Slain In the Spirit Completed,
Writers Seek Backers

by Susan Yankowitz

Note: Slain In The Spirit, a work for music-theatre, with book and lyrics by Susan Yankowitz and music by Taj Mahal, has received three readings during its early developmental phase. A revised script and audio tape have recently been completed. We are now seeking theatres, backers, funders and others to support a presentation of this material as a fully staged dramatic work or in a concert version. The piece is scored for guitar and piano, and requires only a small cast of singing actors, as the community is represented by a gospel and inspirational choir.

Anyone interested in helping with this project is urged to contact Susan Yankowitz at susan@susanyankowitz.com or syankowitz@aol.com.

Slain In The Spirit

The term “slain in the Spirit” is used in the Charismatic circles of Christian Churches to designate a movement of the Holy Spirit upon a person, such that the person is “slain.” This does not mean that the individual actually dies, but that he or she is transformed or reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit. The experience is performed by a preacher or servant of God anointed to execute this task, who places his hand on peoples’ foreheads, causing them to fall down – to be “slain in the Spirit” – when the presence of divinity overtakes them.

Almost everyone – and certainly those who read the jonestown report – is familiar with the macabre end of Jonestown. What many people do not know, however, are the events which led to this tragedy, the utopian vision which created it, and the web of political intrigue, despair and paranoia which ultimately destroyed it.

Slain In The Spirit, with book and lyrics by Susan Yankowitz and music by Taj Mahal, is a work for music-theatre, a gospel-and-blues drama that focuses on the community of people – economically and racially diverse students, single mothers, lawyers, factory workers, farmers, families and others – who followed Jones from California to Guyana, attracted by the promise of a racially integrated world, where health care and education were provided for all, and individuals from many different walks of life lived together in harmony and trust. The piece tries to understand the failings in our society that endow charismatic leaders like Jones with the immense power they wield over their followers.

Act I explores the growth of Peoples Temple during its largest period of growth in San Francisco during the early 1970’s. The scenes dramatize the great appeal of the Temple – its soup kitchens and singing, its theatrical healings and socialist fervor – as well as the personal relationships and emotions of those at its center: Jones’ wife, Marcie, for instance, who ardently believes in her husband’s vision but who must confront the pain of his sexual betrayals and the gradual splintering of his personality. We see the growing disillusion and conflict of their biological son and the profound friendship between Jones and “Darnell,” a composite character who serves as his black co-preacher and conscience. Even as testimonials pour in from important personalities such as Angela Davis, Walter Mondale and Jane Fonda, Jones’ anxiety and sensitivity to criticism grows. The act culminates with the decision to leave the U.S. and move to freedom in the “promised land” of Jonestown.

Act II is set in this tropical, hand-built community, which some experience as heaven and others as hell. Personal and communal tensions are exacerbated as Jones gradually assumes tyrannical powers and privileges, imposing strict rules of discipline upon his followers, breaking up marriages at will, and experiencing a distressing inner disintegration. Critics from the media and the government close in; his inner circle gathers to protect him; several members defect. Ultimately, Jones’ conviction that only suicide can avert a return to oppression, persecution and imprisonment in the United States is reinforced by the community – and in one final ritual, they drink the poison that will keep them united in death as in life. Through an ironic accident, Jones’ natural son remains alive to bear witness to the tragedy.

In this period of extremism and demagoguery, Slain In The Spirit illuminates the dreams and desperation of ordinary people, rich and poor, black and white, the idealistic and the hopeless, all of them searching for a better life – even when it leads to so unanticipated and heartbreaking an end.

In New York, the artistic team continues to work with the wonderful Lafayette Inspirational Choir, whose members serve as the community of Jonestown.

THE LAFAYETTE INSPIRATION CHOIR

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Following are lyrics to some of the songs written for this piece by Susan Yankowitz and composed by Taj Mahal.

“THE DEVIL’S NAME”

(A context for much that follows, this song describes the translation of the Temple’s spiritual mission into a social one. Sung by Jim Jones and members of the choir)

I seen the devil
From the day he was born
Seen his cloven feet
And his telltale horns
and I called that devil
by his hateful name –
Hunger! Poverty! Ignorance!
Yes, that’s the devil’s name.
And don’t you feel the shame?
Don’t you feel the disgrace?
Oh yes I feel the shame
Yes I feel the disgrace
That the devil named hunger
Dares to show his face

In my country t’is of thee
Where the streets are paved with gold
And the land overflows with milk an
Money, money, money for the rich
– and shit for everyone else!
He seen the devil
Everywhere he went
Seen his pitchfork hands
Smelled his brimstone scent
And he called that devil
By his ugly name –
Hatred! Violence! Prejudice!
Yes, that’s the devil’s name!
And don’t you feel the disgrace?
Oh yes I feel the shame
That the devil named homeless
Dares to show his face
In my country t’is of thee –
Money, money, money for the rich
And shit for everyone else!
From the mountains to the prairies
To the ocean white with foam….
Oh yes we feel the shame!!!!
“LOAVES AND FISHES”

(Peoples Temple was renowned for its dedication to the poor and needy and for its social services. In this scene, people come to the soup kitchen and are fed. Sung by Jones, “Darnell” [Jones’ black co-preacher], Marcie [Jones’ wife] and members of the Choir.)

Loaves and fishes
Tuna fishes on rye
Don’t preach about tomorrow
In paradise
When folks are hungry today
Oh we’re serving the lord in our own way.
Turning blood into grape juice
Body into bread
Lord, it’s true communion
Like the good book said
To care for the sick
And keep the hungry well fed
>Lord, it’s true communion
Like the good book said

Loaves and fishes
Tuna fishes on rye
Why pray to Christ almighty
For a miracle
When food is on your plate today
Oh we’re serving the lord in our own way.
Turning blood into grape juice
Body into bread
Lord, it’s true communion
Like the good book said
To care for the sick
And keep the hungry well fed
Lord, it’s true communion
Like the good book said.
Yeah! I’m gonna fill my belly now before I’m dead!
“PARADISE, YEAH”

(This song, with calypso rhythms, opens Act II, at the beginning of the Temple’s relocation to Guyana. Sung by various members of the Choir working in the fields and by the dissident voice of “Darnell”)

Look here: Paradise yeah!
Sunny days and balmy weather
Tropical birds of many feather
Ooh hear them sing
Two macaws
Three toucans
And a parrot with bright green claws.
Glory be. Paradise yeah.
Rain don’t wet you
Sun don’t burn you
God smile down
While the seasons turn
This be Guyana
We glad to be home
Look here: Paradise yeah
Chickens and pigs we raise to slaughter
No pollution in our water
Oooh smell the air…
Manna rain
Grace of god
On the faces of Guyana
Glory be. Paradise here.
Spicy spice and sweet potato
Tropical fruit like luscious mango
Ooh we eat nice
Fat cassava
Guava too
And papaya that gush with juice.
Look here. Paradise yeah?
Rise at dawn with little sleep
Censored mail and bleep bleep bleep
Nowhere to go
No telephone
No radi
And a jungle with deadly snakes…
Glory be. Paradise yeah.
Rain don’t wet you
Sun don’t burn you
God smile down
While the seasons turn
This be Guyana
We glad to be home!!
“SPARE THE CHILDREN”

(It becomes horrifying clear that martyrdom through mass suicide is a real possibility. Led by Marcie, Jim’s wife, this is sung by the women of the community, individually and together, pleading for their children.)

We, the mothers, were shown a dream
We left our homes to follow it
But that dream is becoming a nightmare,
A scream of despair…
Oh no, dear Dad, we beg you, Dad…< You see a threat from the world outside And want to end our quiet lives Goodbye, goodbye to the pure air, The wind-swept nights Oh dad, dear dad Please spare the children My laughing daughter, my only daughter Please spare the children If we must die, let them liv We gave them breath Must we now give them death? Goodbye, goodbye to the pure air, The wind-swept nights Oh no, dear Dad, we beg you, Dad All my daughters, all my sons Please spare the children Your children My laughing daughter, my only daughter All my daughters, all my sons Our children My child...

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 7th, 2014.
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