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When I read the booklet that came with the quadruple disc, deluxe reissue of the 1975 album The Christ Tree by The Trees Community, something jumped out at me immediately. The last paragraph of the mini-bio of group founder and leader William
Shipen Lebzelter states
. . . he contracted an incurable disease. He was gone so quickly that no one knew quite what had happened. He was just 44 years old when the Lord took him from us.
The time frame for his death would've been the 1980s, and
incurable disease sounded suspiciously to me like a euphemism for AIDS. Hmmm . . .
Late one night a few months ago, I finally decided to Google Shipen to see if my suspicions were well founded. I found group member Katherine
Shishonee Krupa's blog, Seven Story Bus: The Story of the Trees Community, which covers the history of the group. Though she wrote nothing about his death, Shishonee did write a fair amount about Shipen and fellow founding member Philip
Ariel Dross's homosexuality and some of the challenges it presented both to the group and to outsiders.
As I read random blog entries that night, I started crying. The homosexuality of some group members was so clearly important in their history, yet the booklet completely straightwashed them. About Ariel's leaving the group and falling in love with the man with whom he spent the rest of his life (to the best of my knowledge), the booklet simply says,
After four years with the group, he moved back to his home state of Florida where he found the love of his life.
All that aside, the album is absolutely wonderful, no matter one's religious affiliation or lack thereof. The Trees Community's approach to music making was a unique take on folk music with what we would today call
world music instrumentation. There are gorgeous vocals, mellifluous melodies, and striking dashes of avant garde experimentalism. Today's song is from their 1973 cassette album A Portrait of Jesus Christ in Music, which takes up most of disc two of the box set. The piece was re-recorded for The Christ Tree, but in a radically different version.