I think I’ve finally hit a milestone in my never ending quest to find the genesis of my musical inclinations – that is, why so I like the music that I like. This still doesn’t answer the “chicken or egg” question of if I was drawn to this music because of my chromosomes or if my personal tastes were formed by hours of listening so that years later when I heard music that was similar I found it comforting and likeable. I know that my love of movies, and particularly monster movies, is from trying to get close to my dad. My few memories of doing things with him as a child involved him taking us kids to the drive in or to see Star Wars or getting to stay up late and see twenty minutes of some scary movie he was watching on TV. But this here post isn’t about my failure to make the all-important identification transition to my father as a young child… it’s about MUSIC!
My connection with this un-named seminal album probably happened around age five or six. Before that there was Sesame Street albums and read-along “turn the page when you hear the ding” records but as best as I can recall this was my first foray into the music of grownups.
And what a foray! The album is the 1971 cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Before I get into the music itself I’d like to digress into a few comments on the lyrics. Back when I became a Christian nearly a quarter century ago I remember listening to the album again and having a few problems with it (mostly the “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle” bit) and the lack of the resurrection but overall thought it was benign. I now see how this album can be terribly damaging and misleading to someone who has no knowledge of the Gospels. The biggest issue is that Jesus is presented as a self-aggrandizing, whiney, lime-light seeking, doubter. Though I have no doubt that His heart was pounding in his chest as He prayed that dark night He ultimately laid down His will. Plus is doubting a sin? Well, it’s not trusting (faith) in our Father and I don’t think anyone would say that Jesus didn’t have faith. ‘Nuff said.
On to the music! First of all it is a large format piece with repeating themes, setting up my lifelong “tolerance” for music longer than three minutes. It also blends a full orchestra with a heavy rock band which maps easily to my current enjoyment of classical and hard rock plus my love of orchestral/symphonic rock. The music is also heavily dramatic which, though not a top requirement for my tastes, is something I enjoy in moderation. On top of all this is the fact that the music is exceedingly melodic, something which IS a requirement if an album is going to get much play into my eager ears.
Also of interesting note, and something I hadn’t noticed before, is that the music is quite adventurous and progressive. A number of songs venture outside of standard 4/4 time and/or jump stylistically all over the place from measure to measure, leaping from mischievous to spooky to energetic to enthusiastic. These days I’m a sucker for melodic heavy progressive rock with orchestral touches and rather enjoy it when a song screeches to a halt and takes off in an unexpected direction. Déjà vu.
The playful nature of JCS seems to almost have been ripped off of Prokofiev, a personal favorite. In some cases it seemed like the very arrangements were lifted from the cannon of Prokofiev. The piece named The Crucifixion is a very modern sound pastiche of very different parts playing simultaneously in the mode of Charles Ives, another favorite.
Having heard the album for the first time in two decades is quite enough. It’s time now to listen to vintage Sesame Street!