Devo Don't Know If Would-Be Reagan Assassin Got Royalties for 'I Desire,' But It's Also Not Their Problem

Devo’s Gerald V. Casale told Newsweek he doesn’t know whether or not would-be Ronald Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. ever received royalties for his writing credit on “I Desire” — and it’s not really the band’s problem, anyway. 

Hinckley was recently approved for unconditional release from prison in June 2022, and earlier this month, he appeared on Twitter, announcing his return as a singer/songwriter (his work’s already available on streaming services, for those who are curious). Hinckley’s used his Twitter to do a bit of promo and offer a glimpse at, well, to be perfectly honest, his pretty decent taste in music. Although in an October 24th missive, he noted: “Back in 1982 I co-wrote a song with Devo called ‘I Desire.’ It is on their album Oh No, It’s DEVO. The album is still selling worldwide, especially in Japan and Europe. I haven’t seen royalties in 35 years. What’s the deal?”

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While Hinckley does have a co-writing credit on “I Desire,” it’s not exactly because he was part of a recording session with Devo. Rather, “I Desire” found Devo cribbing some verses from a poem Hinckley had written for Jodie Foster, which a tabloid had published after the assassination attempt (Hinckley was, to put it mildly, obsessed with Foster and supposedly hoped his attempt to kill Regan would impress the actress).

As Casale said in the new interview, Devo was “blown away by the poetic sociopathy” of the poem. “I saw it and I showed it to Mark Mothersbaugh,” he continued. “We couldn’t believe how inspired and pathological the poetry was, given what he had done. And this poetry was all love poems to Jodie Foster.”

“I Desire” ultimately incorporated two verses from one of Hinckley’s poems, while Casale says he wrote a few more verses “that completely twisted the meaning of his verses on their head. So that the [narrator] is telling the girl… to run from him because he’s a dangerous guy.” (Devo got permission from Hinckley to use his words, and the band also sought and received permission from Foster on the understanding that they weren’t celebrating or endorsing Hinckley and his actions).

As for the question of Hinckley’s supposedly missing royalties, Casale noted that he couldn’t speak to the issue since labels, publishers, and performing rights organizations deal with royalties. Hinckley, according Casale, did create his own publishing company, so whatever royalties he would’ve made “should have been going straight to him.” 

“It’s possible that he’s not lying,” Casale said of Hinckley’s claim, but he did add: “We’re not talking about a lot of money here. Believe me, [‘I Desire’] wasn’t a hit. But certainly it’s not because of Devo that he didn’t get his money.”

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