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Taking Heart From 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'

August 19, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

British punk band the Adverts' 1977 song "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was high on shock value, exploiting one of that year's media cause celebres--the Utah execution of convicted murderer Gilmore, whose corneas were donated for eye transplant surgery.

Not surprisingly, hearing that song for the first time was very disturbing to Mikal Gilmore, the killer's younger brother.

But he is not troubled at all that it is used prominently in "Shot in the Heart," an upcoming HBO movie about his relationship with his brother. In fact, he's the one who suggested it.

"I'm not sure everybody at HBO warmed up to that song," says Gilmore, who wrote the autobiographical book that the movie is based on.

"It's a jarring song and never a song I accepted easily. But it's important historically, and in the movie it's used in the moment after the final visit between my brother and me, a transition back to the family waiting for the final phone call from Gary. It was a deft commentary imagining what happens when our memories are transmitted through someone's eyes--how would it be to look at the world through the eyes of a killer?"

Gilmore, 50, has had two overlapping professional lives, first as a rock journalist for Rolling Stone and the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, then as an author attempting to come to grips with a tortured family history. He's kept those lives separate, with only passing references to music in the 1994 book.

But as production proceeded for the HBO movie--starring Giovanni Ribisi as Mikal and Elias Koteas as Gary, and premiering Oct. 13--he found himself using musical references to answer questions from cast and crew members. Ultimately, to address some of the issues, he compiled songs either associated with childhood memories of his family or reflecting the emotions of his experiences. It's an extensive collection that covers five CDs, although only a fraction of the songs will actually be used in the movie.

The lineup reads like a rock critic's fantasy, with Bruce Springsteen's "My Father's House," Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons," Neil Young's "Drive Back" and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" among the frequently stark, evocative choices. He also wrote detailed notes about his personal connections to the songs.

"There were [questions] that came up frequently about motivations or aspects of the complex relationships that confused people about the family," Gilmore says. "So putting music together gave me a chance to reflect on that and write what amounts to a musical supplement to my book."

Gilmore pared the set down to a single CD, titled "Shot in the Heart: Author's Soundtrack," which is being shopped for possible release in conjunction with the show.

Curiously, Gilmore says that in all his years interviewing musicians, only one ever asked about Gary.

"Lou Reed and I talked a little about my brother," he says. "But I don't think I told him that his music gave me courage to deal with it."


CASHING OUT: From the music of Moby to the Who to the late Nick Drake, advertising has become a terrific stream of revenue for pop songs. Who wouldn't want to cash in?

Mark Everett, for one. The leader of the Eels, who generally goes by the name E, has steadfastly refused what he says are weekly requests to use his songs in commercials. So he was surprised on a recent trip to Spain to learn that one of his songs, "I Like Birds," was the soundtrack to a TV ad for a shopping center--and even more surprised to find that it had been authorized, without his knowledge, by his music publisher.

"The song was recorded by someone else, but it even used a sample of our record," he says. "It uses part of the song with the phrase 'I can't stand waiting in line at stores' and showed the mall with no lines."

Everett quickly had a restraining order sent to stop further airing of the ad and is now considering legal action against Rondor Publishing, which oversees his songs.

"Neither Rondor nor [parent company] Universal approved any licenses for this commercial and we have instructed that it be pulled from the air immediately," says Lance Freed, president of Rondor Music. "Unfortunately, there was miscommunication with Rondor's unaffiliated Spanish sub-publisher who sent the request. We certainly respect the wishes of Mark Everett and have moved quickly to rectify the situation."

"I understand [licensing a song] if you can't pay your rent--I'd rather sing about Taco Bell than work there," Everett says. "And Volkswagen actually made an ad with my song 'Beautiful Freak' and sent it to me. It was really good. But I just don't want that."

Having his music in movies, though, is another thing.

A few of his songs were used in "The Anniversary Party," for which he also served as a soundtrack consultant at the request of co-star, co-director and co-writer Jennifer Jason Leigh. And he's now writing music for a movie by director Wim Wenders, in which he will also act, with filming planned for next summer.

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