john hinckley

The Guy Who Tried To Shoot Ronald Reagan Wants A Musical Career

According to NBC’s Washington DC affiliate, John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to kill President Reagan in 1981 to win Jodie Foster’s love, is looking to start a band. As it turns out, though he has been in a mental hospital since around ’81, his lawyers and treatment team have been working to get him released to his mother’s care. Hinckley’s shown an interest in music while he’s been in the mental hospital, but most people don’t realize that he’s actually been paid by Warner Brothers for years for an odd bit of musical work.

In 1982, DEVO released their fifth album, Oh, No! It’s DEVO, and on that album was the song “I Desire.”

“I Desire” features creepy lyrics about unrequited love like, “To bring you happiness/Could become a lifetime goal/A smile I might bring you/Is more important than world peace.” Those lyrics were written by Hinckley – it was revealed in the trial that Hinckley wrote poetry, and after discovering some of his poems in a supermarket tabloid magazine, DEVO asked his permission to adapt one of his poems into song.

john hinckley, devo, ronald reagan, i desire
[/media-credit] “I Desire” is track five of side two. Note that the lyrics are last name only… odd for a band of two sets of brothers. My personal theory was that it was an attempt on Warner Brothers’ side to perhaps hide that “Hinckley” is THAT Hinckley.

Hinckley, a self-proclaimed new wave fan, agreed, and “I Desire” made it on the record, complete with co-writing credit.

Of course, this went over particularly well with DEVO’s label Warner Brothers, upset that they’d now have to pay royalties to a failed assassin (not that they’d be thrilled, presumably, with paying royalties to a successful one either). DEVO also found they didn’t have the biggest fans at the FBI either… according to lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh, they immediately started getting phone calls about the song, and FBI agents tried contacting DEVO’s management and Warner Bros., trying to get them to kill the song.

It didn’t work, but then neither did DEVO’s original plan, which was to release the song as a single with hopes it’d be a hit… so radio stations across the country would be playing a song with lyrics by perhaps the most hated man in the country, at least circa 1982.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Dr. Sam Beckett, it looks like Hinckley will not be able to set right what once went wrong. Hinckley’s doctor has recommended that while he should be allowed to start the band, Hinckley should not be allowed to perform publicly… and we all know that in the current music climate, touring is essential. So Hinckley might not ever have that trip to the top of the charts, but at least we’ll have “I Desire.”

PS:  Oddly enough, “I Desire” is not the only DEVO collaboration with that melody. Barnes & Barnes, best known for the song “Fish Heads”, had a version on their Soak It Up EP, “Before You Leave (Positive Life)”, available on iTunes.


Matt Keeley fancies himself a reporter who thinks too much about media.  More of his ramblings can be found at Kittysneezes.com and on Twitter @kittysneezes.