The story of the mass suicide at Jonestown is something like a nightmare bedtime story. A highly charismatic religious figure named Jim Jones, over the course of many years, accrued a fanatic following from people in the mainland states (including over a dozen locations in california!) before he moved his church to what was called the “People’s Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana. His church was called The People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ. To make a long story short, Jones eventually gets his entire population of followers in Jonestown to “drink the kook-aid” and commit suicide with him and for him. Around 920 people died.
But there’s this uncanny lighter side to the People’s Temple as well. The music for instance. Jim Jones was obsessed with gospel music. And his church made some great gospel music. A lot of it sounds like what you might hear in a Southern Baptist church on any given Sunday, but there’s this creeping dread that I get when I hear words like “the Lord,” “Him” with a capital H, “God,” and more. Are they referring to an actual cosmic entity or are they talking about Jones?
He’s Able is a long out-of-print LP with songs from The People’s Temple Choir with many of these gospel songs. It would be an uplifting, pleasant listen without the backstory, but the backstory makes it that much more interesting. A new cassette reissue has Jim Jones’ final speech during the murder/suicide at Jonestown on November 18, 1978. Not something for the faint of heart, but a very interesting historical time capsule and something that will stay with me for a long time.