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Bogan Jesus

  • 29 August 2014

The Songs of Jesse Adams, by Peter McKinnon. Acorn Press Limited. July 2014. 


Though 19th century literati like Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky went to town on his works and words through imaginative quests and allusions, Yeshua bar Yosef (aka Jesus Christ, son of God and son of man) has largely been 'owned' by pop-cultural pundits over the last 40 years or so.

Not counting such appearances as a TV host on scatological cartoons, or as a misplaced alien in science fiction flicks, Jesus has been notably cast as a compassionate L'enfant terrible for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, a wise clown for John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz, a caring stranger for Cecil B. DeMille and, misheard, an ardent advocate for dairy products for the Monty Python crew.

However, in first timer Peter McKinnon's new novelisation of the gospels The Songs of Jesse Adams, I find Christ's representation more comparable to that of US Lutheran writer Walter Wangerin Jr. The distinction is that McKinnon's is a uniquely Australian Messiah, with his guitar ablazing. How does Jesus as a Billy Thorpe-a-like strike you, Jen? The oldest son of the Adams family (scriptural reference understood, but 'groan' nonetheless), Jesse is a troubled, long-haired balladeer driving a Holden FX. Jesse's Mum, Anna, knows he's special. After an onstage blessing from his cuz, Billy Rave (John the Baptist), Jesse wanders around like the Leyland brothers, turning home brew into French champagne and Grange while gathering his motley crew (his band and entourage, the Breakers).

Ockerisms abound unabashedly: the aromatic 1960s exude off the pages, with anti-Vietnam War campaigns, crashing surf, bush pubs, Kings Cross and trannies, the plush villains' men's-only seats of power of Melbourne, and St Kilda's 'poolrooms, brothels and dimly lit boarding houses whose curtains never opened and you didn't ask why'.

For the biblically-literate, a minority of Australians these days, there is the frisson of recognition, amusement and occasional distaste as Annie Martin (Mary Magdalene), Dinger Bell (Simon the Zealot), Big Al and Mick Gudgel (Simon Peter and Andrew), the Chunder brothers Dean and Johnny (James and John) and dodgy photographer 'Flash' Mervyn William Lester (take a bow, Judas Iscariot) are revealed. High art? No. Engaging? Highly. Jesse Adams is on about peace; an inclusive peace that includes social outcasts such as women, immigrants, Aborigines and 'pooftahs'. Despite its subject and setting (or because of it?), McKinnon butts against relevant contemporary topics