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Jesus H. Superstar

April 4, 2010

Although Jesus and I parted ways as philosophical teammates some time around the eighth grade, I was raised in a Catholic household, went to Catholic school, and until my late teens had almost uniformly Catholic friends. As one might imagine this has left an impression on my life: I still curse almost entirely in blasphemy, I’m still freaked out by Satan-themed horror movies, and I can recite the libretto to Jesus Christ Superstar by heart.

My favourite from that early 1970’s cloud of vaguely religious hippie musicals (see Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technocolor Dreamcoat for further examples), Jesus Christ Superstar is also the only musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber I can sit through without wanting to stab my ears out. My favourite version – and there are many – isn’t the 1973 film this clip was taken from, but rather the 1970 original cast recording with Murray Head and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple. Legend has it he was offered the role after Lloyd-Weber and Rice heard him singing/screaming Deep Purple’s “Child in Time.” I know Snarky will disagree with me, as she’s a Ted Neely Movie-Jesus fan.

Jesus Christ Superstar was removed from my Dad’s List of Prohibited Works sometime around 1974, when one of my older sisters nearly ruined a family trip to Detroit by buying the album at Sears. My Mother intervened, however, and crisis was averted.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 4, 2010 10:05 am

    the perfect Easter post! he is risen indeed. I have southern methodist christian roots crossed with atlanta folk lesbian heritage, so my favorite version of Jesus Christ Superstar is this version:

  2. April 4, 2010 10:43 am

    Ha. Ted Neely does cut a rather imposing disco Jesus!

  3. April 4, 2010 10:48 am

    Love this! JCS is my go-to shower score. The cast album was one of very few in my parents’ collection, along with the Burl Ives Christmas album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right! and some bossa nova thing with a silhouette of a naked dancer on the cover. It’s also where I was first introduced to the wonderfulness that is Yvonne Elliman.

  4. April 4, 2010 11:09 am

  5. alicia Wein permalink
    April 4, 2010 11:38 am

    I grew up with a more conservative, Vietnam vet Irish Catholic dad and a hippie, Catholic-raised mom. On Good Friday, from noon to three, we Observed the Silence in deference to Christ’s time on the cross, and we could either take Dad’s recommendation to stay in our room by ourselves, read, and/or say rosaries for three hours, OR we could watch Jesus Christ Superstar in the living room with Mom. Needless to say, my brother and I know this baybee inside and out, from choreography to the trajectory of frenetic-Judas-spittle.

    This stuff sticks. Friday I took an afternoon walk, and my mental soundtrack was “What’s the Buzz.”

  6. hsofia permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:11 pm

    Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those movies that, if I watched it, I think a lot of cultural references would make sense.

  7. April 4, 2010 12:47 pm

    oh, yvonne elliman… i feel like a major element of my understanding of the story of jesus comes from my crush on her getting me to watch JCSS over and over in childhood.
    which maybe means i don’t have a good understanding of the story at all. but, you know. i like the music.

  8. evmaroon permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:56 pm

    In my Catholic parish, I was proud to have performed in both Godspell and JCS. And I have to say, I know both forward and out, and like splinters popping out months later, I’ll just suddenly start hearing “Day By Day,” “Everything’s Alright,” or “O Bless the Lord.” That these get mixed up with songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl, well, whatever. Musicals live on forever in my strange brain.

  9. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 4, 2010 1:10 pm

    I was in Godspell too at my church too! And Fiddler on the Roof! (we did a musical every year, it was basically the community theater for the neighborhood/congregation) And Cotton Patch Gospel, but I don’t remember a damn song from that one, so it must not be very good as a musical, it has not the ability to crawl into the dark corners of our brain and release themselves decades later.

  10. evmaroon permalink
    April 4, 2010 1:47 pm

    I’ve never heard of Cotton Patch Gospel! Though I was in a musical in high school called Good News. And I can only remember the title song from that one.

  11. April 4, 2010 1:55 pm

    Jesus Christ Superstar is also the only musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber I can sit through without wanting to stab my ears out.

    My friends and I were obsessed with JCS for years in high school. I know the whole thing by heart, of course. Ted Neely with his fragile bone structure and his slight wall-eye and his nut-busting shrill rock-star vocalizing. In the ascension / “Superstar” number you can see the light shining through his tunic as he lifts his arms: JC was a tighty-whities man apparently . Everyone in the film was such a hot dancer and so fit you could bounce a silver shekel off their tight buns. I forgive Snarky for her disco reference as she probably was looking at the cut of the flare-leg trousers. It wasn’t disco, it was something dirtier (hygiene-wise) and more earnest and more Theatre and passionate and naive but still lovely.

    My friends and I used to stage productions of the show and perform them for whoever would watch (interested parties were hard to find). Then when we’d sing my normally shy girlfriend Amore would of course totally take over my Jesus or Judas role, literally stepping in front of me while sweeping me aside with her draped twin-size bedsheet. When I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman do the same Jesus/Judas scene-stealing in the film Along Came Polly I laughed a deep belly laugh.

    @alicia wein
    “my brother and I know this baybee inside and out, from choreography to the trajectory of frenetic-Judas-spittle.”

    Or like when Judas scrabbles around on the ground right before he offs himself, and he looks up and starts to sing, “I don’t know how to loo-oove him,” all fragile-like, and he has some kind of rock caught in his chest hair. Or when Judas is picking on Mary and Simon says, “Hey cool it, man”, one of the only spoken lines you hear in the film. Or how the man who gives Jesus the 39 lashes has big beaver-teeth and kind of whistle-breathes through them. Or just: Pilate. HA HA!

    And Yvonne Elliman. So beautiful, crooked teeth, not a smudge of makeup on her, and her hair was pretty greasy looking through the whole film (like most everyones) and she was The Most Beautiful Woman, Ever.

    Oh! And upon one viewing, my mom pointed out the actor playing the apostle Peter was a prolific porn star of the era. So there’s that.

    I still cry during “Gethsemene (I Only Want To Say)”.

    Perfect Easter post. Thanks.

  12. alicia Wein permalink
    April 4, 2010 2:26 pm

    Yes, yes, I know the chest hair pebble!

    And what?!?! Peter’s a porn star?! Your momma was more forthcoming than mine, who mentioned that he was “in other movies”, and I never pressed. I wonder know if she was bothered that I thought he was cute…though not as hot as Judas.

    My mom and I STILL call it the “Mary Magdelene Sheen” when we’re looking a little greezy, but still holding it together at day’s end.

    And I love knowing that there’s at least one guy on Baltimore SWAT (my bro) who could respond to a hostage situation with an in-character, “Hey, cool it, man”.

    This post was my central religious observance of the day, more fulfilling than explaining to my athiest boyfriend that at no point during the Easter observances is it claimed that Jesus turns into a Bunny.

  13. April 4, 2010 2:36 pm

    It is the holy grail of pop culture references.

  14. April 4, 2010 2:38 pm

    Jesus Christ Superstar is also the only musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber I can sit through without wanting to stab my ears out


    B-b-but what about CHESS.

    Of course, Bennie from ABBA had a hand in this.

  15. April 4, 2010 2:55 pm

    I haven’t seen Chess. “One Night In Bangkok” is awesome and has stood the test of time. As for the video: indelible in my mind is the image of dancers wearing oversized blazers with huge shoulder pads and no pants. An awkward look.

  16. April 4, 2010 3:24 pm

    It’s really hard to do much fashion good wearing only a blazer.

  17. April 4, 2010 4:02 pm

    And I love knowing that there’s at least one guy on Baltimore SWAT (my bro) who could respond to a hostage situation with an in-character, “Hey, cool it, man”.

    This totally cracked me up. QRT FTW.

  18. April 4, 2010 4:04 pm

    That reminds me of the garbage bag wearing Guerrilla thespians at my hippie college.

  19. April 4, 2010 4:04 pm

    She’s so great. She also used to sing back up with Eric Clapton!

  20. April 4, 2010 5:36 pm

    I used to DREAM of the opportunity to play bass (I’m/was a bass player) in a JCS musical in high school. We did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat one year, but it was SO not the same thing.

    Recently I picked up a guitar and played the riff from the intro to “Heaven on Their Minds” and the person I was with asked if it was Tool.


  21. April 4, 2010 5:37 pm

    I always forget about Chess! I think it is a separate category, having been cowrote by ABBA. And, hey, it’s good to see Murray Head got some more work.

  22. April 4, 2010 5:40 pm

    I still have a hard time not singing “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happenin'” to people when I want to know what our plans are. The few times I have they didn’t get it. I keep hoping some day someone will respond “Why should you want to know? Don’t you mind about the future, don’t you try to think ahead…”

  23. April 4, 2010 5:41 pm

    Not only would I sing that back to you, I would whip around while I did it so my hair went in my face, and I’d REALLY belt it out!

  24. April 4, 2010 6:52 pm

    This is going to be stuck in my head now.

    Chess is rad. I have like, 3 different recordings of it AND I saw a live production of it.

    No one compares with Murray though.

  25. alicia Wein permalink
    April 4, 2010 7:21 pm


  26. April 4, 2010 7:22 pm

    would you rock a toga?

  27. April 4, 2010 7:23 pm

    Bennie/Cartoon Lumberjack Professor…


  28. April 4, 2010 10:58 pm

    A tambourine sounds in order.

  29. April 4, 2010 11:02 pm

    This reminds me of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. In fact I thought that was what you were talking about until I remembered that Jesus didn’t wear a coat.

  30. April 4, 2010 11:03 pm

    But he has sandals just like yours! Jerusalem Cruisers!

  31. April 4, 2010 11:17 pm

    I have several pairs of Jerusalem Cruisers in varying colors and styles. I need a Dreamcoat.

  32. April 4, 2010 11:17 pm

    I have several pairs of Jerusalem Cruisers in varying colors and styles. I need a Dreamcoat.

  33. April 4, 2010 11:34 pm

    @ Tasha – yeah they keep your feets nice and cool. Something to consider when you’re wearing a coat.

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