Monday, April 02, 2018

Nostalgic for Jesus Christ Superstar

This is the album cover that was in our cabinet under our record player.
A live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" played on NBC last night, and I was the only one in our household interested in watching it. Lindsey watched the first five minutes, declared it "noise" and went upstairs to watch a movie on her kindle in her room.

Not that I'm religious, I just really like a good rock opera. Actually, I think JCS is the only rock opera I know. There is no dialog that is not set to music, and the whole thing is all electric guitars, drums and screaming solos, I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a rock opera.

I first got to know Jesus Christ Superstar as a kid. It came out as a record in 1970, and my parents had the album. It was a two-album set, with sides 1 and 4 on one record, 2 and 3 on the other. Our record player let you stack up to two records and it would play two sides one after another, and then you had to flip the records and re-set them to play sides 3 and 4. I still remember the anticipation of hearing the second record drop, the click of the needle picking up and then the scratch as the needle hit the starting groove and began to play. I would sit with the lyrics, which were written like a script, and study the words as it played.

Original performers in the 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar album.
The original album featured Murray Head as Judas and Ian Gillan as Jesus. Ian Gillan was the lead singer for Deep Purple, and later joined Black Sabbath. You can just imagine the initial recording, right? Literally screaming vocals, funky guitar rifts, slap bass solos.


The live performance last night maintained much of the original rock performance, but updated with today's vocal talents and instrumentation. I've only ever listened to the music, never watched a performance of it, and it was only last night that I realized that "Jesus Christ Superstar" is not about Jesus, it's about Judas. Judas has more solos and attention focused on his very human angst at not wanting but needing to betray Jesus.  

Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas in NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar." He already killed Alex Hamilton as Aaron Burr in "Hamltion," betraying Jesus was next on his to-do list.
In Judas' final solo, he has ascended to heaven and is accompanied by angels. Dante Alighieri would not have agreed with this idea, as he put Judas in the final circle of hell in his epic poem "Inferno." But in this interpretation, Judas did a necessary deed to make a martyr of Jesus, and his payment is ascension to heaven.

I knew every word and completely enjoyed this interpretation of this classic. I thought Ben Daniels, who played Pontius Pilate, was weak on his final proclamation sentencing Jesus to death, and Alice Cooper was not the energetic King Herod as he should have been, but he did add entertainment value.

Cast and costuming of the 2018 NBC live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Of course, I smiled thinking that Paul Gilles was a huge fan of Alice Cooper, Deep Purple AND Black Sabbath. I think he would have cringed seeing the great Alice Cooper in this diminished role. But perhaps not, maybe he would be happy to hear that some of the classic rock sound that he loved is being embraced by a new generation. I know I did.

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