10/20/2005

Jesus/Christ. Superstar. The Sequel.

Okay, so this is the continuation of my first post on the Lloyd-Weber/Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

And then I saw thousands of millions
Crying for this man…
And then I heard them mentioning my name
And leaving me the blame.

--Pilate

My sisters played the record a lot. The original 1970 recording with Ian Gillan from Deep Purple as Jesus, of course.

Eventually Oldest Sister got a copy of Godspell, which she also learned to play on the piano. So I heard that a lot, too. I even have her copy of the LP now, and listen to it every few months. But it never had the same impact on me as JCSuperstar.

For many years JCSuperstar was essentially my main connection to religion of any stripe. And it has remained a steady friend in my time as a Friend over the last 15 years and one month. (That reminds me, I’d like to tell the story of how I came to meeting the first time in 9/1990, but that’ll have to wait.)

JCSuperstar brings out the latent, highly repressed drama queen in me. I love to sing along with the album! And act out the parts! Sneer with Caiaphas, strut with Herod, anguish with Judas, stir the masses with Simon the Zealot, and weep with Mary!

I once got “busted” in a friend's dorm room in college for singing along word for word at the top of our lungs, ‘round about 10 or 11 pm one night when others were trying to study. Oopsie!

What do you think about your friends at the top?
What about Buddha, is he where you are?
Could Mohammed move a mountain, or was that just P.R.?
Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake, or
Did you know that your message would be a record breaker?

--Judas

I once asked Middle Sister what they meant about Mary Magdalene: “You shouldn’t waste your time/With women of her kind/It’s not that I object to her profession/But she doesn’t fit in well/With what you teach and say/It doesn’t help us if you’re inconsistent,” sings Judas. “She was a prostitute,” sister said. “What’s that?” I asked. “A woman who sells herself to men,” she said. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I could tell it was embarrassing, whatever it was.

Some of the understanding portrayed in the album is dated. Contemporary scholars have pointed out that any woman who was somewhat independent in the culture of the time risked being labeled that way, and Mary Magdalene was likely not one at all. And I’m uncomfortable with the portrayal of the crowds when it seems to portray “the Jews” as being responsible for the betrayal of Jesus, but that reflects what’s in the Fourth Gospel (aka John), which was the gospel Lloyd Weber and Rice essentially followed.

That aside, JCSuperstar does a great job of bringing the Sanhedrin as well as Herod to life as a group of scared and calculating politicians trying to protect their elite position under the Romans. I just love the bits with them.

“What then to do about this Jesusmania?
How do we deal with the carpenter king?
How do we deal with a man who is bigger
than John was when John did his baptism thing?”
“Fools! You have no perception, the stakes we are gambling are frighteningly high.
We must crush him completely, so like John before him this Jesus must die.”

--Priests and Caiaphas

And in the end, this is one of the strongest appeals of Jesus Christ Superstar for me: It brings out the humanity of the characters from the Christian Bible stories, characters who are always at risk becoming caricatures through sheer familiarity and repetition. It was a revelation to me a decade ago to see that the crux of Jesus Christ Superstar is the conflict between the agonist, Jesus, and the antagonist, Judas. It is a simple, classic drama.

“One thing I’ll say for him, Jesus is cool.” —Caiaphas

Amen, Friends.

I look forward to continue the conversation with you around the virtual table of communion through the blogosphere.

1 comment:

Kristina said...

Chris: My parents (who were anti-religious) not only played JCSuperstar at home but took us to the musical in San Francisco. It was formative for me and is refreshing to hear that I was not alone in acting it out.

I too didn't understand Mary's profession but loved the "everything's alright" song. Also to pile up rocks and topple them when Jesus sang, "the rocks and stones themselves, will start to sing!"

Ho-sannah, Hey-sannah, sannah sannah ho!

Jesus is cool!