Music Motivated by Murder: “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” by The Adverts

This is the first in a series of articles where I’ll examine music motivated by murder. I’ll provide information about the songs, the killers and the heinous nature of their crimes. Killer track #1 is “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, a single released by The Adverts.


The Song

English punk rock band The Adverts released “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” in 1977 as their second single. It reached #18 on the UK Singles chart in September of the same year.

Tim ‘T.V.’ Smith, the band’s frontman, drew inspiration from American killer Gary Gilmore when writing the song. Gilmore had, in a final act of redemption before his execution, donated his corneas to science. Smith wrote “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” from the perspective of a transplant patient who suspects that he may have received those corneas.

The song earned The Adverts an appearance on Top of the Pops, which was no mean feat for a punk band at the time. It remains a recognisable track today, often lauded for its energy.

UK weekly music newspaper Sounds called the record “the sickest and cleverest record to come out of the new wave”. Rate Your Music commented that “Alice Cooper hadn’t imagined a concept so chilling. Not in ’77 anyway.”

“Shot in the Heart”, a movie based on the memoirs of the killer’s brother, Rolling Stone writer Mikal Gilmore, included the single on its soundtrack.

“Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” was named as the 12th best punk rock single of all time by popular UK music magazine Mojo.


The Lyrics

I’m lying in a hospital,

I’m pinned against the bed.

A stethoscope upon my heart,

A hand against my head.

They’re peeling off the bandages.

I’m wincing in the light.

The nurse is looking anxious,

And she’s quivering in fright…

I’m looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

The doctors are avoiding me.

My vision is confused.

I listen to my earphones,

And I catch the evening news.

A murderer’s been killed,

And he donates his sight to science.

I’m locked into a private ward.

I realise that I must be…

Looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

Looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

I smash the light in anger.

Push my bed against the door.

I close my lids across my eyes,

And wish to see no more.

The eye receives the messages,

And sends them to the brain.

No guarantee the stimuli must be perceived the same…

When looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

Gary don’t need his eyes to see.

Gary and his eyes have parted company.

Songwriter: Timothy Smith

The Killer

Early Life

Gary Mark Gilmore was born on 4 December 1940 in Waco, Texas. He received an IQ score of 133 at school but was not motivated to achieve. Growing up in an abusive family environment prompted Gilmore to become involved in a string of petty crimes during his teens.

Despite notable artistic ability, Gilmore dropped out of school during 9th grade. After starting a car theft ring with friends as a teenager, he spent time in jail before progressing to more violent crimes. At 24 an assault and armed robbery conviction saw Gilmore sentenced to 15 years in prison at Oregon State Penitentiary. While inside, prison psychiatrists found he suffered from antisocial personality disorder. The state paroled Gilmore after 8 years but within a month he was rearrested and convicted of armed robbery.

Gilmore’s violent nature in prison prompted a transfer to a maximum security facility in Marion, Illinois. Within a year, in April 1976, Gilmore was again paroled and relocated to Utah to live with his sister. There he resumed his life of crime, alcohol and violence.

The Murders

On 19 and 20 July 1976, Gilmore committed two murders. His victims were a gas station employee and a motel manager, whom he executed with gunshots to the back of their heads. While disposing of the murder weapon, a .22 calibre pistol, after the second murder, Gilmore shot himself in the hand by mistake. He approached his cousin for painkillers and bandages which resulted in her turning him over to the police, who promptly arrested him.

Authorities charged Gary Gilmore with both murders but only the first made it to trial. After only 2 days in court, a short jury deliberation resulted in a guilty verdict. The jury recommended the death penalty and the court complied. Gilmore could choose to die by hanging or by firing squad and chose the latter. “I’d prefer to be shot.” he said.

Execution

Gilmore received many stays of execution, despite fighting against them. He attempted suicide twice while waiting for confirmation of his execution before he finally got his wish. On 17 January 1977 at Utah State Prison, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad. His last words were “Let’s do it”.

Before his execution, Gilmore asked to donate certain of his organs for transplant purposes. Shortly after his execution, 2 people received his corneas, hence providing T.V. Smith with the motivation to write “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”.

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