In my best behaviour, I’m really just like him | January 26, 2006

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
27 people

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


Posted in Music


  1. No comments?
    Well really, I’m not sure what I’m able to say about this song. I was never a Sufjan fan, not because I didn’t like him, I just never knew he existed. My, what I’ve been missing.

    I first heard John Wayne Gacy Jr. on Nip/Tuck. I was able to find and listen to the entire song and felt felt an subdued excitement fluttering sluggishly in my chest.

    Never having heard Sufjan’s work, and not knowing the exact subject matter at hand (I was born a tad late to be able to make an instant reference to a “John Wayne” of the Gacy variety) I was entranced by the quiet voice and beautiful backdrop that the instruments lent the song.

    But, like you, if the instrumentals and the voice were all the song had going for it, it would have been forgetable in time. The lyrics, as they always have, are what kept me there with the song, what brought me to listen to other songs by Sufjan (and love him even more for Romulus.) I can’t keep my eyes from , or keep the sensation of tears forming (not that it makes me cry) when the song approaches

    “Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs
    Oh my God”

    I’ve come to a point where I don’t bother trying to share things that really make me feel something. Inevitably the person Im trying to share it with doesnt get it, or doesnt relate the same way I do, and it feels pointless.

    Thanks for writing about this song.

    Comment by Jill Terwilliger — June 4, 2006 @ 1:15 am

  2. Thanks for the response. Agreed on all points. As you have read I made a point out of the ‘explaining emotional musical experiences’ thing in my entry, because usually, as you say, the person you tell it to won’t get it or relate to it in the same way. When he/she does, though, it’s particularly rewarding and gratifying.

    Comment by Haarball — June 6, 2006 @ 8:05 am

  3. It is very interesting for me to read this blog. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

    Best regards

    Comment by NothingToLose — February 16, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

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