If you look carefully at the credits for DEVO’s 1982 album Oh, No! It’s DEVO, you will spot a name that doesn’t ordinarily pop up in the DEVO universe or even the music world generally. The name is John Hinckley, Jr., and he is best known to the world as the man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981, in a batshit-crazy attempt to win the amorous affections of Jodie Foster, then still a teenager. Hinckley was strongly influenced by The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and, far more pertinently, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle considers assassinating a U.S. Senator named Palantine but then opts to murder the pimp who has rights over a teen prostitute portrayed by the selfsame Jodie Foster.
When Foster enrolled in Yale University, Hinckley moved all the way from Texas to New Haven, just so he could be near her. He engaged in a lot of creepy, stalker behavior that if you saw it in a movie, you’d think it was overdone, enrolling in the same writing class as her, leaving all kinds of poems and messages for her, and calling her repeatedly. Eventually he would squeeze off six rounds outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, wounding two Secret Service agents and Reagan’s press secretary as well as (via a ricochet) the president himself.
According to Rolling Stone, DEVO got in touch with Hinckley and acquired one of his demented love poems to Foster and adapted it into a song called “I Desire.” Here are some representative lyrics:
I pledge allegiance to the fact
That you’re wise to walk away
For nothing is more dangerous
Than desire when it’s wrong
Don’t let me torment you
Don’t let me bring you down
Don’t ever let me hurt you
Don’t let me fail because
I desire your attention
I desire your perfect love
I desire nothing more
The stunt not only annoyed Warner Bros., who learned that they would be obliged to send Hinckley royalty payments for the song, but also, according to Rolling Stone, won DEVO the official attentions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:In November of 1982, Hinckley wrote a letter to the “Morning Zoo” crew of KZEW, a Dallas radio station, in which he professes his love for “New Wave music” (hey, me too!) and requests that the station play “I Desire” a total of “58 times each day.” Here’s the full quote:
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.”
I like New Wave music, especially Devo, since I co-wrote a song on their new album. The song is called “I Desire” and I want you to play it 58 times each day.
In the letter Hinckley also writes, “I used to listen to the song ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie when I was stalking Carter and Reagan. It got me in a strange mood. ... In March and April of 1980, I hung out at Peaches Record Store on Fitzhugh.” Peaches, which used to be on the intersection of Cole and Fitzhugh in northern Dallas, has, alas, bitten the dust.
Below, listen to “I Desire,” the only new wave ditty ever co-written by a presidential assassin:
ill . . .