Saturday, December 22, 2007
I Love Jesus Christ Superstar
I continue my week of Jesus obsession with this clip from the 1973 movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. It's not my favorite song. That would of course be Simon Zealots. But in terms of 70's feel, cool rocked out guitar, and pure staging genius in what was a sometimes tedious and embarrassing film, it's about as good as it gets.
Superstar played a huge role in my life. As a 10 year old self-proclaimed atheist, Rice and Webber's 1970 Broadway musical resurrected something akin to religious feeling in my barren little heart. It didn't hurt that the record had been banned by the Catholic Daughters of America, and was thus forbidden fruit. I listened to it in my friends basement across the street. Later, I'd buy the cheat book and learn all the songs on my little plastic kiddie organ. By then, my mother had largely given up.
Every Lent, the kids at Saint Mary's School would be herded into the lunch room day after day to watch some horrible movie in several parts about the crucifixion. It was your basic passion play sort of thing, designed to help kids appreciate just how much Christ suffered for their sins. One year, Sister Donna, a young, hip nun who was therefore somewhat suspect, played Superstar for us instead. At 11, I considered this a major blow against the forces of repression. Sister Donna was right. My mother was wrong.
When the 1973 movie made it to TV, mom made her last Custerlike stand. My sister and were watching the movie in the living room with our dad. Mom came in, watched enough to be offended by the sexiness, and made some sort of feeble protest. We all laughed. She left the house and we kept watching.
I still have every bit of it memorized. When I was around 20, the little studio where I briefly took guitar lessons tried to stage a production, and I was to sing the Simon Zealots song. I'd been singing along with it since I was ten, and had it nailed. We never took the thing to stage, or moved much beyond the first few practices.
During the time I lived in Boston, the music scene would come together every year on Easter to do a knockout version of the musical in the basement of the Middle East Cafe in Central Square. I went whenever I could, and this remains one of my most memorable live music experiences. I saw a full stage production once and was utterly disappointed because they'd forgotten this was a ROCK opera. The Middle East show put the rock first and the opera last. It was sublime.
The Indigo Girls did a Superstar album in the late 90's, and it's the only thing I've heard that comes close. The vocals on the original album, with Ian Gillian of Deep Purple in the role of Jesus, are really impossible to beat, but on a few songs they manage, and on most, I actually prefer the rocked up arrangements. The Indigo's Superstar finale, with it's heavy funk flavor, is amazing. People will still be reinterpreting this thing 100 years from now. It's that kind of a record.