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Sing Along With Jesus

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This week I finally got to listen to Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection … and it shook me up in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible.

First of all, like a lot of folks my age, I was exposed to the original JCS as a youngster. My mother owned a copy of the LP and played it quite a lot. (We had one of those record players set up to play multiple platters. They were pretty brutal to the vinyl, but they were so cool nobody cared.)

I have no idea how many times I heard that album between the ages of 4 and 8, and there’s no way of gauging it. Frankly, my memory was alot more absorbent in those days, and almost every word of the show ended up tucked away deep in a brainfold.

The weird thing about this is that I had no knowledge of the rock history that led up to JCS. I had never heard of Deep Purple, so it didn’t mean anything to me that the role of Jesus was sung by their lead singer, Ian Gillan. (For what it’s worth, I doubt my mother had heard of Deep Purple either.) I liked the album, but didn’t really register what it was about. I assumed it was … well … Christian.

And it’s not. Not particularly. It’s about Christ, but it’s alot more about Judas and Mary and the political crisis Christ stirred up in Jerusalem. It’s cynical and humanist and dark, dark, dark. It had been 20 or 25 years since I had heard the darn thing, and it got mixed up in my head with my general distaste for Lloyd Webber’s bigger shows (Cats, anyone?) and Godspell. But hearing the “Resurrection” version sent me running back to the original. Not because the new version sucks or anything. It just finally sank in for me how HARD that old record rocks! And I don’t mean “rocks pretty good for Broadway.” I mean it ROCKS! It’s edgy, adventurous and soulful. And OPERATIC, as in “Rock Opera”. The characters explore and expose their emotional states in ways you’ll never read in the King James Edition. The music repeats several memorable themes as leitmotif in different settings sung by different characters … it just ROCKS REAL HARD, mmmkay?

Jesus Christ Superstar: a Resurrection was masterminded by the Indigo Girls in 1994. They’re about my age, but probably had a better understanding of JCS than I did when it first came out. Whether they did or not, they kept listening to it and eventually got together with a bunch of Georgia musicians to “update” the classic. It’s a mixed bag, but parts of it are just brilliant. (Actually, I could say the same thing about the original!)

Amy Ray sings the role of Jesus, Emily Saliers plays Mary Magdalene. Those are the only nationally-known “names” on the project, as far as I can tell, but the rest of the cast works for me. Michael Lorant’s Judas can’t compare to Murray Head’s, but he makes the part his own and uses his more limited vocal range very effectively. The most important difference in Resurrection isn’t who sings what (although there’s a lot of controversy over Amy singing Jesus, surprise, surprise). You can get different singers by listening to different cast recordings. The instrumentation in Resurrection has been completely revised and “updated” to a more 90’s, alternative-grungy-acoustic feel.

I don’t think Resurrection stands alone very well, but it probably wasn’t intended to. It’s a companion piece to the original … a tribute by a group of influenced musicians. I doubt any of them thought their version was “better” than the original. It’s more like a remix. How very postmodern. The end result is that I now have far greater appreciation of the original and I want both these CDs in my collection. Everybody wins, right?

P.S. Apparently there is a film document of the Resurrection show production, but to find out what the format is or how to order it, you have to get the entire Daemon Records catalog sent to you by snail mail. Not the best marketing strategy around.

This post originally appeared at soundacious.com

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  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks John! I loved the original as a kid and didn’t know anything about the resurrection – I mean this one.

  • I picked up the vinyl lp at a garage sale for $1 the other day! My all time favorite musical.