In 1982, DEVO, a band whose very existence at times seemed to be a prank on the music industry, had the brilliant idea, in the true spirit of de-evolution, to use one of the demented love poems of failed Ronald Reagan assassin, John Hinckley Jr., as song lyrics. Mind you, this was only a year following Hinckley’s attack which wounded Reagan, Reagan’s Press Secretary, and two Secret Service agents.
Hinckley was one of the most infamous names in the news at the time as the man who had tried to murder the president in a deranged attempt at wooing actress Jodie Foster.
Needless to say, DEVO’s record label, Warner Brothers, was less than thrilled with the idea of having to write royalty checks to the criminally insane man who tried to kill the President.
The song, “I Desire,” which appeared on DEVO’s fifth studio album, Oh, No! It’s DEVO, was adapted, with permission, from one of Hinckley’s poems—much to the chagrin of Warner Brothers and, as it turns out, the F.B.I.
From Rolling Stone:
As Mark Mothersbaugh recalled, “[Hinckley] let us take a poem that he had written, and we used it for the lyrics and turned it into a love song. It was not the best career move you could make. We had the FBI calling up and threatening us.”
In the book Are We Not Men? We are DEVO, Mothersbaugh states that “if people told us we couldn’t, that just gave us all the more determination… you know, Spinal Tap syndrome,” with Alan Myers adding, “I thought ‘I Desire’ was a good song. I think that was the cool thing. That was one of the better songs that came out on the last few records… I think that art is art.”
This week a seller on eBay listed the first royalty check stub sent to Hinckley from Warner Brothers along with an accounting statement and a letter explaining to Hinckley that his one-half share of the royalties for “I Desire” amounted to $610.22.
The seller, as of this writing, provides no provenance for the item, but we are assuming it is probably legit as who would forge such an item and sell it on eBay? This item certainly has an appeal to both fans of DEVO and fans of people who tried to kill Ronald Reagan.
Here’s DEVO’s recording of “I Desire” from the Oh No, It’s DEVO album: