A cult chorus: the forgotten music of David Koresh

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Cult leaders often get a bad rap, and for good reason. Among the 20th century’s most notorious cult leaders were Jim Jones, who led 909 followers to their deaths in “Jonestown”, Guyana, and Charles Manson, who committed countless crimes as the leader of the Manson Family, including several murders. Such fanatics are invariably derailed by mental health issues rooted in childhood. This was certainly the case for cult leader David Koresh.

In 1959, Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell to a 20-year-old father and a 14-year-old mother. Koresh’s parents separated in 1961, soon after leaving him in the care of his grandmother, who posed as his mother while his true mother posed as his aunt. However, at age five, Koresh returned to the care of his birth mother, now living with merchant marine Roy Haldeman. Maternal confusion seemed to plague Koresh as he grew into an adult, but the major trauma seemed to reside in claims of sexual assault by a male relative on his mother’s side.

The exact details of Koresh’s traumatic childhood remain murky, but whatever happened, it influenced some dramatic developments in later life. Through adolescence, Koresh was something of a pariah but gained confidence through successful sporting endeavours and early sexual encounters. Arrogance was the final item on the cult leader scavenger hunt, but it took one final event to tip the scales.

At age 19, Koresh followed in his father’s footsteps by impregnating his underage girlfriend. Outraged by the news, he fled, leaving his 16-year-old partner and his unborn daughter in the past to become a born-again Christian. Seeking absolution, Koresh joined his mother’s enclave of the Southern Baptist Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Whether related to his childhood trauma or not, an obsession with sex, especially that with teenage girls, followed him into the church with a side order of messiah complex. After being expelled for deviant behaviour, Koresh moved to Waco, Texas, to join the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventist cult.

Throughout his ascent to leadership, Koresh revelled in polygamy, with many of his partners underage and coerced by religious doctrine. He ultimately assumed leadership in 1988 after engaging in a Wild West-style shootout with his predecessor, George Roden, whom he accused of exhuming bodies from the cemetery for resurrection attempts. Roden survived the shootout but wound up in a psychiatric hospital, while Koresh and his followers saw attempted murder charges to a mistrial.

As one might guess, the Branch Davidians’ public image spiralled after this altercation, with rumours running riot across Texas. Koresh met his fate during a 1993 shootout between the Branch Davidian compound and encroaching law enforcement officers. The FBI had investigated several leads related to child abuse cases within the community and responded as they might to a hostage situation. “We had specific information that babies were being beaten,” Attorney General Janet Reno told The New York Times.

The prolonged standoff between the Branch Davidians and law enforcement authorities became known as the Waco Seige. The standoff culminated in a deadly fire that claimed the lives of Koresh and several of his followers. Koresh also had a significant gunshot wound to the head, which may have killed him before the flames.

These grizzly details rightfully detract from some of Koresh’s more innocuous endeavours, such as his musical pursuits. Like Charles Manson, his Satanic forerunner from California, Koresh sought a side hustle as a recording artist. Although, I’m afraid The Beach Boys might have been less interested in covering one of Koresh’s musical creations.

Following a forgettable thread of 1970s folk-rock nostalgia, Koresh’s self-released album Songs For Grandpa suffers from poor recording equipment and a severe lack of musical talent. Unfortunately, a fatal case of messiah complex led the man to believe he could blow Bob Dylan out of the water.

Content retrieved from: https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/forgotten-music-david-koresh/.

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