Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh Remembers Paul Reubens

Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh, who created the music for Paul Reubens’ series Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the 2016 movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, has paid tribute to the late actor and reflected upon how collaborating with Reubens “changed the trajectory” of his career in an interview with Yahoo Music.

“He always had a good personality and a good heart,” Mothersbaugh said about his longtime friend. “It’s just shocking and sad that he’s gone.” The Devo co-founder had no idea that Reubens had been privately battling cancer, adding, “We’d even been talking about working on an animated version of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

Mothersbaugh and Reubens met at the comedy improv theater the Groundlings when Mothersbaugh was dating founding member Laraine Newman (who was also part of the original Saturday Night Live cast). It was there that Mothersbaugh witnessed Reubens creating his Pee-wee Herman character. They kept in touch and first collaborated on the obscure 1980 film Pray TV before a scheduling conflict prevented Mothersbaugh from writing the score for Reubens’ breakout film role in the Tim Burton-directed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Danny Elfman landed the gig instead, launching his own second career as a composer).

However, they reconnected when Reubens reached out about Pee-wee’s Playhouse. “I’d never done a TV show before,” Mothersbaugh remembered about being asked to compose the theme song and episodic music for the now-iconic Saturday morning children’s program. “That took me into the world of film and television and video games. It totally changed the trajectory of my career.”

Burnt out from the extended cycle of writing, recording, and then touring behind Devo’s music, Mothersbaugh was eager to try something new. He came to appreciate the quick turnaround that came with working on a weekly episodic show: “I’d write 12 songs’ worth of music on Tuesday, record on Wednesday, put a tape in the express mail on Thursday, they’d mix it into the show on Friday… and on Saturday morning, we’d all watch it on TV. And then the next Monday, I’d get another tape in the mail. I was like, ‘Sign me up for this job!’”

Making the gig that much sweeter was Reubens’ hands-off approach. Mothersbaugh recalled his late friend saying, “‘Here’s my only notes. When it’s something sad, make it really, really sad. When it’s something happy, make it really, really happy. When it’s something shocking, make it really, really shocking.” Mothersbaugh explained, “He just wanted everything to be done to extremes.”

Read the full interview at Yahoo Music.

Following his work on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Mothersbaugh composed the music for the entire run of the animated series Rugrats and its three theatrical films, as well as other children’s TV shows like Clifford the Big Red DogBeakman’s World, and Santo Bugito. He’s also produced music for video games including Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. More recently, Mothersbaugh composed the score for Elizabeth Banks’ viral comedy horror film Cocaine Bear.

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