On a quiet evening in July of 1976, the pull of a trigger in a sleepy Utah town set forth a chain of events that would reverberate through the American legal system, human rights debate, and eventually make it's mark on popular culture here and throughout the world.
It would seem that Texan, Gary Gilmore, was doomed to his fate from an early age - victimized by some of the same circumstances that mold many innocent children into hardened criminals - an unstable home life, a nomadic existence, and an abusive, alcoholic father - he not so much spiraled into a life of crime, as much as just went with what seemed natural to him.
In a Playboy Magazine interview he had this to say:
[INTERVIEWER: Was that the point at which you just told yourself, from here on, I’m in for trouble?
GILMORE: (laughs) I always felt like I was in for trouble. I seemed to have a talent, or rather a knack, for making adults look at me a little different, different from the way they looked at other kids, like maybe bewildered, or maybe repelled.
GILMORE: Just a different look, like adults aren’t supposed to look at kids.
INTERVIEWER: With hate in their eyes?
GILMORE: Beyond hate. Loathing, I’d say. I can remember one lady in Flagstaff, Arizona, a neighbor of my folks when I was three or four. She became so frustrated with rage at whatever shit I was doing that she attacked me physically with full intent of hurting me. My dad had to jump up and restrain her.]
He got an early start on his road to ruin, engaging in shoplifting and petty theft, prodigiously (he had a respectable 130 IQ) organizing a car theft ring with friends by the age of fourteen. During this period he was arrested a few times and eventually sent to Woodburn Reform School.
INTERVIEWER: How did you feel when you were released from Woodburn?
GILMORE: I came out looking for trouble. Thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. I felt slightly superior to everybody else ‘cause I’d been in reform school. I had a tough-guy complex, that sort of smart-aleck juvenile-delinquent attitude. Juvenile delinquent - remember that phrase? Sure dates me, doesn’t it? Nobody could tell me anything. I had a ducktail haircut, I smoked, drank, shot heroin, smoked weed, took speed, got into fights, chased and caught pretty little broads. The Fifties were a hell of a time to be a juvenile delinquent. I stole and robbed and gambled and went to Fats Domino and Gene Vincent dances at the local halls.]
By age 22, he had graduated to assault and armed robbery, and became the textbook recidivist offender, repeatedly caught and sent to jail. Until 1976, the longest period he had been out of jail was only 8 months.
Things escalated considerably on the 19th of July of '76. He robbed and killed a gas station attendant in Orem, Utah, and the next night did the same thing to a motel manager in nearby Provo. While getting rid of the gun he accidentally shot himself in the hand, and was then witnessed hiding the gun in some nearby bushes. He was captured shortly thereafter.
After his trial and conviction, he would be the first prisoner to be sentenced to execution in Utah since the the reinstatement of the death penalty, which had been declared unconstitutional in 1972. Even back in the 'barbaric' 1970s, this set off a firestorm of controversy, with religious and human rights groups ranging from the ACLU to the NAACP (both death penalty opponents) getting involved on Gilmore's behalf. No one was contesting his guilt, but specifically his death sentence.
In a previously unheard of twist, Gary Gilmore not only refused their assistance, but actually fought the justice system to ensure he would be executed more quickly, stating (and referring to the organizations acting on his behalf),
"They always want to get in on the act. I don't think they have ever really done anything effective in their lives. I would like them all — including that group of reverends and rabbis from Salt Lake City — to butt out. This is my life and this is my death. It's been sanctioned by the courts that I die and I accept that.".
The entire world watched with morbid curiosity, fueled by a sensational media, as he actually tried suicide twice, each attempt following a 'stay of execution' brought on by the ACLU. But the assistance/interference continued, and his final stay of execution was overturned just a mere 37 minutes before his actual death.
Execution today in Utah is only by lethal injection, but in 1976, death row inmates had a choice between it, or firing squad. Before the ban on capital punishment in 1967, Utah prisoners could choose only between firing squad or hanging.
[ FUN FACT - But before that, when Utah was still only a territory, prisoners had a third option, "beheading" - but no one chose it, and it went out of practice in 1888.]
Lethal injection usually involves a quick succession of three injections - the first renders the prisoner unconscious in a few seconds with a powerful anesthetic, the second, a muscle relaxant designed to paralyze the prisoner, stopping all muscle function including the diaphragm, causing asphyxiation. The third injection causes cardiac arrest, stopping the heart. Provided they all work as they should.
Gilmore chose the firing squad, responding when asked with, "I'd prefer to be shot".
On the day of execution, Gilmore ordered his last meal - steak, potatoes, milk, and coffee, of which he only consumed the milk and coffee (similar to more recent death row inmates, who have ordered extravagant, expensive meals and then not touched them, resulting in that particular final request being banned recently in Texas).
He was administered his last rites by the prison chaplain, and was marched before the firing squad, which was set up in an unused cannery on prison property. When asked if he had any last words he replied only with "Let's do it". A hood was placed over his head, a target attached to his t-shirt, and the five-man squad took aim and shot him from behind a canvas curtain on the cannery's loading dock.
He was the first to be executed in the US in almost ten years.
-The makeshift execution site - an old office chair with nylon restraints, and a mattress placed in front of sandbags. Various press and prison officials on the right.-
Minutes later, on that Monday of January 17, 1977, 36 year old Gary Gilmore - drifter, robber, and cold-blooded murderer - was pronounced dead by the coroner. He was also an organ donor, and that same day two people received his corneas for transplant. His body was taken to the University of Utah for research, later cremated, and his ashes placed in a plastic bread sack, spread from a small airplane by his uncle and his lawyer.
Since that day there have been over 1200 executions in the United States.
But that wasn't the end of it. Extensive international news coverage of the event, and the sheer bizarreness of it all, practically ensured that just about everyone had at least heard of what happened - including a certain Tim Smith, then living in a sleepy coastal town in Devon, England. An article he just read inspired him to write a song about an organ recipient who had just woken up, only to realize in horror that he's just received the eyes of a murderer. At this time, Tim Smith also changed his name to TV Smith, and along with his girlfriend Gaye Balsden on the bass, who changed her name to Gaye Advert, formed a punk band, and called it The Adverts.
Here's a sample of the lyrics to "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. (x2)
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. (x2)
Gary don't need his eyes to see.
Gary and his eyes have parted company"
Watch the Top of the Pops appearance HERE.
The song became their second single, went to number 18 in the charts, and along with some Top of the Pops television appearances gained the band alot of attention. Punk wasn't much different from old guard rock n roll at the time in that it was populated mostly by men, so any pretty girl was likely to get alot of attention, and much of it was aimed at the sultry bass player, who, with her classic good looks, black hair, and black leather jacket, was hard to miss.
Gaye Advert soon became a Punk Pin-Up of sorts (PP-U), as seen in this fold-out from Record Mirror magazine...
Eventually tensions escalated within the band, as Gaye began to receive what her bandmates felt was more than her fair share of attention. Mentions in the press of "Gaye's Adverts" and reports of her heavy-handed approach to band business only contributed, and it didn't hurt that she had done some shoots for a porno magazine called "Fiesta" before joining the band.
These charming and delightful shots are featured here, for your viewing pleasure.
It wasn't long before guitarist Howard Pickup and drummer Laurie Driver left the band, ostensibly to pursue greener pastures. They were never heard from again.
Well, they were, but this version sounds better.
Thoughtfully included also For Your Viewing Pleasure (FYVP), some more Adverts Punk Knick-Knacks (APK-K).
LQQK at this Punk Dream Calendar (PDC) - NINE of the best bands in history playing at the same place within a month and half!
But let us now go back to the USA, again across Atlantic Ocean, and back again through the sands of time, but not as far, to the offices of the Wieden and Kennedy ad agency in New York City.
It was 1988, and the Nike shoe company needed something to help them compete against industry leader Reebok, who had somehow taken control of the market with their ridiculous shoes during the 80s aerobics craze. Nike needed a new angle, a new direction, a new approach. They needed something that would separate them from the competition. Wieden and Kennedy gave it to them. This was still an era when most people only wore athletic shoes while actually playing sports, and so W+K helped change Nike's entire marketing strategy (EMS) from selling "athletic footwear", to selling the shoes as fashion and lifestyle accessories. And they promoted it with the new, hugely successful "Just Do It" campaign. It appeared everywhere, in magazines, on billboards, in TV commercials, and featured the biggest sports stars of the day. It was what helped push Nike into the number one position with sales surpassing $3 billion by the early Nineties.
Little did anyone know that this iconic slogan was inspired by the last words of a cold-blooded murderer. Dan Wieden admitted as much years later in the ad industry documentary "Art & Copy" how he got the idea from Gary Gilmore's last words, giving them a slight twist, and not thinking much of the connection at the time. “None of us really paid that much attention. We thought, ‘Yeah. That’d work,’ ” he said, adding, “People started reading things into it much more than sport.”
Of course the official Nike version of the story sanitized its the slogan's genesis, claiming Wieden, speaking "admirably" of Nike's "can do" attitude, randomly said "You Nike guys, you just do it.".
It just wouldn't do to have a killer selling shoes, now would it, but to quote Ian Faith, esteemed manager of one of England's loudest bands Spinal Tap, "Death sells."