The blog of author Dennis Cooper

KillSwitch presents … The Neglected and Neglectful Howard Devoto *

* (restored)


“I am angry, I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin
My irritability keeps me alive and kicking
I know the meaning of life, it doesn’t help me a bit
I know beauty and I know a good thing when I see it

This is a song from under the floorboards
this is a song from where the wall is cracked
by force of habit, I am an insect
I have to confess I’m proud as hell of that fact

I know the highest and the best
I accord them all due respect
but the brightest jewel inside of me
glows with pleasure at my own stupidity

I used to make phantoms I could later chase
images of all that could be desired
then I got tired of counting all of these blessings
and then I just got tired”

— ‘Song from Under the Floorboards’


‘The major characteristic of Howard Devoto’s work has been integrity and an avoidance of formula. His aims as the original singer with Buzzcocks were exhausted after one record — their Spiral Scratch EP is replete with wit and wisdom about the dynamics of the then burgeoning punk trend, and indeed the first to acknowledge it as a gimmick. What else was there to say? Punk’s chief aim was to spark a new beginning, fresh sounds and boundless opportunities. It had nothing to do with a career. Howard knew this and jumped ship, leaving cohorts Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle and John Maher to become perhaps the most joyous pop group of the late-Seventies.


Early Years


Buzzcocks ‘Breakdown’

Buzzcocks ‘I Can’t Control Myself’

Magazine ‘Shot by Both Sides’

Magazine ‘Touch and Go’


1977: Howard Devoto interviewed by Jon Savage

Jon Savage: Do you think we live in insane times ? Howard Devoto: Some of us do – some of us don’t. Do you want to do something new with punk ? Nobody invents new colours or new feelings. The first snowfall is fresh and in some sense new. But it isn’t different necessarily from last year’s snow. Nor is it old goods in a new wrapper. What do you want to do with Magazine? Improve people’s memories. Do you want to be popular at a mass level ? I can take it or leave it. Your music seems to deliberately want to leave gaps. It’s a matter of not trying to tell the whole story about something – when you can’t. Not trying to make up the bits that are going to fit… Like writing about something and giving the impression you know everything about it… I guess so. But I feel really concerned about mistaken impressions – mishearing – and ambiguous experience. Just on straight sense things – when you think you’ve seen something – and it doesn’t turn out to be what you’ve seen; I think there’s always a way of learning that as well – it doesn’t always happen by accident. You seem to be stating complex ideas in simple language in your range… Yes – but they’re not worked out. I leave a lot of loose ends for me and everybody. Just taking certain phrases out of context and putting them together…

‘Where The Buzzcocks were obtainable, Devoto was obscure. He had quickly formed Magazine, who went on to produce four albums of bombastic introspection between 1978 and 1981. Their early work dealt with weighty and perpetual imbalance — political unrest (‘Shot By Both Sides’), the powerless American president who dies at the hands of an assassin (‘Motorcade’) and prostitution (‘Touch and Go’). To the casual listener they were just brilliant rock songs, with lyrical whimsy that held up to close scrutiny. Later work became more ambiguous and on The Correct Use Of Soap (1980) the group made their most complete work. There you can find ‘A Song From Under The Floorboards’ and ‘Sweetheart Contract’, which exist amongst a string of great singles.


Middle years


Magazine ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’

Magazine ‘Give Me Everything’

Magazine ‘Motorcade’

Magazine ‘Cut Out Shapes’

Magazine ‘Model Worker’

Magazine ‘Because You’re Frightened’

Magazine ‘Song From Under The Floorboards’


(l. to r.) John McGeogh, Dave Formula, Devoto, Barry Adamson, Devoto, Bob Dickinson

The rest of Magazine:

John McGeogh (guitarist): McGeogh left Magazine after The Correct Use of Soap album to become the guitarist for Siouxie and the Banshees during their most creative period. He quit the Banshees to join PiL, playing on their seminal Flowers of Romance album, a.o. He was later a member of The Armoury Show, a short lived band fronted by Richard Jobson of The Skids, and of Steve Strange’s supergroup Visage, as well as playing guitar on a number of other artists’ albums, including Peter Murphy, Generation X, Ultravox, Matthew Sweet, and others. He died in his sleep in 2004.

Bob Dickinson (guitarist): After departing Magazine, Dickinson gave up rock music for world sacred music, writing the book ‘Music and the Earth Spirit.’ With composer Steven Dennison, he mans the music website Text Music

Barry Adamson (bass): After the demise of Magazine, Adamson become one of the founding members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, recording and performing with them for the majority of their existence. In addition, he became a respected composer of scores for independent films and has released a number of highly acclaimed solo albums. A collection of his solo and film music, The Murky World of Barry Adamson, was released in 2000.

John Doyle (drummer): After Magazine, Doyle was briefly a member of The Armoury Show with John McGeogh. He became a widely used session musician working mostly in the traditional and contemporary Irish music field. He’s also a character actor who has appeared in a number of films, including Babe and Bliss.

Dave Formula (keyboards): Post-Magazine, Formula became the keyboardist for Ultravox during their most commercially successful period fronted by Midge Ure in the early to late 80s, and was also a member of Steve Strange’s Visage. He’s currently keyboardist for post-funk band The Finks.

‘By the time of The Correct Use of Soap, Magazine had reached an internal impasse. John McGeoch, their guitarist, left because of a frustration with Magazine’s lack of commercial success. One more album followed, the patchy Magic, Murder and the Weather. Devoto continued solo with his Jerky Versions Of The Dream album which he has since disowned and, honourably, retired from music after a clear sense that he had produced a poor record. Only Noko (now of Apollo Four Forty) persuaded him to record subsequent to this, with their commercially unsuccessful but nonetheless valuable Luxuria group. Other than a few guest appearances with This Mortal Coil, Mansun, and Apollo Four Forty, Howard didn’t record again until his unexpected reunion with The Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley three years ago for the one-off project Buzzkunst. Since then he has returned to his real name, Howard Trafford, and currently works as a supervisor in a photo library somewhere in London.’ — Ian Greaves, 3 AM Magazine


Later years


Howard Devoto ‘Rainy Season’

Luxuria ‘Red Neck’

Luxuria ‘Beastbox’

Buzzkunst ”Til the stars in his eyes are dead’ & ‘Going Off’


Shotbybothsides.com is as close to an official Howard Devoto website as exists. Its concentration is on his work with Magazine, but The Buzzocks, Luxuria, Buzzkunst, and Devoto’s solo work are well covered. The site includes a complete discography and a thorough database of Devoto -related press and facts, as well as a decent if not quite up -to -the -minute news section.


Jess Harvel, Rhythm of Cruelty: Howard Devoto and the Post-Punk Revival: ‘Even with the new respect/admiration/costume play/lip-service paid to artists previously thought consigned to the dustbin of pop history, where does this new round of myth raiding leave them in the cold actual glare of 2002? Ask Afrikaa Bambaataa, playing an MTV dance show to a couple hundred (and a couple hundred thousand around the world) kids asking who the fuck these old guys in fringe vests were and where is Paul Oakenfold already? Ask ESG who have been coaxed out of a long-suffering silence wherein they witnessed their earliest JB’s- as- proto- house records being sampled almost as much as JB himself only to end in dwindling returns for both sampler and sampled. Ask The Human League, who’s Secrets was one of the best records of 2001, proving they were still most adept at the world they had so completely changed, even as they were eclipsed by their sad, ugly children. Ask Howard Devoto.’ (Read the rest here)


Read another excellent, comprehensive piece entitled Clarity Has Reared It’s Ugly Head Again… The Music of Howard Devoto by Stewart Osborne


Quite a wide rangle of contemporary music artists cite Howard Devoto as a major influence, from Jarvis Cocker and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart to Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, who’s stated that collaborating with Devoto is one of his biggest dreams. Another Devoto devotee is Momus, who wrote a great song about him entitled ‘The Most Important Man Alive.’ You can read the lyrics here.



p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi, D!!! Oh, cool, you watched one of his films. And it was relevant. Great and stormy are a good combination, and, yeah, when you’re marked I’d be curious to see the marking. Haha, I actually can’t think of a single roller coaster that doesn’t have at least a slightly dumb name. I guess ‘X2’ (one of the best coasters) is a tolerable name, under the circumstances. I continue to rise above my lag, thank you. Will do, on the celebrity reveal. Nice, shocking (ha ha) love, thank you. Love going home with the prettiest Emo boy he’s ever seen only to discover his entire apartment is covered, floor to ceiling, with a handmade shrine to Limp Bizkit, G. ** Tosh Berman, My great pleasure, sir. ** _Black_Acrylic, Really glad you liked it, B! ** Bill, Hi, Bill. You were in the majority. Will do about the SF trip if it ends up in the cards. A dinner would be nice. I’ll have a think about diners. Dodie, … Your new short piece! Thank you, thank you! I’ll be on it the very second I’m no longer on this. Everyone, A rare treat for us all in the form of a new, short sound/music piece by the great visual/sonic artist and d.l. Mr. Bill Hsu. It’s called ‘Bel(l)ow(s)’ and it’s right here. Swamp it, folks. ** Brendan, Hi, Brendan. I was just running around in your general hood during a short but long, long awaited escape to the West. Awesome that you’re a Hammid fan. Me too, and we’re needles in a haystack, I think. New work, new show! I might even get to see it if our film funding comes through on schedule whereupon Zac and I will be in LA a ton. And a little bird told me the also great Jack Skelley is writing something for/with you? Yum, if so. I’m good. Miss(ed) you too! ** Misanthrope, That I expected, you’re right. Almost at the big 50, are you? No sweat, you have years of fieriness left to go. Enjoy the beach house stint. That seems like a no brainer. Take it easy and feel better. You can’t be too careful these days, duh. And good luck conquering Benatar. ‘Stop Using Sex as a Weapon’ next maybe? ** Brian, Hey, Brian. Re: Deren, I especially highly recommend ‘Ritual in Transfigured Time’. That’s my fave. Personally, I’d start your Jodorowsky voyage with ‘El Topo’. I think it’s his best, pretty much by far. So sorry about your week starting problems, especially with your dog. Stressful. Bestest wishes. Curious to hear your thoughts on ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. Very divisive, that one, it seems. I haven’t heard the new Eilish. I read that it’s kind of ‘jazzy’, which made me a little wary. I’m almost crystal clear in the head again. So close to reality that I can imagine it. Have a great one, man. ** Okay. Years ago someone who tagged themselves KillSwitch made this fruitful post for the blog about the great, anti-prolific songwriting auteur and singer Howard Devoto. And now it’s alive again. Very worth your time,I think. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dennis, Ha! I think that would be a good song to try. It’s got a DC theme-iness to it. Or at least the title does.

    “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” as I said, is all power chords, but man, getting and keeping that “shape” with my stubby fingers can be trying. Eek.

    Yeah, I feel better today. Shit, could be bad allergies, who knows? I’m just gonna keep on keeping on.

    It’s funny, I’m not really a beach person. My friend DR was like, “Are you the same guy who said you’d rather die than go to the beach?” Thing is, I’d totally not considered the beach aspect when this was presented to me as an excursion. I was thinking hanging out, good food, etc. Ugh, guess I’ll have to go to the beach and at least look at it. Or something. 😛

  2. Hi!!

    Every time I look at a picture/watch a video of Howard Devoto, I have the feeling that he never, ever stops thinking. Not for a moment. Thank you for this post; it’s brilliant!

    Mm, yeah “X2” isn’t a bad name. Especially compared to some of the others out there. It’s so strange how tons of rides look incredibly inventive and creative and then… these names, haha.

    Ah, well, at least the emo boy seems to have passion! Or… seems to be obsessed. I’m in either way. Thank you! Love unsuccessfully trying to get rid of the most evil earworm – “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth – Od.

  3. I love or adore Howard Devoto. Funny, last week I purchased his solo album, and he’s right, it’s not that good. Not horrible either. Still, his work with The Buzzcocks and especially Magazine is superb. In a profound way, I think Magazine is so influencial. No Magazine, maybe no Pulp (Jarvis), and I think Nick Cave took a lot of Howard in his world – with of course Barry being in the original Bad Seeds. Oddly enough the classic Los Angeles band The Human Hands, reminds me of Magazine as well. And I enjoy Momus’s Devoto recordings as well. I woke up feeling a bit down, but seeing this blog this morning makes it an up day. Devoto rules!

  4. I don’t think I caught this the first time around. And it starts with one of my all time favorite songs! I love Devoto and most of the Magazine albums, and of course the Buzzcocks.

    Thanks for the plug, Dennis!

    Finished James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms. That torture porn sex sequence at the end, geez.


    • Just dropping in to say “Narrow Rooms” rules and that gruesome sex scene is one of my favorites ever. Glad it elicited a “geez” from someone else too, lol

  5. Longtime Buzzcocks and Magazine fan here so this Devoto showcase is of major interest. Thank you KillSwitch!

    You may recall that a while ago that I was in the running for a new drug to treat MS called Siponimod which was subject to a big meeting amongst doctors round here in recent weeks. Well today I got a phone call that I’m eligible for this treatment and I’ve given my consent to proceed. It’s good news and I’m very happy about this, yay!

  6. Hope you had fun with Troye or Sam!

    When I belonged to a FB music discussion board, a long, irritating thread erupted because Howard Devoto declared explicitly somewhere that “Shot by Both Sides” is about political centrism. “Song From Under the Floorboards” is amazing – who else would’ve thought of “adapting” NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND into a 4-minute rock song?

    I feel like I’ve come down with a cold, with a sore throat, ragged voice and exhaustion. I hope that’s all it proves to be.

    FWIW, I prefer the new Billie Eilish album to her debut. I wasn’t all that taken with her till “Everything I Wanted,” her first single released after WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, but I liked the run of singles leading up to HAPPIER THAN EVER. The music is extremely subdued, with her vocals restricted to a low and narrow range, but the overtones of repressing intense emotions makes them all the more powerful. I’d like to hear her rock out, though – she finally shouts over loud guitars on the second half of the title track.

  7. Hey Dennis,

    More music to listen to and explore—always a good thing. Many thanks, KillSwitch. Okay, “Ritual in Transfigured Time” (great title!) added to the list. And “El Topo”, too. Heard a lot of split opinions on that guy. Hopefully the visual impressions will be worth whatever else, at any rate. Thanks for the well wishes. Today was better than yesterday in terms of mundane dramas: the dog’s recovering, though quite knocked out on drugs, so that’s been the focus of attention. Watched “Chinatown” alone (superb, though Roman Polanski is obviously a piece of shit) and “The Greasy Strangler” with friends (got a couple of chuckles but basically tedious), both for the first time; that was fun. I’m excited for “Eyes Wide Shut”. A lot of people I know acclaim it as a masterpiece; others seem to hate it to no end (my close friend: “They managed to make a sex cult boring!”). We’ll see, we’ll see. “Jazzy” isn’t the first word that would leap to mind as a description of the new Eilish for me, though I’ve never been good talking about music. I guess my ambivalence boils down to a sort of overwhelmingly sedate quality to the album—that breaks at key moments, with mixed results—but it’s very gentle and quiet and subdued, as Steve accurately notes above. Maybe that’s the sort of thing you like better with time. And the lyrics can be mildly interesting, although they’re definitely retreading a lot of “lonely at the top” clichés, that sort of thing. I don’t know. Glad the cobwebs are clearing. Back to reality! May your Wednesday be fruitful in all things.

  8. Richard Haasen

    August 4, 2021 at 1:04 pm

    Hello dear Dennis,

    I hope this is the proper way to reach you.
    Thursday 12th of August through the morning of 15th of August,
    I will be staying in Paris with my friend André Rijkers.

    Long time ago, was it 2015?, when you were with Ishmael
    in Utrecht (‘t Hoogt?) you invited me to contact you, if
    I ever came to Paris (I am not really a city tripper it seems)

    If you would like to have a cup of coffee or (rather) dinner or lunch
    with us somewhere between 17.00 on Thursday 12th and 15.00
    on Sunday 15th I would be very happy to treat you.

    Look forward to seeing you very much, I hope you are doing well,
    we would really like to see you, both of us,
    love and best regards, Richard Haasen

    P.S. could you please erase this comment and contact me?

  9. Richard Haasen

    August 4, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    Hello dear Dennis,

    I hope this is the proper way to reach you.
    Thursday 12th of August through the morning of 15th of August,
    I will be staying in Paris with my friend André Rijkers.

    Long time ago, was it 2015?, when you were with Ishmael
    in Utrecht (‘t Hoogt?) you invited me to contact you, if
    I ever came to Paris (I am not really a city tripper it seems)

    If you would like to have a cup of coffee or (rahter) diinner or lunch
    with us somewhere between 17.00 on thursday 12th and 15.00
    on Sunday 15th I would be very happy to treat you.

    Look forward to seeing you very much, I hope you are doing well,
    we would really like to see you, both of us,
    love and best regards, Richard Haasen

    Could you please erase this comment and contact me?

  10. Hope to see you and Zac here ASAP, Dennis. It’s been EONS!

    Saw a press screening of “Annette” last night. It’s fabulous on the big screen and weird as hell. Can’t wait to hear what a Sparks fan like you thinks of it Tosh.

  11. DenBro: YAY!! UR back!!! I possessively treasure that Spiral Scratch EP. Certified classic. Beyond supremely good to rap with you and dear pals (sob!) over tacos and on the streets… I’ll share more cool newz soon… Welcome back to Paris!

  12. Exciting, Dennis! A film in LA. Stoked for you. And yes, I’m talking to Jack about maybe writing an essay for a book of photographs I’m working on. All very preliminary, of course. But jazzed about the prospects. I’ll email you a few new a shots now.


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