Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes

The United States is something of an outlier as a democracy that still uses the death penalty. Although a number of states have abolished or suspended capital punishment in recent years the Death Rows of a number of southern states remain crowded. In states where racism has been endemic for two centuries or more, the operation  of the death penalty, like the criminal justice system generally is tainted by it. If you are poor or black your chances of ending up on Death Row are significantly higher than if you are white and comfortably off. And if you are poor and black, and particularly if you are dependent on the Public Defender at your trial, you have practically no chance of avoiding it.   

Yet it needn’t have been this way. Fifty years ago   the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional and for several years there were no executions. This period ended in Utah in 1977 with the execution by firing squad of Gary Gilmore. In the case of Gregg v Georgia the Supreme Court had ruled that executions could resume and Gilmore was the first to die. Unlike pretty much everyone else executed since, Gilmore wanted to die and fought court battles against the ACLU which had successfully applied for several stays. On 18th January 1977 Gilmore got his wish. The floodgates of judicial killing had been opened.

While the drama of the crime and punishment of Gary Gilmore was being played out, over in Britain the hot summer of 1976 saw the rise of punk rock, an authentically do it yourself movement that produced a lot of raw and raucous music but also launched some lasting and musically sophisticated bands (once they had learned to pay their instruments!)

The Adverts were neither sophisticated not long lasting. They were formed in South London although the lead singer TV Smith and bassist Gaye Advert (who was a real punk icon) were originally from sleepy Bideford In North Devon. They recorded what I consider to be the perfect punk single, exploring taboo in a typically punk way with this clever song, imagining waking up in hospital having received a transplant of Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

Two minutes of punk perfection from the summer of 1977. Enjoy!

A post for Musically Ranting . Click here for more posts on 70s music.

3 thoughts on “Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes

  1. Great post Eve. This is the sort of information I find fascinating, and as this is a favourite song of my punk-loving partner I’m glad to know more of the background than I did before.

  2. I love how you tied a bit of history into this post Eve. Funny enough, I was born in Utah and spent much of my childhood there. We learned about Gary Gilmore in school as it was an important event in US history. I had never heard the song until you mentioned it and I cannot imagine what it would be like to live his life and see the things he did. Just the thought of seeing with another person’s eyes makes me squirm a bit, but the song was a great display of punk.

    1. Glad you liked it. There have been some hopeful signs recently with regard to the death penalty. Following the recent abolition in Virginia, 23 states no longer have capital punishment with governor imposed moratoriums in a further 3 (including California) and President Biden has pledged to abolish federal executions. It’s mainly the former Jim Crow states that still judicially kill people and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

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