Devo‘s Mark Mothersbaugh has paid tribute to the late Paul Reubens, saying that creating the music for Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the 2016 movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday “changed the trajectory of his career”.
Reubens died on July 30 at the age of 70 after privately suffering from cancer.
“He always had a good personality and a good heart,” Mothersbaugh told Yahoo Music. “It’s just shocking and sad that he’s gone.” He admitted that he had no idea that Reubens had been diagnosed with 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 theatre the Groundlings when Mothersbaugh was dating founding member Laraine Newman (who was also part of the original Saturday Night Live cast). There, Mothersbaugh witnessed Reubens creating his Pee-wee Herman character. They first collaborated in 1980, on the obscure 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.
However, they would eventually work together again when Reubens approached Mothersbaugh about Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which he composed the theme song and episodic music for. “I’d never done a TV show before,” Mothersbaugh remembered. “That took me into the world of film and television and video games. It totally changed the trajectory of my career.”
At the time, Mothersbaugh was feeling burnt out from the relentless album and touring cycles Devo had and appreciated being able to do 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!’”
He also revealed Reubens took a hands-off approach to Mothersbaugh’s work. “‘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.”
Mothersbaugh went on to write the music for the entire run of Rugrats and its three theatrical films, as well as other children’s TV shows like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Beakman’s World, and Santo Bugito. He’s also produced music for video games including Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, and more recently composed the score for Elizabeth Banks’ viral comedy-horror film Cocaine Bear.