’s Rainbow. I grew up in the Televangelistic capital of America – Akron, Ohio. I became very curious about what was really happening in this world we lived in – what was real, what made sense and what didn’t. I loved Gravity’s Rainbow’s dealing with free will and predestination and turning a lot of common assumptions upside down, and the fact that it easily moved between references and footnotes that were very scientific or philosophical or academic and juxtaposed them with fictional ones, little mindless ditties and poems and the ridiculous kind of clutter that’s in everyone’s mind at some point in the day or in their life. I just loved that so much, and it made it a book that helped make the world make sense to me.

Which author or work or fictional character do you most identify with artistically, and why?

Probably our main characters in 1984. I was really impressed with Winston Smith. The book that most moved me in the past 10 years was Everything Is Illuminated. I liked Jonathan Safran Foer’s storytelling methodology, and I felt there was something fresh in his writing style. He seemed like somebody I would really enjoy having lunch with, Jonathan. If we were somewhere where nobody felt like it was awkward or weird that we were there together ­­— like if we were waiting in an airport for a delayed flight, or something.

What role has literature played in your life?

While I was taking an English class in either my freshman or my sophomore year I heard these teachers complaining about this student named Jerry Casale. He had written this kind of beat, acid, sex story — short stories — and had turned them in for something at school and these teachers were like, “He’s such a smartass.” When they started talking about him it made me go, you know what, I want to meet that guy. I don’t know if it was his major, but his secondary study was English, so through him I met very interesting people who had a whole different set of references. And it was through Jerry that I ended up finding out about Thomas Pynchon. I think literature, because of Jerry’s references, was very important when we started Devo.

Your book, Beautiful Mutants, is mostly image-based. Have you considered delving more deeply into writing?

Yes. I write all the time. I do artwork that’s part of a diary, and I write short stories to go with them pretty much every day. I was just counting things up because I’m doing a museum show in a couple of years — there’s close to 300 books that have 100 drawings with stories that go along with them. They’ve been an image bank, a source of lyrics and just a reference point for all sorts of things. My intention [for the exhibit] is to have one room look like a library, where the books would be laying out so you could go through them.

When I was a kid, the book that I liked the most was Aesop’s Fables. There was a version of it that my father read stories to us kids out of. I liked the idea of the short story format. The stories I write are often literal to events that have happened or observations that I’ve made, and sometimes they’re fantastical.

What do you read to your kids?

When they were really young, before they could read at all, I was reading Dr. Seuss. [Recently] I bought a book called How to Disappear and they both seem to really like that one, they’ve gone through it a couple of times. And Where the Wild Things Are, of course. They like all the normal stuff, because they go to a school where all the other kids are reading Harry Potter and Coraline and Emma. They write stories, they love writing stories, both of them. They make little books all the time. I really like that about them.

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.