June 13, 2011

Gary Gilmore's Eyes and Me


Speaking of "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" (as I just was, down there) there were few songs that had as much purchase on my attention in those days as that one did. I mean, it really "spoke to me," somehow, and I spent lots and lots of time thinking about it. I had it on a tape I recorded from the radio, but I was really excited when I ran across an actual copy of the single, and I've hoarded and cherished it ever since. (Nowadays, when you want something like that you just look it up and paypal whoever has it whatever it is he wants for it, but back then acquiring such things was more like a random act of fate that just happened to you.)

How could a song like that, about the (allegedly true) story of a man who wakes up in a hospital bed after eye surgery and realizes to his horror that his corneas have been replaced by the donated ones of an infamous, firing squad-ed, murderer whom Norman Mailer wrote a book about -- how could such a song "speak to" a thirteen year old suburban kid?

Thinking about it now, I believe it's not what it's about that was important, but rather, it's what it does. What I mean is, it's a song that takes an unusual, rather far-fetched, unlikely conceit, and forces you to reconsider the original state of skepticism you were probably in before having heard it. You see the title and you think to yourself: ha, there's no way someone could turn that into a good song I'll care all that much about, though it might be good for a laugh. But of course you have to find out. And by the time you've finished listening, it all makes sense, like it was always there, just waiting to be written. "Why didn't anybody think of doing that before?" you ask yourself, when just two and a half minutes ago you were asking "why would anyone do that?" Sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, man is it ever great. The song proposes something preposterous and sells it, makes it work, and wins you over, simply by being good. That's magic. Personally speaking (and I know I may be a bit weird) there's just no aesthetic thrill that can compare to that psycho-conceptual "turn-around." I never get tired of it, ever.

Not all "novelty" songs are like that, and there's no reason they have to be, but the ones that are like that are, in my world, the best ones. "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" might well have been the first time I encountered this phenomenon, but it's the same basic I reason I love George Jones so much. And it's the kind of thing I have tried, in my own small way, to make my own songs do (e.g. "Lawnmower of Love" -- I wish I was a good enough writer to describe with any accuracy the deep, deep, deep skepticism that suffused Kevin Army's face when I he read that title on my lyric sheet.)

Anyway, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was a big deal to me. Twenty-five years later, I had the opportunity to play a few shows with the Adverts' TV Smith, the guy who wrote that song, which is how I wound up with his autograph on the 7" I'd been hoarding for all those years. Amazing, huh?


And this digital bonus-tracksed repackaging of the once rather hard-to-find Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts is a steal at $8.99. Damn. Posted by Dr. Frank at June 13, 2011 11:23 PM | TrackBack


I remember explaining to a youngster about buying records via mail order from Maximum R&R, and almost having a Scanners explody-head moment when he innocently asked, "why didn't you just order it on the internet?"

Posted by: COOP at June 14, 2011 01:14 AM

"Why would anyone do that?" was exactly my reaction to your music when my boyfriend first subjected me to it. Then I took all his cds. Now we all would give anything for you to do more!

Posted by: alecia at June 14, 2011 04:30 PM