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.
John Wayne Gacy Sr. was a strict disciplinarian who was incredibly critical of his son. Gacy Sr. was particularly disappointed that Gacy Jr. wasn't interested in sports.
When his father—an alcoholic—would drink, he'd often beat his son. John Wayne Gacy Jr. became very close with his mother, whose relationship with her husband was understandably strained.
When the swingset 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.
This accident created a blood clot in Gacy's brain that went untreated until he was 16, 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.
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.
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.
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.
A number of the young teenage boys that Gacy sexually assaulted and murdered were his very own employees, whom he'd 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.
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.
The only victim that Gacy didn't suffocate was his first, Tim McCoy. Gacy picked up McCoy at a bus station on January 2nd, 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.
This is where the song takes on a whole new meaning. The rest of the lyrics offer 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? We're pretty darn sure he doesn't have hidden bodies—although secrets, yes—but this line is really open for interpretation in terms of how you think it relates to Gacy.