I have long appreciated He’s Able, the one and only album of music recorded by Peoples Temple. I realised the best way to express that appreciation was by painting every song on the album. Each piece is 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on canvas.
I began the Welcome song on 9th July 2021, then late that night, I saw the announcement that Don Beck had passed away. Strangely appropriate timing for the start of my project. Don Beck can be seen leading the junior choir singing “Welcome” in the first 90 seconds of a 1973 film project by David Gottlieb and Jim Ruxin.
I continued painting the rest of the album throughout 2021 and early 2022, completing the final song on 9th May 2022.
The opening music sounds yellow, a warm welcome to the Temple, so it had to be the background colour. Then the children’s voices become the distorted flowers rising from the darkness. Joyful yet slightly disturbing. Nothing quite as it seems.
The canvas shows the energetic song of praise and how extravagant Jim and his following was, from beginning to end. Is a Bible opening or is the sea parting on the way to the Promised Land?
White street, glowing lamplight and stars. A calming vision like heaven, or another place you could go for real freedom. Maybe an idea of what the Temple might have been.
A song that is not particularly loud, but brings a loud image to mind because it is powerful. Colours bursting from each side like fireworks, flowers or a feeling that is hard to put into words.
Thoughts of determination and aiming for goals. An outstretched hand to help and guide. An electrical current or connection, unable to escape from a strong grasp. “Hold On, Brother,” one of the harder songs to express, is more emotional than the mechanical look of this painting.
The beam of light shining down is the organ music. Jim’s strong, religious voice is splashed around this spotlight. Is it the moon in the top right corner or Jim himself watching over? The brown backdrop could be the wooden seats or podium in church. Maybe the wood of Jesus’ cross.
This song brings to mind a picture of the Temple bus trips on hot summer days. Shimmering gold for Jim’s reputation as a godlike leader and how he provided false hope and security. White clouds form a spider’s web across the vivid blue sky. Or is it Jim’s web that everyone was caught up in?
Something Got a Hold of Me
The smell of polished wood and a strong fragrance in church. Hot, vibrant atmosphere. Caught in the moment, dancing. Embracing the power and religious trances. A swirling yellow light in the fiery red – must be Jim’s Holy Ghost.
Green for the Guyana jungle. Because of Jim and his influence, purple flowers emerge from the grass and create a flow of grape potion. The potion mixes with blood from Jim’s gunshot wound. The flowers are blooming and dying at the same time to show the final moments of Jonestown on 18th November 1978.
Simple Song of Freedom
The path of life with multiple choices. A crossroads that zigzags for the journey of a lifetime. Trying to see the way clearer to the path of freedom. Here I prominently picture the final entertainment evening in Jonestown on 17th November 1978.
Marceline’s voice is dark and morbid but the song itself presents a pink, sweet image. Could it be a combination of her love for the babies and their tragic end?
A purple background predicts the poison deaths while a distorted piano plays across the canvas. The voices and tune have a foreboding sadness I cannot describe, but as the song goes on, there is positivity. All hope is not lost. There is an uplifting feeling in the closure of the album, shown in the endless piano.
(Jolene McDonald is a regular contributor to this site. Her collected works on this site are here. She has also been the admin of the Facebook group Jim Jones Cult Leader since February 2018, and is the creator of a blog – the Jim Jones Information Blog – to share some of the informative posts from the group. She may be reached at email@example.com.)