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A Song for a Serial Killer

John Wayne Gacy plays muse to Sufjan Stevens in this haunting melody.


Reading through serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr.’s laundry list of crimes is the stuff of nightmares: Kidnapping dozens teenage boys and young men, sexually assaulting them, strangling them to death, then burying them under and around his house. To top it all off, he dressed up as a clown and performed at community events just for fun. [Insert involuntary shudder here.]

It’s easy to imagine Gacy’s internal musical score playing out Psycho style – tense, staccato screeches moving along at a quick clip. But Sufjan Stevens’s acoustic melody about the madman has a soothing, melancholy quality that captures the intense tragedy that was Gacy’s life – without vilifying or sensationalizing him.

Lyrics cover a childhood overshadowed by an alcoholic father and a serious accident in which Gacy got hit on the head by a backyard swing. (He actually ended up with a blood clot in his brain that wasn’t found until years later after he continually suffered from blackouts.) The toughest listening comes during descriptions of the victims, but, again, Stevens’s lilting voice and serious approach give gravity to the sad-but-true story.

Even more haunting than the song itself: the music video directed by Claire Carré. It takes the style of pieced together home video clips and public service announcements from the 1950s and 1960s, and you can easily imagine the smiling little boy on the merry-go-round as a young, innocent Gacy, who doesn’t yet know what he’ll become.

Watch the video below and download the track on Amazon.

Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons