Well, yesterday was Palm Sunday, so that means it’s time to listen to “Jesus Christ Superstar” over and over, at least for a week.
Last year — or was it the year before — I finally broke down and bought the album (the original cast album of course) from iTunes. This was good because, since I no longer have a working turntable for my vinyl (I have one that connects to my computer so I can make MP3s, but no way to play straight to a speaker), and listening to my “Jesus Christ Superstar” station on Pandora meant listening to extraneous stuff as well.
So Saturday, I was working in the yard, listening to it on my iPhone, and trying to remember not to starting dancing about to the livelier parts of “This Jesus Must Die” — an appalling notion that I hesitate even to write, but the song is infectious.
“Superstar” has loomed large in my legend since the original album was out, and it has always dwelt in this confusing area where the sacred and the profane intersect. I first listened to it in a beach house at Barber’s Point in Hawaii in the spring of 1971. Or rather, I sat watching Mary Riley as she lay on her back on the floor with her head between the stereo speakers and her eyes closed, listening to it. She was transported; I was transported. All sorts of things were mixed together in the moment.
“Superstar” portrayed Jesus and his followers as a sort of itinerant hippie commune that really knew how to rock. And that made a certain sense to me. We were about long hair and faded jeans and other expressions of naturalness. (Later, I would have trouble with my kids wanting to dye their hair unnatural colors and cut it in strange ways, in part because it just seemed uncool to me.)
There was this small poster I saw one time in the early ’70s up on the top floor of the Gay Dolphin in Myrtle Beach that seemed to capture well this intersection between Jesus and the counterculture. It showed a smiling Jesus, depicted in the traditional Sunday school kind of way, with a caption that went something like, “You guys can wear your hair as long as you like. Tell them I said so.”
My hair wasn’t all that long when I acted and sang in a community production of “Superstar” in the early 80s, although it was still a good bit longer than now. And I grew out a nice, full beard for the occasion. I was an apostle. It was my first play, and the director didn’t have the confidence to put me in a larger role. But I enjoyed singing “What’s the Buzz?” and “Look at all my trials and tribulations” and so forth. If I were ever to audition for such a production again, I’d go out for Pilate. The songs are within my range, and it’s a meaty role.
Now, as a lector and Eucharistic minister in my church, the liturgy reminds me of the rock opera, and the rock opera of the liturgy. And I manage to reconcile Holy Week and Jesus Christ Superstar Week occurring at the same time every year, like Passover.
Below is a snippet from the procession with palms at Mass yesterday at my church. It’s not “Hosanna, Hey sanna,” but I like it. One of the many singable tunes our Spanish choir does at the noon Masses.