Monday, 25 March 2013

Jesus Christ '70s Superstar

My upbringing was secular, just as my life is now; we didn’t have a bible in the house and nobody went to church.  That isn’t to say that God was never mentioned, his name did come up occasionally as a useful way to explain those incidents that are difficult for very young children to understand.  For instance, when it thundered my mum would say, “God is moving his furniture around” and I was happy with that rationalisation.  (I think I've mentioned that before here... sorry!)  Also, because we were taught about Christianity at primary school my young and open mind was quite content to accept that there was some higher being in charge of all the important things like growing trees and making clouds.  He even answered my prayer once after I’d joined the Brownies.  I was just settling into my team, the Imps, when Brown Owl said there were going to be some changes and I would have to move to another team, the Elves.  I really didn’t want to be an Elf (the little Imp on the sew-on patch was perky looking and yellow - far preferable to that dull blue Elf) so I did something I’d never done before: I prayed for help.  I prayed really hard and I may even have knelt by my bed like the people I’d seen in cosy picture books.  The following week Brown Owl said that I could stay an Imp after all.  I put it all down to God and thanked him profusely that night for making time for me in his busy schedule.

Whatever your religious bent may be (and you know I accept / respect you whichever way!) I hope you’ll understand why it seemed to me that the early ‘70s were a good time for Jesus.  Being into Jesus was almost akin to being into some kind of musical cult as far as I could tell.  Long hair, sandals, singing, wearing big crucifixes, talking about love and peace… it all stacked up.  Religion seemed quite trendy for a while.  My sister got in (very briefly) with a crowd of Baptist hippies and there was some churchy youth club place where they hung out to play music, tap tom-toms and get off with each other.  It was a happy place and it appeared kinda cool.

And then there was Jesus Christ, Superstar.  The album, in all its yellow, (deep) purple and red laminated cover gatefold glory, was in the family record collection, alongside Holst’s Planet Suite, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and some Erik Satie.  That was how classy it seemed.  It had Ian Gillan* on it, whom my sister fancied; I remember the lovely picture of him on the inside, he was just as I liked to imagine the Jesus they talked about at school.  And there was a sweet photo of Yvonne Elliman, who I wanted to look like.  I recall overhearing a conversation between my sister and my mum about her character, Mary Magdalene.  “Apparently she was a prostitute…” my mum had said.  It sounded a very important, serious, grown-up word and I really couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t explain to me what it meant when I asked.

I played that album a lot and then one day it was decided that we’d go and see the live show of it in London for my sister’s birthday treat.  We had a meal in the city too, at a Berni Inn if I remember rightly (everything was dark brown).  I had an omelette and a banana split.  I’d never had a banana split before and I loved it.  Then we went off to the theatre and watched the performance, which I thought was great although it didn’t have Ian Gillan or Yvonne Elliman in it.  But whoever the stars were that night, they were attractive, long-haired and cool.  Just like those hippies I’d occasionally see around my home-town in their cheesecloth shirts and maxi skirts.

I was reminded of the show some years ago when I was working in a large office and one of my colleagues started telling me about the time she went to see it.  She’d got hold of some tickets through work and when she settled herself in to her seat she realised she recognised the man next to her.  She was racking her brains to think why she knew him and then it dawned on her, of course – he must have bought a ticket through work too, that’s where she knew him from.  During the interval she smiled and introduced herself, “I know you, don’t I?” she asked, “You work at C.R.!”  The man looked a bit puzzled, then laughed.  “No – but you might recognise me anyway,” he replied.  “I’m Paul Nicholas”…

I don’t think it was Paul Nicholas in the ‘70s production that I went to, but I enjoyed it immensely at the time and then when I saw the posters for ‘Hair’ I was really into the idea of going along to see that too, especially if I could have another banana split in a Berni Inn as part of the deal.  I never did understand why I wasn’t allowed to go, at least not until I was a bit older and after I’d learned a few other things too (like the meaning of the word ‘prostitute’).

Now, I don’t have a religious bone in my body, I can’t stand Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I couldn’t listen to it now for any other reason than for a brief blast of nostalgia, but I still have a fond memory of playing that double album all the way through as a kid and thinking that at least that hippie Jesus guy seemed to be a very nice man.  He couldn’t half sing well on ‘Child In Time’ too.


* I didn’t realise at the time that other contributors to this album included Mike D’Abo, Chris Spedding, Murray Head and Lesley Duncan….

21 comments:

  1. Tee hee, our respective childhoods gave us such a different slant on religion! I think I would have preferred your rose-tinted stage musical experience to having my young ears accosted by a singing monk at a tender age. I was a born atheist I guess but the nuns and monks who attended the Holy Shrine in my little home town always smelt of damp wool and wore long robes and were generally very dull and worthy... it also introduced be to the fact that if you aren't careful both sexes can sport facial hair... so.... NOT cool! ;o)

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    1. Very different! And to this day I think the only monks I've ever seen were the ones on 'All Gas and Gaiters' if you remember that?! (I liked Derek Nimmo.)

      I could smell that odour of damp wool as soon as I read that, and visualised the whiskery chins - so maybe not so far off from hippies as one might think ;-)

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  2. I remember hearing that album for the first time. It was almost sacrilege in our Roman Catholic household, but my mom was cool with it. She was a bit of a rebel. She even let us watch the movie when it came on TV.

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    1. I hadn't realised until reading up on it how controversial that album was to some religious folks, especially Catholics. Your mom must have been unusual in that respect, good for her!

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  3. Fine evocation of time when it really did seem mildly cool to be into Jesus, C. As for the album, it has always been one of my better half's favourites, even though she isn't religious at all. She loves Gillan's voice on it but I think she had no idea he was in Deep Purple until I pointed it out. That album had quite a host of talents on it, didn't it?

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    1. Thanks - indeed, and yes, I liked his voice there too and as my sister had Deep Purple In Rock around the same time (Gillan must have been a busy man!)the two seemed forever linked!

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  4. I love Jesus...you know this but, I hate hippies.

    I'm a terrible Christian.

    That Vaselines song is really heavy...and expresses a level of anger and hopelessness that's appropriate to the issue..from a certain point of view. They were good about that stuff.

    Get a haircut and take a bath hippies.

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    1. Ha ha, I'm not keen on hippies either, especially the self-righteous, and yet inevitably hypocritical and flakey ones that I've come across in recent years. However I loved them (from a safe distance) when I was a kid and they seemed terribly free and wild - my sister's scene was more freaks than hippies and I envied them being the age they were and for being so unconventional at that time. But punk HAD to happen and I'm very glad it did when I was at the right age to embrace it. I gotta be rock'n'roll! Plus I couldn't be doing with long hair these days...

      I find that song and Kurt's rendition there pretty moving, and weirdly I really love the accordion!

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  5. Yes ... I had a bout of religion in the 70s. Actually there wasn't much to do around our way and the local Evangelical church had plenty of activities - going swimming, table tennis, trips out etc. and it was a good way for a boy like me who went to an all boys school to meet girls - some of whom were occasionally willing to help locate the lost table tennis bats in the store cupboard! ;-) I'll go to hell for that surely...

    My sister really got into it - she was the leader/treasurer of one of the groups - she still is which is all ok.

    Me I drifted off annoyed at the repeated hypocrisy I seemed to see there. I tried a more conventional CofE church for a while in the mid 80s but same issues again for me and drifted off...

    JSC - now there is a great musical. By far the best thing Webber and Rice ever wrote. I had the privilege of playing guitar for a school production once in 80/81. It was a really stellar production for a school one, with some paid musicians and I was second guitar but learnt a huge amount not least of which was playing in 5/4 etc. in a large band setting.

    I still have the DVD of the cinema release and bring it out often at Easter time... seems right about now! My daughter loves it too

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  6. Interesting that you 'dabbled' a little in the '70s particularly, maybe it was our ages or just that whole feeling of it being less fuddy-duddy at that time? I tried it too, very briefly, around the age of 11/12 I think it was, just for the experience of joining a club really, but I never could bring myself to believe anything I was told and soon left! At least we can say that we made 'informed' decisions?! (I stuck to the Puffin Club, much more up my street at that time... and then I got into boys and music and everything changed, and now, on the v rare occasion I have to go to a wedding or somesuch I have an almost allergic reaction to church services, very strange...)

    I can imagine JCS being very hard to play, and to learn. Congrats!


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  7. C I'm not sure about your credentials as Christian but I do have a suspicion that you have been trying to 'out' your self as a hippy for some time now. Do you have something to share with us?

    Perhaps the spiky hair, leather jacket and eyeliner was a subversion of your true leanings.Go on you can tell us. :)


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    1. Oh man, me a hippy?- that's, like, too far out...
      It's my reference to a Hawkwind lyric a while back that did it, isn't it?!
      But nah, I'm a Cockney-born ex-punkette (albeit a bit middle-class and with arty-farty leanings!)and I take a shower every day, honest..

      But I like your theory! And what about you?!

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    2. I seemed to fall between the red lines of a number of yoof cultures. I aspired to and achieved hair down to my shoulders. I liked lots of the late 60s and 70s music ( no prog rock pleeese) but really only became aware of it in my mid teens. Until then I liked and disliked the top 40 and popular lps (but certainly not FCSS). I liked lots of the popular punk stuff and the bands that followed.Punk was very suburban which put me off a little. Reggae was a happening thing in the beach side towns on the North coast of Cornwall. I thought British yoof culture hit a bit of a high with the two tone thing.On t'other hand I liked a lot of the Laurel Canyon West Coast stuff too.

      When all is said and done it is hard to argue against love and peace. I'm not sure that answers your question.

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    3. Thanks, it's nice, and interesting, to hear about your background too and your varied tastes over time, especially as you're from the other end of the country to me, I think there were probably some regional differences!

      I think life is all about being fluid and that includes the music you like and it doesn't make something I once liked invalid just 'cause I don't now. Whilst I liked JCSS when I was pre-teen, I wouldn't now, but I like remembering the feeling it gave me then as it's the same feeling I might have now on any given day listening to anything from Nouvelle Vague to heavy dub!

      Also I do think it's so much easier being older now too as I don't have those silly boundaries to 'worry' about which seemed disproportionately important as a teenager... At least there are some advantages to the ageing process :-)

      (I'm all for love and peace too, but I think you knew that didn't you?! And I'm far too sensitive for the harsh world we exist in half the time, but I deal with it any way I can!)

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    4. I'm sorry there is no need to explain or rationalise a liking for JCSS especially to someone who thought the Slade, Sweet and the Wombles were tip top.

      Similarly to you I like the the lack of boundaries now. As I have long since not known or cared what or who is 'in' I am constantly delighted when I discover something new that I like.

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    5. Don't worry, I hadn't meant my reply to sound defensive! - but I realise now that it did, aargh.

      Ah, the Wombles! :-) I'm assuming we must be of similar vintage, and so it would be simply unthinkable for us NOT to have liked the Wombles...

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  8. I like everyboy else from these times saw JCSS and Hair and the music from both was great in parts. Would I listen the soundtrack of JCSS now?....well, only for a banana split!

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    1. Let's just have a banana split anyway (with chocolate sauce) and forget about the album!

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  9. I could never be a hippy. All that patchouli and introspection - and those mud coloured clothes! Plus I'm far too uptight about, like, hygiene. And I escaped from religion as early as I could, provoking rows with the visiting Catholic priests who lurked around my convent school about the validity of Confession (the 'sacrament', not The Sweeney variety), and shrinking from the nuns, with their tripe-like complexions and yeasty body smells.

    But of course like every bubbling female adolescent of the late 1970s, I had some very unspiritual feelings about Robert Powell when he was the green-eyed Jesus of Nazareth. And though I scorned JCS as 'stupid hippy nonsense', I was very surprised when one of our nuns devoted an entire RE lesson to it, and praised it's " true spirit of the Gospels" rather highly. It was probably the most outré moment of her teaching career.

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    1. Indeed, there's nothing chic about a hippy...

      I'm glad I never had to escape religion! It just wasn't there in the first place. So the JCS album never really seemed religious, instead just a story set to music really, like 'Tommy'!

      I can't imagine what it must've been like to have schooldays dominated by the presence of nuns (they were something of an alien species to me!) And what is it about these smells? 'Damp wool' as in Yve's comment, plus 'yeasty' in yours... I'm feeling decidedly nauseous...



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  10. Are birds free from the chains of the sky - Ballad in Plain D

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