Podcast of the Week: Dear Franklin Jones
Jonathan Hirsch excavates his parents’ devotion to the guru with thought and flair
Franklin Jones: the controversial guru in the 1970s
Dear Franklin Jones is part family excavation, part cultural exploration of what exactly makes a cult leader so powerful. Jonathan Hirsch is uniquely qualified to produce and narrate the podcast, as his parents were among Jones’s followers.
He uses fascinating archive audio of Jones that he found among his mother’s belongings – the controvsial gura, aka Adi Da Samraj, had a deeply unusual speaking voice – and it’s a lovely touch to include the sound of the cassette tape going into the player. In fact the entire soundscape that hangs behind the voices here is thoughtful and absorbing.
In the first episode Hirsch talks to his parents about what led them to worship Jones. His mother talks about living in Nepal after the Vietnam War and smoking weed with veterans, his father about how LSD reframed his sense of being. Their lives in California in the 1980s, when Hirsch was a baby, sound idyllic. Even Jones’s presence seems benign enough at first, as the couple gradually get involved in the community.
Dear Franklin Jones: Episode 1
Hirsch talks candidly about rejecting Jones’s presence in his family life for years – he just didn’t want to know – but this project dives into the mystery that surrounded his upbringing.
Surprisingly, it is an easy podcast to listen to, neither uncomfortable nor exploitative. Hirsch does a splendid job of taking something he intimately experienced and extending it – the second episode, for example, sees him interviewing other people in Jones’s life, other followers, some of whom are still devout, some of whom lost everything.
It is worth getting to the moment after an interview with two former Jones followers when Hirsch reveals that he was raised in the following; his interviewees’ reaction is really something.
This is a fascinating story, told with gorgeous style.