Review by Deb Bennett
Author Peter McKinnon follows in the footsteps of a long line of writers in re-imagining the life of Jesus in fiction.
From Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You to the man-in-black himself, Johnny Cash’s Man in White; writers, philosophers and artists have attempted to answer the question posed by Bob Siemon with his WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets.
Set in 1960s Australia, The Songs of Jesse Adams depicts Jesus (Jesse) as a spiritual leader of the social revolution gripping the Western world.
McKinnon’s passion for both the story of Jesus and the optimism of the ’60s is apparent throughout the book. Familiar Australian icons abound. The FX Holden that takes Jesse to the desert, the chook raffle in the country pub, chiko rolls and the burgeoning pub music scene will elicit fond memories for those who lived in more naïve times.
Jesse Adams is a charismatic singer/songwriter who gathers a band of misfits and travels the country, inspiring fans and challenging the social mores of the day. The story becomes more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane as McKinnon incorporates tales of temptation in the wilderness, miracles at a wedding (turning home-brew into champagne) and a mesmerising performance at the Raspberry Hill music festival.
A concern expressed by one reviewer is that readers know how the story will end. As the narrative necessarily ‘modernises’ the trials faced by the biblical Jesus, we know this is one story that won’t end well for Jesse.
This feeling of inevitability is compounded as readers also know the outcome of the hope for social change and revolution that epitomises sentimental retelling. More than 40 years later, readers are left to wonder how much has really changed.
To employ a narrative device used by McKinnon – pop songs – we need look no further than ’70s songwriter Greg Macainsh of Skyhooks who asked: ‘Whatever happened to the revolution?’ The answer? ‘We all got stoned and it drifted away.’