Amid the Eisenhower-era landscape of Plainfield, Wisconsin, Ed Gein always seemed to fit right in among the barns and crops and overall pleasant scenery of the small-town life. All that burned down in 1957, though, after authorities discovered that Gein, in fact, was a singularly perverse purveyor of small-town death.
Born in 1906, Ed Gein worked as a farmer and a handyman. He never married and struck some as slightly odd but, in general, Gein’s neighbors liked him and the community respected him.
The disappearance of hardware store owner Bernice Worden is what initially brought police to Gein’s residence. Worden had written Gein’s name on a sales slip for a purchase of antifreeze on the day she vanished her store.
Officers who showed up at Gein’s farm witnessed heaps upon heaps of evidence indicating unfathomable atrocities. Worden’s decapitated body hung upside down and had been “dressed out like a deer.” Bones and body parts turned up everywhere, many of them crafted into ghoulish objects such as bowls made from human skulls and a belt made from female nipples.
The face of barkeep Mary Hogan, who Gein had murdered three years earlier, had been rendered into a mask — and hers was not the only one. Skin was used to upholster a chair, a wastebasket, and a lampshade. Multiple female genitals filled a box.
The fiend who quickly became known as “The Plainfield Butcher” had even created an entire “woman suit” of dead flesh, including skin leggings and a vest made from a torso with the breasts still attached. The killer would later tell police he’d don the costume — along with a facemask and a preserved vulva — to dance around in his yard on moonlit nights.
Gein explained that, aside from murdering Worden and Hogen, he robbed graves to collect his gruesome materials. He also pinned his troubles on his mom:
“I blame all my trouble on my mother. She should have made me a girl. I almost never went out with girls. I was afraid of them. All I could think of was my mother, and how much I really loved her. I used to wonder if some kind of operation could change me into a woman.”
After a series of legal proceedings, the state of Wisconsin deemed Gein not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the remainder of his life in maximum-security psychiatric hospitals, dying from issues related to cancer in 1984.
In the meantime, Gein’s nightmarish crimes morbidly fascinated the public and inspired a number of classic horror films, including Psycho (1960), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Less known is how Gein has also impacted music. Several extreme rock groups have taken his name, including Upstate New York’s grindcore-thrash squad Ed Gein and ’80s hardcore loons Ed Gein’s Car. Additionally, there’s the instrumental horror-surf combo Gein and the Graverobbers. There’s even an ultra-obscure 2009 film titled Ed Gein: The Musical.
What follows are 13 songs either directly based on or otherwise inspired by the slayer who’s come to be deemed “the real-life Leatherface.”
1. “DEAD SKIN MASK” by SLAYER
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Graze the skin with my finger tips / The brush of dead warm flesh pacifies the means / Incised members ornaments on my being / Adulating the skin before me”
The all-time thrash-metal titans immortalize The Butcher of Plainfield with an especially crushing stomp from their landmark 1990 LP, Seasons in the Abyss.
2. “SKINNED” by BLIND MELON
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “I’ll make a shoehorn outta your shin / I’ll make a lampshade of durable skin / And oh, don’t you know that I’m always feelin’ able / When I’m sittin’ home and I’m carving out your navel”
The gentle hippies behind the 1994 smash “No Rain” freaked out some fans with “Skinned,” a bouncy banjo piece with perverse words penned by frontman Shannon Hoon after he read a book about serial killers. The Ed Gein chapter apparently spoke to him loudest.
3. “SKIN” by SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Hairless and streamline, fits like my own skin / Tattooed and sun-dyed, it’s warm and it’s human / There was too many of them, the animals like them / Shame about the smell but they’re fine, steeped in perfume”
While “Skin” by Siouxsie and the Banshees seems to be most blatantly aimed against people wearing animal hides, the lyrics flip the scenario with Goth queen Siouxsie Sioux bedecking herself, Ed Gein–style, in the flesh of fur-coat owners.
4. “NOTHING TO GEIN” by MUDVAYNE
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Mommy do you still live inside of me / I’m so lost in my life without any guiding / Protected me my whole life from everything / Nailed shut the doors to the shrine / To screen your dead eyes from me and my sickness / Mutilate and sew my new clothes for masquerading / Aprons of flesh corpse scalped hair with skin upon my face”
Popular alt-metal foursome Mudvayne plows hard into the meat of Ed Gein’s madness, unleashing a sonic scorcher from the killer’s point-of-view.
5. “NIPPLE BELT” by TAD
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Blood in sugar / I love disgusting already / I found vanilla in me / And my nipple belt / Mind and check in / For my lip grass in all / Lip to the moon I am / For my nipple belt”
Gargantuan grunge lords Tad evoke the insanity of Ed Gein with wrecking ball riffs and surrealistic lyrics that conjure one of the killer’s most sickening fashion statements.
6. “GEIN WITH ENVY” by JOHN 5
Toe-tap along to this lilting instrumental by John 5, a guitarist best known for playing lead with that most famous of serial-murder-fixated shock rockers, Marilyn Manson, as well as Rob Zombie.
7. “ED GEIN” by KILLDOZER
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “On a farm, way up north / There’s an old man / livin’ in the woods/ Yeah, he was odd / Yeah, he was good / Ed Gein, always with a woman / Ed Gein is a ladies’ man”
From Ed Gein’s home state of Wisconsin comes this blast of weirdo-punk from a power trio named after a cult classic TV movie about farm equipment possessed by a homicidal space alien.
8. “DEADACHE” by LORDI
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “I can’t feel myself I’m sinking deeper / Mother’s not really gone, I’m dressing in her / Dusty musty shrine to ma / Board the door so she’ll keep long / There’s no way that she’ll be leaving me”
Spectacularly theatrical Finnish heavy metal superstars Lordi explosively rhapsodize Ed Gein, paying particularly powerful attention to his unhealthy maternal relations.
9. “ED GEIN” by MACABRE
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “I’m a killer, and a gravedigger / My stew will be made out of you / I eat women, I’m a cannibal / And a necrophiliac too”
Chicago’s true-crime death metal marauders Macabre blast out one of their typically brutal homages to the title figure, grunting in detail about Ed’s evil intentions.
10. “THE GEINS” by MACABRE MINSTRELS
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “There’ll be Gein wear that’s made of embalmed ladies / A head in a burlap sack and lips on a string / Some scraps and fats and skeletons and sure as you’re born / The ugliest of all was the oozing corpse”
Macabre Minstrels is a side project of the above ferocious metal beasts Macabre, in which they perform upbeat parodies of folk music faves with words altered to cover their usual arena of murder and mayhem. “The Geins” is set to “The Unicorn” and appears on the group’s collection, Morbid Campfire Songs.
11. “SWEETHEART” by DIED PRETTY
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “You are shining in perfect love / My world lives in these jars / Downward, downward we’ll cast ourselves / He’ll call, ‘This blade here is my best friend’”
Died Pretty emerged from Australia in 1983, but found their greatest success during the alternative rock boom of the 1990s. “Sweetheart” may not sound like a sonic exploration of Ed Gein at first, but listen close — it turns out the heart isn’t so “sweet” after all.
12. “PLAINFIELD” by CHURCH OF MISERY
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Plainfield, terrors dwelling / Name of slaughter house / Mary Hogan gunned down running / And blood fall to the ground / Bernice Worden next victim / Headless body on a hook / Natural born psychopath / And his name Ed Gein”
Tokyo-based doom-metal-mongers Church of Misery exclusively write and play music based on real-life crime cases. “Plainfield” combines the band’s own sinister lyrics with Ed Gein news audio.
13. “OLD MEAN ED GEIN” by THE FIBONACCIS
GEIN-ALONG LYRICS: “Dear Mr. Manson / Have you heard of the scene? / A man from Wisconsin / by the name of Ed Gein! / You helped me discover / The Beatles and Stones / But he turned me on / to the beauty of bones”
The Fibonaccis took their name from an Italian mathematician and flourished briefly as art-rockers during L.A.’s early-’80s new-wave explosion. “Old Mean Ed Gein” cheekily pays tribute to the mad farmer by way of frontwoman Magie Song singing about how he’s replaced Charles Manson in her offbeat affections.
To learn more about Ed Gein, watch the “The Grieving Process” episode of Investigation Discovery’s True Nightmares on ID GO now!
Main photo: Ed Gein [WikiMedia Commons]