If you are friends with me IRL then you may be aware that I have disappeared to Australia for a couple of weeks for a wedding and some sunshine. That being said I wouldn’t want to neglect my readership and so I have decided to do a special two part series entitled ‘Singer-Songwriters and Serial Killers’ because I noticed a small pattern in two artists that I have been listening to a lot over the past couple of weeks. They are also reasonably relevant as one has a new album coming out soon and the other was a prominent feature of many ‘Top xx of 2014’ lists (the artists, not the serial killers.)
Singer-Songwriters and Serial Killers, part one – ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ by Sufjan Stevens
From the album Come On Feel the Illinoise (2005)
Please allow me to start off by saying that Illinois (to give it the more commonly accepted title) is an absolutely fantastic album, and one that I return to frequently if I want to drift off to a far away place with untold stories and OTT song titles; ‘They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhh!’ being my favourite track from the album and ‘A Conjunction Of Drones Simulating The Way In Which Sufjan Stevens Has An Existential Crisis In The Great Godfrey Maze’, church, bro. And, yes, that section of the album is 20 seconds long.
‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ is a very sweet song despite or in spite of its subject, the Killer Clown, as referenced in the line ‘he dressed up like a clown for them’. The song paints a depressing picture of growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father leading to a life of heinous crime and striving for acceptance from his father and peers. Stevens closes the song by saying:
And in my best behaviour
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid.
He has been quoted in an interview with Paste magazine as saying ‘we’re all capable of what he did’ and, for me, these two facts sum up the fragility of the song and what it stands for; that a change in circumstance, in psyche, can wreak havoc on so many peoples’ lives. The fact that Sufjan Stevens can write, record and perform this song without a hint of irony and humour and so bereft of the usual cornucopia of instrumentation found in his songs and make it sound so convincing as to have a profound affect on his listeners stands as a testament to his ability as a songwriter and I cannot wait to hear his new album.
Stevens’ seventh (I’m willing to let that be up for debate) studio album, Carrie & Lowell, is scheduled for release on 31st March 2015.