Requiem For Easter - Good Friday - April 6 2007
A Requiem for Brian Jones
Father John Heidt, D.Phil. (Oxon)
Had he lived, February 28th 2007 would have been the 65th birthday of Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones. This year should have been a celebration of a productive life that might have given so much benefit to music, fashion, ethnicity and culture. Brian Jones was an icon of his time, his foresight and maturity was evident in everything he did and what he might have achieved, had he lived, has been lost to us all.
In the mid 1980’s when I was the priest in charge of a Cheltenham parish church, the parochial church council met to decide whether or not we could afford to increase the size of our church to accommodate growing congregations. All agreed that the parish could not afford it but after some prayer and much debate the majority decided that we must build the extension anyway. And so we did.
During that original debate I suggested, half seriously, half in jest that we might raise the money by building the extension as a memorial to Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones who was drowned in 1969 and who many believed was actually murdered. The response was electric. “Why should we build a memorial to Brian Jones? He never went to our church”. In itself of course that was a rather lame excuse. For all I knew he may never have set foot in our church (though I believe that his father was quite active in the parish church downtown) but Brian had lived in our parish and it was even rumored that he had sung in a church choir. He had in fact lived right across the road from our church and that, I suggested, should have been good enough. If, after all, church memorials should only be put up in memory of regular worshipers then I guess half of those memorials might have to be dismantled and removed.
It was not long before the real reason behind the opposition to a Brian Jones memorial began to find its voice. It was said that he was not the kind of person we wanted people to associate with our church; he was not exactly a paragon of Christian virtues, not a shining example to hold up before our young people and not a model of Christian holiness. Judgment stretched all the way from claiming that Brian was extremely nasty (if not downright evil) to thinking that he was basically a good guy with a ‘complicated character’. But no one has ever suggested that he was a saint. He may have been murdered, but he was hardly a Christian martyr. And though his admirers to this day continue to venerate him, it is more out of love for his music and empathy with his tragic life, than for any sign of sanctity. Nobody had, or ever has suggested that his blond hair should be crowned with a halo.
That is why the church needed to remember him. They needed to remember him because he did not deserve it. This is what authentic Christianity is all about. Unlike any other religion in the world, it proclaims that God loves us just as we are with all the nastiness and complexities and tragedies that form our character. The church, along with all his supporters need to honour Brian Jones, and others like him, because God loves them; but not because of their virtues - just as the Archbishop of Canterbury many years ago rightly offered special prayers in Canterbury Cathedral following the assassination of John Lennon, in spite of a public hue and cry from those who should have known better.
True, if Brian Jones or anyone else for that matter ever responds positively to God’s love, God will not leave him as he is. We can assume that Brian has been learning this for the last thirty seven years. But whether he has or not is none of our affair. We’re not in the judgment business, but in the love and forgiveness business. That’s why, for several years, on the anniversary of his death, we celebrated a requiem mass in the parish church for his soul and for the souls of all the young people of the parish who had died after him.
The results of that annual celebration were phenomenal, and the benefits which the church, and I personally, received during that time were far greater than anything we could have ever imagined: a concert at the Cheltenham race course featuring Donovan among others, an anniversary of Brian’s death when two of his sons met each other at the church for the first time, the many friends who discovered one another through their common admiration of Brian and eventually a world wide Brian Jones Fan Club, spearheaded by Pat Andrews, which began to take shape during many conversations in the social centre attached to the parish church and in get-togethers following the annual requiem masses.
So why Brian Jones? For many, Brian has become an icon of a rebellious decade dreaming of personal freedom, social justice and artistic creativity - all things the Christian Church believes are necessary for our human development. And he is a tragic icon, in which death and drugs become poignant reminders that the dreams of youth are always frustrated and our loves never fully satisfied. But what almost no-one could have guessed in 1969 is that today, for a great many, the tragic icon has also become a sign of hope, a sign that God can take Brian’s life, and therefore our own life, with all its torment and betrayal and inevitable death, and make of it a centre of devotion, a source of friendship, a sign of the importance of perseverance and the triumph of a personal energy and artistic creativity which no evil can destroy and no failure overcome. Devotion to Brian Jones, and others like him, does not come from his virtues or any kind of sanctity but from seeing in him the power of God - whether others realize it or not makes no difference - to bring life out of death, love out of betrayal and hope out of tragedy.
May Brian Jones finally come to Rest in Peace.
The Reverend Canon John Heidt, D.Phil. (Oxon)
Canon Theologian to the Bishop of Fort Worth