"His father was a drinker/ And his mother cried in bed"
The real John Wayne Gacy's father was an alcoholic who was known to have beaten John, his sisters, and their mother.Deep Thought
John Wayne Gacy Sr. was a strict disciplinarian who was incredibly critical of his son. Gacy Sr. was particularly disappointed that Gacy Jr. was not interested in sports. When his father – an alcoholic – would drink, he would often beat his son. John Wayne Gacy Jr. became very close with his mother, whose relationship with her husband was understandably strained.
"When the swing set hit his head"
This is a reference to an accident that took place when John Wayne Gacy Jr. was eleven years old. It's pretty self-explanatory: while goofing around on the playground, he got beaned with a swing.Deep Thought
This accident created a blood clot in Gacy's brain that went untreated until he was sixteen, causing him to suffer periodic blackouts. Gacy suffered from a wide variety of odd physical ailments as a teenager and young man.
"The neighbors they adored him/ For his humor and his conversation"
Gacy was popular in his community. He was known for being kind and personable.Deep Thought
This is partly what makes Gacy such an intriguing (and disturbing) figure. How could this man who was outwardly so kind to his neighbors be a mass murderer? Gacy certainly led a double life, and the discrepancy between his public and private selves certainly has made Gacy one of the more mysterious figures to emerge from modern true-crime stories. People still don't know just what it was that drove Gacy to commit such heinous acts.
"Look underneath the house there"
Sufjan Stevens is almost begging the neighbors to search underneath Gacy's house in this haunting lyric.Deep Thought
Sufjan's songwriting takes a shift here. Before he was more of a passive narrator of Gacy's life, but in this line he takes a more active role, placing himself into the story. He begs the neighbors to look underneath Gacy's house, where the killer hid the remains of the boys that he murdered. A total of 27 bodies were found underneath Gacy's home when he was finally arrested in 1988.
"Twenty-seven people/ Even more, they were boys/ With their cars, summer jobs"
A total of 27 bodies were eventually discovered underneath John Wayne Gacy's home. In all, he killed a total of 33 boys.Deep Thought
A number of the young teenage boys that Gacy sexually assaulted and murdered were his very own employees, whom he had hired at his construction company.
"He dressed up like a clown for them/ With his face painted white and red"
Gacy was known for dressing up as a clown with red and white face paint at neighborhood parties and events.Deep Thought
Gacy would entertain the children in his neighborhood under the alias Pogo the Clown. At times, Gacy was still dressed as a clown when he sexually assaulted and raped his victims. Gacy is sometimes remembered as the "Killer Clown."
"He took off all their clothes for them/ He put a cloth on their lips"
Gacy sexually assaulted and raped all his victims, then almost always murdered them by suffocation.Deep Thought
The only victim that Gacy did not suffocate was his first, Tim McCoy. Gacy picked up McCoy at a bus station on January 2, 1972, then took him home and raped the boy. Afterwards, Gacy stabbed McCoy to death and hid him under the crawl space. All other murders that followed involved Gacy strangling and suffocating his victims with a rope.
"Look beneath the floorboards/ For the secrets I have hid"
This is a disconcerting conclusion to a particularly haunting song.Deep Thought
This is where the song takes on a whole new meaning. The rest of the lyric offers a fairly straightforward description of the disturbing story of John Wayne Gacy and his victims, but in this line, Sufjan Stevens enters the story in the first person. He explains that he is really just like Gacy and that all we must do to discover his secrets is to "look beneath the floorboards." Knowing just what Gacy hid there, this is a particularly disconcerting line. Is Stevens literally hiding dead bodies underneath his home? Or is he simply trying to relate to Gacy by implying that we all have dark secrets buried deep inside? The line is really open for interpretation.