"To be alone with the night, and his voice."
November 18, 2015 8:58 AM   Subscribe

"Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown" is a hypnotic, disturbing, and mostly forgotten 1981 radio documentary about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

Constructed around tapes made at Jonestown and obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by journalist James Reston, Jr., "Father Cares" was a collaboration between Reston and NPR's Noah Adams, Deborah Amos, and Skip Pizzi.

In a stylistic departure for NPR, Adams plays a fictional, unnamed former Peoples Temple member, narrating in a numb, affectless tone that grows more unnerving over the course of the almost hour-long piece. Although widely praised at the time of broadcast and a recipient of the Dupont Columbia Award, the National Headliner Award, and the Prix Italia, "Father Cares" has been mostly (but not entirely) forgotten outside of radio documentary circles. In September, Transom's HowSound podcast revisited "Father Cares" and talked with Adams and Amos about making it.


Noah Adams interviews Jonestown survivor Deborah Layton in 2002.

Jonestown tapes and transcripts via San Diego State University's Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple project.
posted by ryanshepard (7 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot wait to listen to this, though it being called "disturbing" means I'll have to prep myself. This probably doesn't make me unique as an American who was born in 1974, but Jonestown was a big enough deal when it happened and throughout the rest of the 70s that I was aware of it as something horrible but never quite understood what it was, and that really makes an impression on a kid (or at least it did on this one.) so that when I was probably 11 or so, I caught a re-run of Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (I think - it was some TV movie about Jonestown) and it was the scarier than any horror movie I'd ever seen.

You'd think that the whole tragedy becoming a plot point in my beloved Tales of the City might have lessened my anxiety, but it really didn't, but I can't stop myself from consuming anything about it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:20 AM on November 18, 2015

I will listen to this! But then, I listen to everything about Jonestown.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:44 AM on November 18, 2015

Since I had a kid I can't stand to read about Jonestown any more. Just too horrible, too nightmarish, too deep a violation of basic human connections, particularly those between parents and children.
posted by zipadee at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2015

This was the first time I was really able to see how, in the beginning, people thought he was incredibly exciting and wanted to be a part of what he was doing. And in that context, how you could get caught up in it and how the talk of killing or dying for it seemed... cinematic. The talk about how it could be a movie. It was scary when it felt so random, but it's even scarier when I can feel why everybody wanted to live in the world he said he was going to build.
posted by Sequence at 1:03 PM on November 18, 2015

zipadee, you've put my feelings about it into words better than I ever could have. I would favorite your comment, but then it would sit there in my favorites and regularly remind me of Jonestown, and I don't want to be reminded.
posted by Songdog at 3:23 PM on November 18, 2015

Just throwing this longread into the mix:

posted by Taft at 5:37 PM on November 18, 2015

This was the first time I was really able to see how, in the beginning, people thought he was incredibly exciting and wanted to be a part of what he was doing.

Per my earlier comment, I think my Jonestown horror as a pre-teen was "just" about the horrible event, but as an adult who spent a lot of his twenties and thirties imagining what it would have been like to be similarly aged in San Francisco in the 1970s, there's more than a little bit of there but for the grace of God (and being born too late) go I.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2015

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