Song Of A Preacher Man

Is Earthalujah a political rally? Is this a comedy about an Elvis-impersonating televangelist? Or is Reverend Billy forming a real church?

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 3 minutes
32364 large
Reverend Billy
Photo by
Published 26 Feb 2019

Reverend Billy is asking the questions, but he's also the one who poses them with his furious, inspired call to action. Earthalujah is a work of  'radical instability' that he performs alongside the radically anti-consumerist Stop Shopping Choir. Sitting somewhere between activism, performance art and a flamboyant cult, he insists that "It's all of these things at once, and when we're really doing our best work you can't tell."

Taking the form of an old school Methodist preacher allows Billy to tackle weighty issues in a carnival-esque manner, raising his voice and invoking a greater power as he peppers his sermons with exclamations of "Amen" and "Earthalujah!"

But there's no fire and brimstone here; his concern is this world, not the next. The sixth mass extinction might be upon us, yet many politicians are more concerned with securing their borders against immigrants than tackling the climate change that will wipe out the human race. These are issues that transcend national boundaries, and Billy is not coming to lecture Australians – he wants to recruit us.

Helping him in his goal is Savitri D, the director and co-founder of The Stop Shopping Choir. Fitting the more traditional image of an activist, it's her job to occasionally rein him in and give direction to his passion. When Billy sounds the clarion, announcing that "We are about to, as one, resist extinction by making a signal across space to each other, whether it's the form of a hug or a language or a song," it's Savitri whose groan is the sonic equivalent of an eyeroll? "C'mon, a hug?"

She exhorts him to do better, and he conjures up the image of a congregation embodying the natural world, turning into a living superstorm and rising up to the 57th floor of one of New York City's glass skyscrapers. By now Billy is directly addressing JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, whose investments in tar sands and Arctic oil exploration have led the preacher to label him "the top financier of climate change in the world."

"Hello Jamie," he says, his voice getting slightly hoarse as it rises in volume, "it's the Church of Stop Shopping, we're here to save your soul." Next, he says, "the choir comes up with their uncanny harmonies, everybody starts getting goosebumps and we start realising what's possible." It's a fantastic vision, but Billy is just beginning. "Give me a pulpit," he booms, "I'm preaching now."