Song of the Day #844: ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens is another celebrated indie rocker who has never clicked with me. Admittedly, I haven’t heard much of his music but that’s because what I have heard just annoys me.

My issue with Stevens is that he tries too damn hard. The album of his I own is 2005’s orgasmically-received Come On Feel the Illinoise!, which was the second entry in his “Fifty State Project,” a plan to write and record an album about each U.S. state. He started with 2003’s Michigan and abandoned the project after Illinois.

Now, I actually think that’s a pretty cool idea, whether he ever actually intended it or not. And I’m not knocking him for his ambition.

However, song titles such as ‘The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!’ and ‘Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, And I Shake the Dirt From My Sandals As I Run’ are a bit much. I do like ‘To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament’ — the title, if not the song — but the whole thing with the too-clever titles makes him come across like an annoying hipster grad student.

And the music… well, the music is mostly just boring. He does a lot of interesting things with strings and horns but to what end? Almost every song on this album feels to me like the introduction to a real batch of songs, but those songs never come. It’s one great big pretentious interlude.

‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ is one of the few proper songs on the album, and it’s a good one. I think I might like Stevens if he settled into more of this Elliott Smith vibe.

His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts
When the swingset 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

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 sleight 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

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #844: ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ – Sufjan Stevens

  1. Dana says:

    As I was listening to the song and reading through your comments, I was wondering if you were going to list this song as an example of one you didn’t like and I was going to take exception. But now having read to the bottom of your comment, I agree with you that this is a decent song. Nothing that sets my world on fire or compels me to hear it again, but still, a decent sounding song.

    It kinda makes me wish you had instead picked a song that you truly didn’t like and that was truly pretentious.

  2. Clay says:

    I’m trying to pick songs this week that I do like, at least a little, even though I don’t like the artists.

  3. pegclifton says:

    Wow, after reading up on who John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was (a serial murderer of young boys), I am intrigued by the song and video. This is rather chilling, isn’t it? But I must say, I like his voice even if he’s singing about a monster.

  4. Amy says:

    I don’t know – there are just some things I don’t want to hear songs about, and serial killers have to rank right up there at the top of the list.

    The fact that the song is as melodic as it is (though I kind of hate the “Oh my God” at 1:30) makes it even worse. At least if it were some thrash metal nightmare, the music would match the subject matter.

    Yeah, I have no use for this pretentious yahoo. Next…

  5. Clay says:

    I found your “no serial killer” song rule interesting so did a Google search to see if I could find any exceptions. Came across Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ and Elliott Smith’s ‘Son of Sam,’ two very good songs.

    I don’t see a disconnect between melody and subject matter here. It’s a very sad and unsettling melody.

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