I only watched one song’s worth of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Since we cut the cord, we have to rely on the antenna to get a signal, and as in the old days, sometimes it’s clear as a bell and sometimes the screen is a sea of pixelation, which I’ve been instructed by J.C. to call “packeting out.” Sunday night it was packeting out.
But it’s been interesting hearing you all talk about it. It reminded me of when I bought the original cast recording, the double-album set, back when it was new. I took it over to my friend Julie’s house to listen to, because her mother had forbidden her from buying it herself. A rock opera of the passion of Christ? Blasphemy! (This is the sort of thing mothers worried about then. And still do. One of Kate’s friends surrendered her ticket to some show I was driving them to when they were about 15, because her mother had looked up some lyrics on the internet, and oh my we couldn’t have that. The other day I read an interview with Edie Falco, the actress and also a practicing Buddhist. She said the biggest lesson her faith taught her was: Stop worrying. Good advice, Buddha.)
Anyway, if Julie’s mom stopped at the door to the room where we sat, music at half-volume, heads bent to the speakers, listening to this exotic samizdat, she never let on. JCS made a splash for sure, but I remember it mainly as a few witty lines (If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation/Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication), a few memorable songs and, well, here’s the new Neil Young record, and let’s listen to that one next.
I never saw a stage production. Never saw the movie. That whole era of early-’70s guitar-mass Christianity was probably the last one I fully participated in, although it was swiftly followed by the Great Cult Scares of the later ’70s. Hare Krishnas, Children of God, all sorts of false-prophet gangs, culminating with the big one – Jonestown.
Which seems like a good transition to recommending you watch “Wild Wild Country” if you’re a Netflix subscriber, a six-part documentary series about the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh and his adherents, who took over a ranch in north-central Oregon and made a big fuss for a few years. (Hey, Charlotte: Is that crazy church up by you still operating? The Church Universal and Triumphant?) It’s pretty fantastic, an absolutely bananas tale of weirdness and guns, and from the social-media reaction I’m seeing from people younger than me, almost entirely forgotten. I remembered the Baghwan as the guru who owned dozens of Rolls-Royces, and would be driven in them around his ranch while his followers lined the roads, clapping and cheering. When the whole thing fell apart, the fleet went where all notorious automobiles go eventually – the Auburn-Cord-Deusenberg Festival in Auburn, Ind., to be auctioned in the multi-day classic-car sale.
Americans don’t have a corner on cults, but we seem to do it weirder than other countries. “Wild Wild Country” doesn’t disappoint.
The first person I heard talking about it was a young man in his early 30s. “They practice some weird yoga there,” he said. “Kun something? Kuna…”
“Cunnilingus yoga,” I said. “It’s famous. Lots of chanting? That’s what you’re thinking of.”
“Yeah! Cunnilingus!” he said.
I was all for letting him carry that around for a while, but the other person at the table took pity.
It’s kundalini yoga. Lots of chanting. I did it once. Wasn’t for me, but I get it.
Anyway, Tom and Lorenzo really liked “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and said:
JCS is a beloved album, film and show, but theatrically, dramatically and at times even musically, it can get downright goofy. In addition, it’s tied very closely to a post-hippy, pre-metal sound and aesthetic that doesn’t always update well.
Yep, that sounds right: Post-hippie, pre-metal. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “very ’70s.”
“Superstar” tells the Passion story from the point of view of the man who betrayed Jesus, a twist on a classic narrative that would become standard in musical drama in musicals like “Wicked” where the villain gets his (or her) due. So it was in a sense apt that Brandon Victor Dixon was a far more engaging performer as Judas than John Legend was as Jesus. Christ here is a softer role to begin with, but at times Legend seemed half asleep. It was as if they cast Ben Carson in the role. (I later learned that Legend produced the special, which would certainly explain how he landed the role).
Sara Bareilles, an impressive Mary Magdalene, would not be accused of somnambulism. With pre-Raphaelite beauty and a bell-clear voice, she stole the show from the Son of God as she worked through her conflicted feelings toward him (I’m tempted to say “toward Him,” out of respect, but don’t want to pander).
I did watch a clip, afterward, of Bareilles doing Mary Mag’s big number: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and he speaks the truth. She has a lovely, lovely voice.
With that, I leave you with one amusing bit of bloggage, with a lesson for the ages: Don’t leave food by the open window of a fancy hotel, especially if there are seagulls in the area.
Wednesday lies ahead, in a week that already feels like…Thursday.