Lately, I’ve been listening to a song of Sufjan Steven from the album Illinoise, ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ − a poignant, emotionally upsetting tune reciting a serialkiller’s disturbing, yet fascinating life over the course of 200-odd seconds. A few days ago, driving home with my girlfriend in the passenger seat, I made an effort to try to explain to her the intricacy and beauty of this song, and how the lyrics, accompanied by the somber vocals and intertwining piano/guitar backdrop made this song an astonishing one despite it not being very melodic, in the way she expected songs to be melodic (read: shitty chart music). The concept of considering these factors when rating a song seemed preposterous to her. I was aware of this and had without much difficulty predicted that exact reaction, but the reason I even bothered playing it for her in first place was the subject of the song.
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
Oh the dead
You see, the thing that got to her was the fact that it was about a serial killer. Not a made-up character, not a John, Tom, girlfriend or ‘Baby’ ambiguously personifying the concept of love, jealousy or hate. The generic, inconspicuous lines of lyrics that are so often used in similarily melancholic songs was replaced with spesific tales of his life, both of the direct literal kind and the more vague metaphorical kind, alluding to the very faults of your everyday John Doe. John Wayne Gacy was a real person that had lived, loved, seduced, molested, killed − all those fascinating things − and now he was eternalized through the means of a song, consorted by facets of music and sound.
Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?
The fact that this song managed to make a person that originally had an indifferent to negative opinion eventually like it, based strictly on its subject matter and the lyrical eloquence embracing it, struck me as a fucking beautiful thing. I wasn’t so much in love with it either until I paid greater attention to the lyrics, and now, proven by a lengthy blog entry, it’s my first proper musical romance of two thousand six.
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all
He’d kill ten thousand people
With a slight of his hand, running far, running fast to the dead
Coincidentally, the movie about John Wayne Gacy entitled ‘Gacy’ was aired on the telly yesterday, and of course she was as vigorously excited to see it as I. It was indeed intriguing to see the disheartening actions that my good friend Sufjan kept singing about in my car on my way to work take place in a live-action flick.
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips, quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth
At first glance, ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ is unseperable from any other given tune. Dig into it, delve just a little below the surface, and you’ve got yourself an extraordinary fragment of art that will unravel itself layer, by layer, by layer, by layer.
I’ll leave you to contemplate on its closing words.
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid