For the band members of the Jonestown Crows – of which I am the founder and lead singer – Jonestown and Peoples Temple represent everything that is wrong with faith-based belief systems. It represents the absolute worst in man-made evil, and shows quite starkly what can happen if you place absolute trust in any religious hierarchy.
Understanding that Jonestown seems an extreme example of the subjugation of the human will, we implore people to see the patterns in human history. It is a fact that all three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – have exhibited this level of coercion, murder, torture, and tangible evil repeatedly, since they were created thousands of years ago by Bronze Age Men who were ignorant of all forms of science and modern moral values. To this day, followers and defenders of these faiths have been embroiled in an ongoing, never-ending holy war that will not end until humanity is brought to its knees and virtually wiped from the face of the Earth. In the name of God, millions of people have been – and still are – being murdered.
This is absolute reality, a horrifying product of the power of religious conviction coupled with self-perceived divine right. Whether you consider faith-based belief as a powerful drug or a set of shackles for the mind, the afflicted not only revel in, but fights vehemently to remain in, regardless of any logic, rational thought, or evidence to the contrary. Basking in ignorant bliss, religious adherents are filled with a euthanistic longing for a death that will free them from the pain and misery of life on Earth. All the major Abrahamic religions are quite literally “death cults,” and have behaved as such for thousands of years.
I have been involved in several atheist and agnostic movements over the years, all of which led to nothing but hurt feelings among my religious friends and family, and a bleak personal outlook on the future and well-being of the human race. This is why I started The Jonestown Crows in 2012. With this band, we are able to produce an outlet for our own beliefs in a format that is not only beautiful, raw, rowdy and edgy, but always entertaining and pleasing to hear, while maintaining barely tangible hints at offensive undertones. This results in an audience ranging from teens to seniors and everyone in between, all of whom come for the music, then hear what we’re singing about, and – surprisingly enough – typically stay for more.
We do not shy away from the horrors that our name might evoke, but rather make a point to conjure images of the massacre in some of our songs as a way to show just how evil blind faith truly is. In our song “A Feast For Crows”, crows tell the story of what they witnessed from the treetops on November 18th, 1978 in Guyana: just another feast for crows, death on a massive scale, perpetrated in the name of religious and political conviction.
We are the crows that sat atop the trees.
We saw the preacher bring them to their knees.
Yo Ho! A Feast for Crows.
We feast on eyes and lips and cheeks with a smile.
Religion’s been feeding us like that for a while.
Yo Ho! A Feast for Crows,
The Jonestown Crows
Another of our songs, aptly entitled “The Kool Aid Song,” tells the story of a social outcast lured into a false sense of belonging and safety in Peoples Temple.
He’d talk about The Promised Land,
Where every man and woman can be free,
Where there’s no pain or no suffrin’ to be had,
And the pathway there’s as simple as can be.
When the shit hits the fan,
We’ll stand next to The Man.
Reverend Jim’s just as nice as can be,
Come on and drink that Kool Aid with me.
We use dark, tongue-in-cheek humor to relay the fact that this evil, calamitous act not only was an actual event in human history, but if we are not careful, it could – and most likely will – happen again. We feel terrible for all of the victims’ family members and survivors, and in no way are we making light of the egregious loss of life in Jonestown.
So what do we hope to accomplish with our music? We seek to force the world to remember this tragedy and never forget how easy it is for blind faith to turn so quickly and easily into apocalypse and death. We also acknowledge the great number of victims that did not die willingly, which is absolutely horrific in its own right. Children, elderly, hopeful escapees, conscientious objectors, reporters, and Congressman Leo Ryan, they were all victims of Jim Jones and his psychotic brainwashed acolytes. The terror that they witnessed before their deaths is a sickening chronicle of human-generated evil that should be forever remembered, so as to never be repeated again.
Do we offend people? Absolutely. Sometimes folks need to be offended. This is the only way to jolt the complacent and apathetic masses into a worldview they weren’t prepared to deal with. Our primary mission is to make excellent music that challenges us, music that makes people stomp, dance, have a good time, music that is catchy enough that folks hum it for days after our show. Our secondary mission to make people think about some of the sinister issues opposing humanity at every step in our journey toward humanistic enlightenment.
For a lot of people, our music and performance represent the first time they’ve heard about topics like Jonestown, Peoples Temple, and Jim Jones. It’s the first time they hear different views on things they thought they knew about, such as Christian Zionism, evangelical hypocrisy, and the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people. We accomplish both missions every time we play.
I’m humbled by the level of musicianship in this band, and am honored to be allowed to create this art with the greatest musicians I’ve ever known. We love and appreciate our fan base or, as we call them, our “Peoples Temple Peeps.” They are the driving force that keeps us playing, for without them we would be nothing more than a bunch of grumpy old men jamming on a porch, whining about life.
(Jebadiah Halfhand is the lead singer and plays banjo for The Jonestown Crows. Information about the band may be found at their website.)