At the tail end of sixth grade at St Mary's Catholic School, Father Schwartz walked into Friday's religion class carrying a record album in a brown matte cover. He was very excited and immediately launched into an enthusiastic explanation about why he wanted us to hear this music. As he placed the album on a turntable, Fr Schwartz explained that a way of asking people what was going on was to ask them, "What's the buzz?". We all looked at each other, more than a little confused. He dropped the needle on Side A of album One. I first heard the music from the Original Cast Recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. I was electrified.
As soon as I got home, I went directly to the only real stereo record player in the house, put on the headphones, turned the volume up, and spent the next hour and a half listening to those records. I played to the rock opera at least six times before recording it onto cassette before returning the records to Fr Schwartz on Monday. After I returned the album, the only downside was that I no longer had a copy of the libretto to read along with while listening to the music. Later that week, I finally convinced my dad to take me to a music store to buy the sheet music and libretto. The only explanation I ever gave him was that it was an opera, and it was religious. I guess that was good enough.
I find it difficult to watch the movie without feeling deep emotion. The emotion is not only because of the film's spiritual nature but also because of when I was introduced to it. Those years are when a person defines a lot of who they become as an adult. Aside from divine guidance, the movie provided me with an escape anytime I found the real-world overwhelming. The music and words were constant no matter what challenge or question I was facing.
As I have aged and the movie has not, I find myself noticing different nuances every time I see the film. Roman guards continually seem to be present and threatening in every scene, just inside the frame. When all Apostles are seated for the Last Supper, the brief freeze of position is an homage to da Vinci's painting. During my last viewing, I noticed the other Apostles' effort to try and keep Judas within their fold as he pulled away and eventually betrayed Christ.
Recently, John Legend leading a new cast of actors, presented JCS as a live performance on TV. I still haven't seen it, so I can't speak to it, but I'm glad that it was redone for a new generation of viewers. The story is timeless. The music is still good. The rock opera provides unique access to the greatest story ever told the folks who might not have otherwise been aware of it.
If you are not familiar with the music or have not seen the movie or a performance, I would heartily recommend it. It is perfect for the Easter season. Father Schwartz: Thank you for turning me on to Jesus Christ Superstar!