Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar

What is it about this soundtrack? Well, I guess technically, it's not a soundtrack. It's a concept album, albeit one always intended to become a musical. And by the way, the original recordings are the best, by far. If you don't own the album and are looking to buy it, steer clear of any recordings aside from the original, featuring Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman, Ian Gillian, and Michael d'Abo.

Anyway, as I was saying, why does this resonate with me so well? Granted, the music is great, the lyrics are great, the musicians are great, but there's something else. The themes of the story, the actual content of the lyrics, they strike a chord with me. I've spent some time pondering this and the conclusion that I've finally come to is twofold:

1) I listened to this music incessantly when I was in grad school and I think it reminds me of things I was studying, ideas I was formulating, and the like.

2) More importantly, I think the story is far more political than the traditional story and I think it's probably a lot more reflective of reality, of Jesus' reality. Is that blasphemous? I hope not.

Webber presents Jesus as a true revolutionary, ultimately creating a movement that threatens all of the powers that be. And the revolutionary character of the movement is firmly Machiavellian in orientation. There's no true promise to raise all up to the same level. As Jesus says to Judas, "there will be poor always, do you think we have the resources to save the poor from their lot?" Judas, for his part, is soured on the movement as he begins to realize that he's over-idealized Jesus and what can be accomplished.

What will be accomplished? That's the beautiful part. It's never spelled out in Webber's work, so we tend to accept the traditional storyline. But listen to it again, listen to the words carefully. From Poor Jerusalem:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand, Nor the Romans, nor the Jews, Nor Judas, nor the twelve Nor the priests, nor the scribes, Nor doomed Jerusalem itself, Understand what power is, Understand what glory is, Understand at all, Understand at all.
From This Jesus Must Die:
I see bad things arising. The crowd crown him king; which the Romans would ban. I see blood and destruction, Our elimination because of one man. Blood and destruction because of one man.
Of course, Jesus isn't working to become king. That's obvious. So what is he after? Freedom, maybe?

And Jesus knows that martyrdom is ultimately the only avenue available for him, if he hopes to change. society. But he knows it as a man, he has his doubts, he's less-than-certain of the outcome. But ultimately, he thinks it's worth it (from Gethsemane):
God, thy will is hard, But you hold every card. I will drink your cup of poison. Nail me to your cross and break me, Bleed me, beat me, Kill me. Take me, now! Before I change my mind.
Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776: "I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service."

Cheers, all.


  1. You forgot my favourite, the hymn of Christians everywhere: "I don't know how to love him, what to do, how to move him..."

  2. See, that part--which I really like--seems like it's about Mary trying to reconcile her romantic love for Jesus with her non-romantic love for what he stands for.