The Music of Jonestown:
The Power and the Glory

by Malcolm Tent

I remember clearly reading in the newspapers and hearing on television about the deaths at Jonestown. I was 14 years old in November 1978, and the events in Guyana were tattooed on my brain, even through the third-hand accounts offered by the media.

From day one I’ve been profoundly moved by music and its power. Also for a long time I’ve been dissatisfied with official explanations. It’s a combination of these two factors that led me to seek out the Jonestown website. For several years I’ve had a rather low fidelity recording of the final hours at Jonestown. It’s very difficult to listen to, both sonically and emotionally. However, it totally brings to life an event which seems unreal, distant, and unrelated to my daily life, especially compared to a written account. The power of that recording led me to seek out more in an effort to both identify with the people of Jonestown and to try to determine if events unfolded the way the mass media would have us believe they did.

In reading the tape synopses, I was intrigued to see that several contain music performed by members of Peoples Temple and the residents of Jonestown. I was keen to hear this music, especially the lyrics. Music is the most primal, moving, and eloquent expression of man’s mind and soul. I wanted to hear for myself the way the folks in Jonestown expressed themselves musically. I can think of no more direct way to peer into the thoughts and feelings of my fellow humans.

I am also fascinated by the way that music can be used to manipulate and direct people. By seeking out the music of Jonestown, I hoped to find evidence of direction that the population of the settlement might have been receiving through its culture. The lyrics of a song and a group’s reaction to them are quite often more revealing than any article or television program.

I am still working my way through the tapes so I’m as yet unqualified to offer a final judgment. However, listening to the progression I have heard – from phony faith healings to White Nights to the actual mass suicide – is a profound and disturbing experience. Listening to the music that was an integral part of the entire process is equally disturbing. Yet it must be heard to be understood.

Whether or not Peoples Temple perished on its own, had outside help, or was a CIA mind control experiment – or whatever else it could have been –¬†will probably never be known. However, I’m hoping that the recorded evidence that is with us today can at least provide some clues, and that some of the clues may find voice in the lyrics of a song.

Last modified on March 13th, 2014.
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