Jonestown: Soundtrack for a Mass Suicide

Today marks the day in 1978 that cult leader Jim Jones ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid at his Jonestown compound in Guyana. Congressman Leo Ryan had come to the compound to investigate reports of abuse, and even though Ryan stated he planned to report positively on the settlement, Jones had him and his entourage assassinated. Fearing retribution, Jones told the cult death would be better than what they would suffer at the hands of the government, and the 900 plus deaths resulting from the order remained the largest non-natural disaster loss of civilian life in the United States until the attacks on September 11, 2001.

The horrific events of that day have echoed down through the years inspiring musicians to comment on it through their art. Today we present five of those songs.

Shock Treatment, "Farley's Song"

Only a couple of years after the deaths at Jonestown Richard O'Brien released his semi-sequel to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment depicting the town of Denton as one giant television studio and the entire population as either stars or the audience. In a world overrun with reality TV, the film has never been more relevant, and frankly it has a better soundtrack than its predecessor.

Shock Treatment's villain is fast food mogul Farley Flavors, who's style, dress, and dialogue was based on Jim Jones.

Concrete Blonde, "Jonestown"

Concrete Blonde has always had a penchant for good death tunes, and "Jonestown" from Mexican Moon is one of those songs we're always surprised didn't end up as a major goth anthem. The video alone is worth it with Johnette Napolitano screaming hot in a wife beater and an endless march of sheep to the slaughter.

Psychic TV, "White Nights"

White Nights were what Jim Jones called the emergency drills that he led in preparation of raids by "fascist" forces. Jones would broadcast that the compound was surrounded by attackers armed with guns and machetes preparing to butcher the cult. It's been theorized that some of the initial drinkers of the poison might have thought that the suicide was just another rehearsal. Some of the lyrics is the Psychic TV tune come straight from Jones's "death tape," a rambling 42-minute account of the poisoning that we highly recommend you not ever listen to. Seriously, don't go look it up.

Cyanide Valentine, "Nosferatu"

When we do playlists, we almost always steer away from fan made videos, especially if the song doesn't have much to do with the video's subject matter. However, we just couldn't pass this one up. Using footage from the People's Temple and the amazing modern psychedelic stylings of Cyanide Vampire's "Nosferatu," the short film sums up the insanity perfectly.

Otep, "Jonestown Tea"

Since we already broke our fan video rule, we'll go a little further. This one, though, was actually made with Otep's permission, so points to Otep for being awesome in regards to their fans. Obstinately, "Jonestown Tea" is about child abuse, but the allusion to the mass suicide is unmistakable, as well as the connection to the allegations of abuse that led to Congressman Ryan's trip to Guyana and the catalyst that provided for the deaths. By the way, this song will probably kill your soul. If there is a hell, this is the sound it makes.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner