Study Guide

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Introduction

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John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Introduction

In a Nutshell

Sufjan Stevens assigned himself a project. A big project. A project as big as the United States is big. That's right: He wants to write an album about each of the 50 states. He hasn't gotten very far yet, but that's probably because he's so meticulous about everything he does.

"John Wayne Gacy, Jr." comes to us from his album Illinois, and is, indeed, about a famous Illinoisan. Actually, it's about an infamous Illinoisan. Gacy is better known as the Killer Clown, a serial killer who sexually assaulted and murdered 33 boys. He was eventually caught, his horrific acts broadcast to the world, and he was executed in 1994.

We know what you're thinking. Why would Sufjan Stevens write a song about this guy? With one look at the lyrics, it's clear that he isn't just trying to sensationalize the topic. This song doesn't make Gacy into a scary "other." Instead, Stevens brings in Gacy's troubled childhood, his respected place in the community, and a haunting lament for the people that he killed. Most importantly, Stevens compares himself with Gacy, suggesting that even such a terrifying figure has complexity and humanity. 

Or, to flip that around, maybe Stevens is trying to say that the rest of us are more complicated than we'd like to think.

About the Song

ArtistStevens, Sufjan
LabelAsthmatic Kitty Records
Writer(s)Sufjan Stevens
Producer(s)Sufjan Stevens
Musician(s)Sufjan Stevens
Learn to playTablature

Music Video

Influences on Stevens, Sufjan

Nick Drake
The Beatles
Steve Reich
Bob Dylan
Van Dyke Parks
Mouse on Mars
Elliott Smith
The Beach Boys
The Velvet Underground

Influenced by Stevens, Sufjan

The Last Artful, Dodgr
Jaymes Young

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Resources


Seven Swans (2004)
A deeply moving personal album that explores primarily religious themes—Stevens is a devout Christian.

Illinois (2005)
The second of the Stevens' state albums, this looks at Illinois from a historical, anthropological, and personal perspective.

Michigan (2003)
The first of two Sufjan albums devoted to individual states—this one about his home state Michigan.


Sufjan Stevens with Santa Claus
Photograph of Sufjan celebrating Christmas. This photo was taken for his five-disc set of albums containing songs about Christmas.

Sufjan and the "Illinoisrs"
Stevens is pictured here with two backup vocalists in his band, who called themselves the Illinoisrs while touring for the album Illinois.

Sufjan Stevens Photo
Photo of Sufjan Stevens dressed in an American flag jumpsuit while playing the banjo. Quite the look.


Sufjan Stevens Fan Site
A website devoted to Sufjan constructed by a fan. Includes good information about just what he's up to these days.

Official Sufjan Stevens Website
This links up to the website for his record label, Asthmatic Kitty.

Video & Audio

"John Wayne Gacy, Jr."
Here's our song of the hour in all its Sufjan Stevens—and John Wayne Gacy, Jr.—glory.

"For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti"
This is a gorgeous track from the album Michigan.

"Brinkley, Ark., Embraces 'The Lord God Bird,'" NPR
Sufjan was asked by NPR to compose a song about the town of Brinkley, Arkansas, where a bird that was thought to be extinct was rediscovered. This is an interesting segment that gives a good glimpse of how Sufjan writes his music.

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