Saturday, October 19, 2013

John Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Four

Part of A Series: Route 66: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
To View the whole series as one LONG post CLICK HERE

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track One:
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TwoCome On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track ThreeJohn Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FourJacksonville/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FiveA Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Six
Casimir Pulaski Day/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TenRock River Valley, Superman, Peoria and Drones/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Eleven to FourteenWasps and Zombies/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Fifteen to EighteenCelebrate The Few, Celebrate The New. It Can Only Start With You/Sufjan Stevens Illinois Tracks Nineteen to Twenty Two 
    Let me tell you, I have been trying to stomp on the accelerator on this virtual road trip. I would like to put 2 or 3 songs per post (or more), but every track on Sufjan Stevens album ends up with me doing some interesting research worth sharing. The next track on  Illinois is "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". It continues the trend. I figured I could easily breeze through this one and maybe another few songs, but thats not what happened.

    I remembered when John Wayne Gacy Jr.was arrested as a serial killer in December of 1978 . I was pretty young though and never took a lot of interest in the particulars of the case. I'm not a fan of crime stories in general, so I never looked into it later. Until now.  I did remember something in general about Gacy being a particularly bizarre killer. I also knew he was sort of a rock star to the world of serial killers.

    In a nutshell, John Wayne Gacy was by all appearances a model citizen. He was an active member of the Jaycees, a successful businessman and a man who was a member of a clown troop that performed for hospitalized children. But he led a double life. In the evenings he would becomes a sadistic homosexual masochist which, with increasing violence, led to murder. Again and again and again. It is unclear how many people he actually killed, but in the end he was convicted of 33 murders. Before his arrest homicide detectives were coming closer and closer to figuring out the mayhem Gacy had caused. A warrant was served and the investigating officers found human reamins in the crawl space under Gacy's house. The following excerpt is a little long, but explains his arrest and confession and describes the crimes more clearly than I probably could.
    From Wikipedia:

    Arrest and confession

    After being informed that police had found human remains in his crawl space and that he would now face murder charges, Gacy told officers he wanted to "clear the air,"[159] adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable since he had spent the previous evening on the couch in his lawyers' office.
    In the early hours of December 22, 1978, Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he had committed approximately 25 to 30 murders, all of whom he falsely claimed were teenage male runaways or male prostitutes,[160] whom he would typically abduct from Chicago's Greyhound Bus station, from Bughouse Square or simply off the streets. The victims would often be grabbed by force or conned into believing Gacy—often carrying a sheriff's badge and placing spotlights on his black Oldsmobile—was a policeman[161] and would be lured to his house with either the promise of a job with his construction company or with an offer of money for sex.
    Once back at Gacy's house, the victims would be handcuffed or otherwise bound, then choked with a rope or a board as they were sexually assaulted. Gacy would often stick clothing in the victims' mouths to muffle their screams. Many of his victims had been strangled with a tourniquet, which Gacy referred to as his "rope trick." Occasionally, the victim had convulsed for an "hour or two" after the rope trick before dying. When asked where he drew the inspiration for the two-by-four found at his house in which he had manacled many of his victims, Gacy stated he had been inspired to construct the device from reading about the Houston Mass Murders.[162]
    The victims were usually lured alone to his house, although on approximately three occasions,[160] Gacy had what he called "doubles"—occasions wherein he killed two victims on the same evening. After death, the victims' bodies would typically be stored beneath his bed for up to 24 hours before burial in the crawl space. When asked why several bodies were found with plastic bags over their heads or upper torsos, Gacy stated he would cover the victim's head or upper torso with a plastic bag if he noted bleeding from the nose or mouth.
    Most victims were buried in Gacy's crawl space where, periodically, he would pour quicklime to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.[163] Gacy stated he had lost count of the number of victims buried in his crawl space and had initially considered stowing bodies in his attic before opting to dispose of his victims off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River.[164] Thus the final five victims—all killed in 1978—were disposed of in this manner because his crawl space was full.[46][165] When asked about Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to strangling the youth at his house that evening, adding that he had been interrupted by a phone call from a business colleague while doing so; he also admitted to having disposed of Piest's body in the Des Plaines river and stated that the reason he had arrived at the Des Plaines police station in a disheveled manner in the early hours of December 13 was that he had been in a minor traffic accident after disposing of Piest's body en route to his appointment with Des Plaines officers.[166] He also confessed to police he had buried the body of John Butkovitch in his garage.[167] To assist officers in their search for the victims buried in his house, Gacy drew a diagram of his basement to show where the bodies were buried.[168]
    Gristly stuff.  That's not what this blog is generally about. So on to the music. On this track Sufjan Stevens describes the case in a very impressionistic manner. At the end he throws a surprising twist at us.
    Here are the lyrics:
    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
    It is an eerie and beautiful song. For many of Sufjan's Christian fans they see this song as an allegory for original sin. By saying I am really just like him the narrator is saying that we all share original sin and as sinners we are all evil in Gods eyes even f we hide our sin from those around us, like Gacy hid the bodies under his house.

    I prefer a slightly more secular interpretation. I think this song is a follow up to the Columbia Expostion track earlier in the album. His noting that they were boys who were killed implies potential being destroyed. Echoing the cynicism of the earlier track he compares all of the dreams and potential in his own life that he has abandoned and destroyed. The narrator himself is a serial killer. But like Gacy hid the bodies, the narrator is saving the remains of his dreams as secrets buried away.

    Next week more Illinois, But starting tomorrow, I will start a second trip. Subscribe to stay with me on this trip down Route 66 and stop by tomorrow to see what my next famous highway will be.

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