Last August, the world was a different place.
Moving through day-to-day activities, writing product reviews to help consumers make intelligent choices, trying to be as humorous as possible to promote my writing. Other than my usual work and family duties, that was as much as I was concerned with at the time.
As of September 11, 2001, my world – our world – became a very different place.
We have so many things on our mind. People are looking for hope. People are looking for vindication. People are looking for answers.
Jesus Christ Superstar CD. Now, that’s a thought.
At a time when many Americans are reaffirming their religious beliefs and patriotism is receiving a much needed shot in the arm, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interpretation of the last days of Christ, may be music that is appropriate for some.
JCS is a rock opera that portrays Jesus, his disciples, Mary Magdalene, and other historical figures as common folk with an uncommon mission. The story is simple and familiar to those of the Christian faith. Rice and Lloyd Webber take artistic liberty with character development, but the theme of Christ’s message of hope for a doomed humanity is still strong. Supreme Good versus Evil is a topic that is not approached lightly by the music and lyrics of Superstar, and is fitting for the issues that are facing Americans and the world today.
The story takes place the week before the Crucifixion.
Heaven on Their Minds opens JCS with Judas Iscariot’s (Murray Head) soliloquy on what is wrong with Jesus’ movement. We’re taking ourselves far too seriously, he says, and the Romans will not like it. The tightly written, intense guitar that accompanies Judas only serves to solidify the tension and stress that Judas is feeling. Judas wants Christ to listen to him.he’s never done him wrong before, after all, and he’s frightened by the direction that he sees Jesus’ message going.
My personal least favorite track is up next. The disciples (who appear to be a bunch of dope-smoking, whiney, wanna-be’s) sing the ghastly What’s the Buzz. Perhaps the song was hip in 1970, when Rice and Lloyd Webber first wrote JCS, but today, the lyrics are seriously dated and laughable, the music draggy and dull. The “next track” button on my CD player always gets punched as soon as What’s the Buzz starts up. Jesus (Ian Gillan of Deep Purple) is introduced; he cements the picture of incompetent disciples but telling them they are better off not know what the future holds.
Yvonne Elliman, who portrayed Mary Magdalene on a number of JCS tours and recordings, delivers the soft-pop-rock Everything’s Alright and I Don’t Know How to Love Him adequately. I’m not a huge fan of Elliman’s Mary; she has to work too hard at sustaining a single note, and doesn’t display emotion well through her voice. Rice and Lloyd Webber created only a minor role for Mary in the musical however, so her contributions are tolerable.
Introduction of the antagonists; Caiaphas (excellently portrayed by the fabulous bass of Victor Brox) and his priests debate what to do about Jesus, who is posing a perceived threat. Christ’s very presence, and his believers must be dealt with, and the resulting decision is This Jesus Must Die.
The crowd-induced Simon Zealotes invokes images of rock superstars who stand tall before their adoring fans. Transitioning to Jesus’ simple Poor Jerusalem solidifies the vision of Christ standing alone in his mission; the others are along for support, but in the end, he will be going solo.
Pontius Pilate (Barry Dennen) is the real adversary here; and he enters the picture with a flowing, mystical tune that describes Pilate’s Dream wherein he meets and is blamed for the death of a man, whom thousands of millions love.
An interesting production mix occurs during The Temple, when vendors are selling their wares in the Temple. Listen carefully, and you will hear the sounds familiar to open air markets: Birds, dogs barking, people talking back and forth. Use your imagination with the sounds to picture the scene clearly. Jesus clears the area with a scream; his absolute fury at the moneylenders and merchants in the house of his Father is apparent from the first tones uttered from his lips.
Danger lurks in the background as Judas plots and debates with himself in Damned For All Time. The track begs the listener to do the Twist while listening to it. Listening to Caiaphas and Annas convince him that he’s doing the right thing for his country, he finally decides to give them what they need: Information on where and when to safely arrest Jesus. In two haunting lines, Judas seals his fate.
On Thursday night, you’ll find him where you want him.
Far from the crowds, in the garden of Gethsemane.
An ever-present background choir praises: Well done Judas..good old Judas.
The disciples continue to appear incompetent in the mellow and flowing Last Supper. The silly sods seem to be more interested in drinking, eating, and the distinction of “being an apostle” than the true task that is before them. Jesus must pull them back to reality, saying “This is my blood you drink, this is my body you eat…will you
remember me when you eat and drink?” Happier and lighter times are moved to the background as the players begin to realize that like war, this discipleship is not all fun and games.
A back and forth banter between Christ and Judas ends with Judas storming off to do what he must.Head and Gillan successfully portray two men who now have nothing but contempt for each other. The apostles wander off at the end of the song, still singing away, and while Jesus asks if one will stay the night with him, they abandon him.
Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) packs a wallop of emotion. Jesus (Ian Gillan) pours out his soul with the all-too-human, but seldom considered aspect of Christ; doubting His Father and the plan that has been set before
Him. The final message, “Kill me, take me now…before I change my mind” and the haunting notes that follow Gillan’s passionate, wrenching rendition send chills down my spine.
Following The Arrest and Peter’s Denial, we again meet up with Pilate, who decides Christ needs to be seen by King Herod, not by him.
Herod’s (Mike d’Abo) solo (King Herod’s Song) is a rinky-tink, carnival-sounding track that is comic relief in a tense moment. Picture Herod, at first in great awe of Jesus. Then as Jesus refuses to perform miracles for him, Herod spits ridiculously “Get out, you King of the Jews. Get out of my life!”
Difficult to listen to, but highly volatile and meaningful, is the Trial Before Pilate (Including the Thirty-Nine
Lashes) . Following a short trial in which Pilate gives Jesus every opportunity of an out, the listener is forced to suffer through the realistic sounds of whips lashing Jesus’ back while counting out the number to a tempo and pulsating guitar track reminiscent of Heaven on My Mind.
The title track, Superstar follows, with the voice of Judas leading the verse. A mixed choir sings the highly recognizable chorus (Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, who are you, what have you sacrificed?) The ending is rock and roll all the way, with Judas backed up by the choir as he improvises a final verse. Fade out to.
The Crucifixion, which focuses on Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Sounds of mocking laughter and hammering (other victims of crucifixion) linger in the background. As with the Thirty-Nine Lashes, this track is extremely difficult, but important to listen to.
Following Christ’s final words It is finished. Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit, John Nineteen Forty-One is listed as the next track. The actual Biblical verse is Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid.
The musical track of John 19:41 follows the apparent despair of The Crucifixion. John 19:41 is a track filled with hope, sweetness, and serenity in the form of an instrumental reprise of Gethsemane. While there is no Easter in JCS, no rise from the dead in the music, the reprise does serve to give finality with a sense of beauty in the well-blending of melody and harmony.
Orchestration fills the air with faith, and after the stark desolation of only Gillan’s voice intermingled with the background sounds of The Crucifixion, it is welcomed like cool water on a parched throat.
The music for JCS was written and performed in 70’s and holds a certain “retro” feel. Despite the 30-odd years since the release of this CD, there are tracks that hold their merit…others, like What’s the Buzz, are too deeply immersed in the hippie-pop-culture of the late sixties and early seventies to have much appeal today.
The United States, and the world in general, needs hope. What better hope for all of us than the story, told in music, of Jesus…and His sacrifice to give us eternal hope.
I hope for truth.
I hope for justice.
I hope for the world to be a place that gives my children safety and peace.
While others may say that JCS was written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber selfishly, only for profit, I can see another side to the commercialism.
I see a message of hope, when all hope seemed lost. And that to me, is the greatest message of all to share.