One misconception down, countless to go

by Josef Dieckman

Many of us in the Peoples Temple research community have at least heard of, if not seen, the made for TV movie, The Guyana Tragedy, starring Powers Boothe as Jim Jones. As is par for the course for Hollywood, the film merged numerous real-life people into composite – and fictional – characters, embellished some facts while ignoring others, and generally presented the story through a myopic lens. However, the makers of that movie did get one thing right. During the final scenes of the movie – when the community has gathered together and Jones begins his final exhortations – you hear nothing except his words interrupted with a few protests, some crying, applause and the like. What you do not hear in the movie is music being played in the background. Yes, this is one thing the makers of the movie got right.

The fact is, there was no music being played over the public address system, on an organ, piano, or tape player on November the 18th, 1978 while Jim Jones recorded the tape we now call Q42. How many times this misconception been handed down as fact is hard to say. In books, articles, transcripts, this myth has been put on paper and websites – including this “Alternative Considerations” one – at least 10 times by my count. [1] Doubtless there are many more accounts floating around out there that refer to music being played that final hour.

Usually, when one reads of music being played during that final hour, the reaction is to believe that the soothing notes of the organ filled the air so as to calm the anxious crowd during their final procession. Bunk! It simply did not happen. But you wouldn’t know that if you relied on authors like George Klineman, who is possibly the most flagrant abuser when it comes to taking literary license in his writing. In his book, The Cult That Died, Klineman says, without citing his source, that “Jones continued his lamentation while Loretta Cordell and Deanna Wilkinson started the organ with a few short chords: the choir began to sing, ‘Because of Him.'”[2] Later, Klineman adds that Cordell and Wilkinson changed songs to better fit the mood while “someone groaned to the music in a lost falsetto.”[3] These are only two of many examples I could quote. The vast majority of writers that have made the mistake of referring to music that never occurred do not elaborate beyond simply saying something like, “…and music began as the crowd.” In the end, however, the error remains.

It is important to note that this isn’t just a time-sensitive error. As can be surmised from my short list, writers have been talking about this “music” from 1979 all the way to current day. It has been handed down, so to speak, from author to author, researcher to researcher, without any careful analysis of the facts.

To support my theory, I will simply rely on the tape that so many have used as a basis for making their claims. Doubtless many of these authors and researchers have heard for themselves the terrible tragedy documented by audio tape Q42. And in their defense, I can say this: it could be a forgivable mistake to “hear music” in the background when the listener’s energy and heart are so focused on the cries, scream, and protests of the people surrounding the pavilion, as I too have heard it several times. However, it only took a slightly more careful review of the tape to realize that something is wrong with what the authors have been saying about that final day.

If you listen closely at just the right times, what appears to be music turns into a mumbled mash of tones and noise. If you have the tape and a deck with a tape counter, try listening to the tape at about positions 348, 399, 465, and 580. Also, there is the seemingly unexplainable “ham talk” that bleeds into Jones’ monologue. Listen to the tape at 307, 311, and 443 (here it is backwards) for those bytes. As I thought about this, my mind began formulating ways to rationalize the problems. “That music noise sure sounds slurred,” I remember thinking. Then, I took to trying to figure what all the ham talk was about.

At 443, there is backwards talking intermixed with Jones’ monologue. I sampled it on my computer, then reversed it. “Do you copy?” rang through my headphones. Yes, something was up indeed. The “forward” version of “Do you copy” was absent from the opposite side of the tape, so that made me wonder. Then something Fielding McGehee (who has transcribed many of the tapes on this website, but who also made the mistake of “hearing” the music on Q42) once told me popped into my head. Sometimes, he said, the Temple reused cassette tapes to make new recordings over the old ones.

Could this be true of Q42? I wrestled with the “music” problem until a thought occurred: if the “music” sounds slurred, speed it up. So I made some samples and increased their speeds. Sure enough, it was indeed music, but it was not music being played in Jonestown during the last day. It was all old material, “shadow” recordings if you will. The music on Q42 is merely left-overs from a previous recording. How else could you explain the half-speed timing and the ham radio interruptions? I could provide several audio examples here, but most are only a second or two long, and wouldn’t convince skeptics. However I have chosen two to include in this article for the website edition. The suggestion, of course, is to listen to the normal file first, then listen to sped-up file.

The first comes from position 072 on the tape counter. Jones is heard speaking and the “music is in the background.” When you listen to the sped-up version, you will hear a female singer, who I think sounds something like Aretha Franklin. I cannot make out what she is singing, but it is clear at 100% faster speed, the jumbled mess that authors have been calling Loretta Cordell’s organ is nothing more than an old shadow of a female singer. The second sample is from the end of the tape, after Jones has finished speaking. By itself, this sound byte should seem obviously flawed. Can you really believe that this is organ music accompanied by what Klineman claims is a “lost falsetto”? After speeding it up (WAV 5 & 6), you will hear what it really is: a violin playing a melody.

Make no mistake, all the “music” on Q42 is like this, all shadows from an old recording. No one played an organ. There was no choir singing, “Because of Him”. There was no dirge being played as friends and family said goodbye to one another. There were, however, screams, pain, agony, tears, and fear. You can hear that on the tape. And those sounds aren’t shadows. They are real.

(Josef Dieckman has written extensively about both the so-called death tape (Q 042) and the “day after” tape (Q 875). His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. He may be reached at joeyjosef@yahoo.com.)

Notes

[1] THE WEB:

Q042 Transcript (FBI)
Q042 Transcript (Mark Lane)
Q042 Transcript (Mary Maaga)
Q042 Transcript (Fielding M. McGehee III)
Q042 Transcript (Steve Rose)
Q042 Transcript (Jonathan Z. Smith)

BOOKS:

Klineman, George. The Cult That Died: The Tragedy of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. New York: Putnam, 1980. 359, 362, 364 & 370.
Nugent, John Peer. White Night. New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1979. 204.
Reston, James, Our Father Who Art in Hell. New York: Times Books, 1981. 323.
Summer, Anthony et al. Scandal Part 13, 1991. 415.
Stephenson, Denice. Dear People: Remembering Jonestown, San Francisco: California Historical Society Press 2005. 128.

[2} Klineman, 359.

[3} Klineman, 370.

Last modified on May 4th, 2017.
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