His father was a drinker and his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne's t-shirts when the swing set hit his head
The neighbors, they adored him
For his humor and his conversation

Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep

Oh the dead
Twenty-seven people
Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Ooh, are you one of them?

He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
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
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips, quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

Lyrics submitted by attractivecousin

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Lyrics as written by Sufjan Stevens

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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John Wayne Gacy, Jr. song meanings
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  • +14
    My Interpretation

    The most haunting and thought-provoking song I've ever heard. To not only empthize with America's most notorious serial killers but compare yourself directly to him is the most daring things I've ever seen/heard done lyrically, and it's completely changed my opinions on the nature of evil. And although there's no question that John Wayne Gacy's actions were horrendous and terrible, you have to feel sympathy for the man for becoming mentally instable enough to commit such vile acts. It's unfortunate that he couldn't overcome his demons and that 33 lives were lost because of this. But you have to wonder how Stevens could possibly vilify himself to that level of evil after hearing that chilling final verse.

    Even though I believe Sufjan Steven's prominent religious themes are discussed too heavily when it comes to discussing the meanings of his songs, ultimately I think Stevens is asking here "what constitutes a sin?" If 'sinners' go to hell, and every human is inclined to hurt someone and commit sin at some point in their life, doesn't that mean we're all going to hell? Are we really forgiveable for the sins we commit? Is murder really 'the ultimate sin', or is Stevens as guilty as Gacy for having sinned against others for his own sake?

    People always end up regreting and questioning the bad things they do, as if they didn't really mean it and it was beyond their control. But what control did Gacy have over his troubled childhood, his indifferent father, or even his urge to kill and molest those boys? Could John Wayne Gacy's murderous tendancies be credited to the sins of other human beings? And did he deserve to become the troubled man that he became? Stevens is trying to say that nobody has the right to classify him as a 'monster', because ultimately he was just as much a human being as anybody else, a human distorted by the inevitable evil of the human condition.

    Any one of us could have turned out like Gacy. His murders just go to show that human species is truly capable of evil, because we don't have control over how we are raised. We have all done things that we never thought we were capable of, and although we may want to deny it, we are all in some way like John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

    Aaron342on July 08, 2011   Link
  • +10
    General Comment

    The moment when Sufjan first breaks into falsetto at "oh my god" is one of the most chillingly beautiful things I've ever heard

    Yoshiidinoon May 05, 2005   Link
  • +8
    General Comment

    I thought that it was pretty clear why he describes Gacy as being "just like him". The majority of the time when he refers to Gacy he talks about his childhood -and its normality. He gives a few little details which underline this. To all intents and purposes there is no reason that I, nor Sufjan can work out why Gacy turned out the way he did and Sufjan did not. That's what the song is mostly about. When he says "and in my best behaviour" it's like he's transporting himself back to his childhood (no adults seriously talk about themselves as being 'on their best behaviour') for the purposes of comparing himself directly with Gacy.

    In this respect the song is partly about a loss of innocence and the mystery behind why similar people take different paths.

    It always annoys me slightly when christians try to read too much into sufjan. It's like theyre claiming him and every song he's ever written for god. I love the purity of his spirituality (he references faults of and doubts about his god in his lyrics.) I doubt that god enters into everything stevens does -sure his religion is an influence but I think it would be a mistake to say that his beliefs influence his songs any more than say, the town where he grew up or his childhood.

    AIRPORTon August 15, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General Comment

    This song fills me with such strange emotions. It is one of the most beautiful songs that I have ever heard and it is about a serial killer. Sufjan is a true artist.

    heroinhotwateron May 03, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    Well, from a Christian perspective, when Sufjan sings "I am really just like him," it is harking back to the foundational belief that all men are sinful and none of them are worthy in God's eyes. So even though Sufjan probably hasn't ever murdered anyone or committed any act that heinous in human terms, the state of his soul (before coming to Christ) was no better than John Wayne Gacy's.

    beulahrawkon May 08, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    wow. i think the "i am just like him" section is the best part of the song. the difficulty of the lyrics is not being too sympathetic to someone who did something so horrific yet not writing a preachy song comdemning a serial killer which would be exceedingly obvious and boring. sufjan offers the perfect level of compassion for someone whose horrific acts were clearly the result of being deeply mentally disturbed and by lowering himself (and everyone since everyone has some secrets and acts they aren't proud of hiding somewhere) as opposed to elevating gacy too much he doesn't overdo it.

    JeremyB1on July 16, 2005   Link
  • +3
    My Interpretation

    I think that the last verse, which people seem to think means that Sufjan is a murderer, could relate to the lines "The neighbors they adored him. For his humor and his conversation." As a youngster Gacy was charming and people don't understand how such a nice boy could kill 33 people. Then the line at the end "and in my best behaviour I am really just like him," what's important are the words "best behaviour" - Sufjan isn't saying he's a bad person, he's saying that he, like all other men (and women) have the capacity to kill. He already has his secrets. Who's to say he doesn't have the ability to hide his own bodies?

    rosiepeverellon September 10, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    Yes, that interview sounds pretty much like what I thought. That there doesn't seem to be a reason why some people commit murder and some don't. Which is why sufjan writes himself into the song. So yes, Beulahrawk, I do refute that the song is about religion.

    "no one is good enough to save himself."

    That may be your belief, but that's not mine. And it's certainly not what this song in question is about.

    +1 trisweb. I definitely agree with your statement about spirituality. I get a more rounded holistic feel-good vibe from his songs than a loony Pat Robertson vibe.

    "Whether you are familiar with Christian beliefs or not, realize that it isn't so easy to disprove a religion founded over 2,000 years ago with a simple statement of logic."

    Uh, dude, watch me. :) This is not the place to get into an arguement about god. But, for the record, I'll say that I'm a spiritual person but I don't believe a word written in the bible. Having no proof of god really fails to stand up to logic in the real world.

    AIRPORTon August 27, 2005   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    The most important lyrics in this song to me are "are you one of them?" and "running far, running fast."

    Basically saying that this man was just a hurt child, much like his victims, and each of us has more in common than we think with both the killer and the killed.

    We are all of us damaged and timid, wearing painted masks, running from something, running from everything. It's about fear.

    gesmehodon February 13, 2010   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    i think this song grapples with the fact that it all appeared "normal"- no one suspected anything and none of the boys expected something bad to happen to him...no one could have known, but then afterwards everyone thinks "are you one of them?"...it could've happened in any town, usa. and the victims (of the killer) could have been any one of us.

    reginaldcranmeron July 31, 2012   Link

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