In December of 2006, my interest in the events of Jonestown was spurred, oddly enough, by a search on youtube.com for a rock band. The search for videos of the band “The Brian Jonestown Massacre,” whose name is play on the events of Jonestown and the early Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, inevitably yielded videos about Jonestown. I knew a little bit about the events of Jonestown and proceeded to watch a few of the linked videos. One of the videos I watched featured a slide show of photographs from Jonestown with the audio from Q42 playing over it. I was curious as to what was being said in the final moments, so I skipped to the end of the video.
Initially, I thought what I was hearing was a haunting, muddled organ. But then I heard something intriguing. It sounded like reversed speech, which I recognized immediately due to my seventh grade fascination with classic rock bands’ use of backwards masking. I immediately wanted to hear what was being said backwards. As luck would have it, I was watching this video on the computer at the Palomar College radio station, which has various audio engineering software.
The audio on Youtube is of poor quality, as it is extremely compressed. Via a Google search I found a link to a cleaner, less compressed digital copy of Q42 on this website. Though I initially used the .mp3 file processed through Sound Forge, I have found the most success using the .flac version of the Q42 file using the software program Audacity v. 1.3.3 beta. I focused on the last 1:50 of the tape because prior to that, Jones’ voice and the voices of others overpower any “shadow” recordings. I reversed the audio so that it would, in effect, play backwards. I also increased the playback speed by 82%.
When played backwards with the speed increased, the last 1:50 of the original tape becomes about :60. At :13 in, a voice can be heard relatively clearly. As best as I can tell, the voice is saying “Don’t, now don’t lie to me. You un- you understand, right?” From :19 to :24 there is no audible speech. At :25, the voice returns, though barely audible, under the music. It is saying a four- to six-syllable word, or words, that sound to me like “military”, although it is not very clear. Immediately following this at :26, the voice sounds like it says, “Listen, we understand there [were] four grown [people] with you. Did- now don’t lie to me- did you leave your friend[s] here?” From :34 to :45 there is no audible speech once again. From :46 to :50 the voice comes back in and says “So listen, you’re talking over radio number one, right?” At :59, Jones’ speech begins to overpower any “shadow” audio.
After hearing this for the first time, I was immediately curious if anyone else had heard the same thing, or anything more. After a very brief search, I turned up nothing as specific as I had hoped. I sent an email to Fielding McGehee with .mp3 copies of the processed Q42 file and the words that I thought I had heard.
McGehee found the audio intriguing but suspected that – like many Jonestown tapes – Q42 was a reused and recycled tape. In the article “One Misconception Down, Countless to Go”, Josef Dieckman suspects the same of Q42. He writes about hearing “ham talk” and finding slowed down “shadows” of music that had presumably been recorded over, yet happened to bleed through. After reading Dieckman’s article, I revisited the tape and found that the “shadow” music at the end of the Q42 tape offers a coincidence more eerie than a simple violin melody. By playing the last 1:50 of the Q42 forward and speeding it up about 100%, you can hear the 1968 Delfonics song “I’m Sorry.”
I cannot offer much speculation on the meaning of any of this, or how it may connect to any other piece of evidence, being that I have only a very basic understanding of the details of Jonestown. My one hope is that I have perhaps contributed another piece to the puzzle.
Perhaps there are more puzzle pieces to be found within the tapes. If we are to better understand the complete contents of these tapes, then it is important to understand as much as possible about the history of the audio that we are analyzing. The note on the website from which I obtained the audio file mentions that this is a digital copy of a cassette tape that was “acquired from a schoolmate in 1979 whose father was an FBI agent.” As far as I know, this schoolmate may have been a Delfonics fan.
If it is true that the Peoples Temple reused tapes, then potentially there is an additional source of information lying backwards and beneath the surface of some of the tapes that are available now. There is surely more information even within the Q42 tape but it is beyond my audio engineering ability to retrieve it.
I agree with the sentiment in the e-mail sent to me by Josef Dieckman. He stressed the importance of a standard source, such as a master sample of each tape, so that we may more scientifically evaluate the audio from Jonestown. Ideally, the community should have digital copies of each tape that are of the highest quality available, as well as a protocol for marking time and describing the methodology of audio dissection.
 The Jonestown Death Tape (FBI No. Q 042) 2of 2 [Online reference no longer available].