Sunday, March 23, 2008

Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice, from JC Superstar)

Happy Easter:

Despite the fact that only about 5 people ever read this blog, I debated with myself for nearly an hour about what song from my catalog to pick for today's post. It's Easter. So, being the child of the 70s that I am, I vacillated between something from Jesus Christ Superstar and something from Godspell. I know both make some people cringe. Why couldn't I just pick some Jesus song? Well, that felt a little too straightforward for my liking.

This internal debate causes me to go back and refresh my memory about the two "God-themed musicals." Jesus Christ Superstar came first, in 1970, but Godspell followed just about a year later. Both of these musical-plays-turned-movies were written by super-famous folks. Superstar by the amazing Andrew Lloyd Webber who, of course, is also responsible for such small hits as Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera. And Godspell was written by Stephen Schwartz, whose accomplishments other than Godspell include little shows like Pippin, Pocahontas, Wicked, and Enchanted.

Godspell was like Marcel Marceau meets Haight Ashbury, but most of the songs were pretty straight-up "God is love" kinda fare. At Catholic masses all over the place, including the hippie mass my mom took me to at St. Clare's, people were singing "Day by Day." The more radical services included the opening piece, which was a little more raucous - "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord." Like all good hippie mass songs, that one involved guitars and a tambourine. It was all pretty tame.

JC Superstar was far edgier, much harder rock and roll, and the songs didn't really lend themselves to the mass thing. And there was the issue of what might be perceived as some controversial depictions of Jesus' posse: Could Mary Magdalene be a whore andpossibly be a love interest for Jesus? This was underscored (pun intended) by the song I Don't Know How to Love Him, which was sung by the lovely Yvonne Elliman in the movie version (Her other claim to fame was singing background on Eric Clapton's version of I Shot the Sheriff). And then there was the big controversy in my mind as I got older: Why was Judas portrayed by a black man?!?! Well, probably everybody back then was more black than what we think of as "white" now. But casting Jesus as a waif-like white dude and Judas, the traitor, as a black man, struck me as aggressive.

Enough. I chose Superstar. It's the finale, it's the resurrection. That's what Easter is. But it's also two other things. One, the lyrics are a reminder of the questions that continue about Jesus in many peoples' minds. Second, it's an amazingly entertaining period piece - check out those outfits!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coconut Dog/Morning Dew (Traditional/Solas)

SLAINTE! Watch/listen to these talented musicians:

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of us (even those of you without a drop of Irish blood). While I am only 1/4 Irish, I definitely feel a connection to my Irish many different ways. One of them is music. I even own a bodhran.

I have been a fan of Celtic/Irish music for many years. First exposed to it, like most "Americans," through The Chieftains. A trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1992, hanging out with the local bands in small venues, sealed the deal. But when I started listening to it for real was after hearing a series of interesting performers at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. TBF is NOT just a place for hillbilly music - it's an amazing platform for any music that has some sort of "roots" base. And the range of performers within the broad rubric of Celtic is a good indication of the diversity of music heard in the beautiful box canyon every summer solstice: Natalie MacMaster, Wolfstone, Chieftains, Ashley McIsaac, Maura O'Connell, Great Big Sea. I first heard Solas at Bluegrass too - in 1997. They are an amazing group of musicians, combining innovation and 21st century approaches while respecting the beauty of the original music.

On St. Paddy's Day it's way better to listen to stuff like this than drink that horrible green beer.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Well Alright (Buddy Holly, et al done by Clapton/Winwood 2/28/08)


Last week Debbie and I went to NYC for about 48 hours. Why so short? Because she had been traveling for almost two weeks for work. Why, at all? To use the Xmas tickets I gave her to see the show of a lifetime (ok, the lifetime of someone over 40-something). Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood met in the late 1960's and collaborated (along with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech)as Blind Faith.

Blind Faith's single, eponymous, album came out in late 1969. I was seven years old. So being, um, on the late cusp of the baby boomer generation, I remember the album from my older brothers' collection. I am sure my parents did NOT approve of its cover. I remember the song "Can't Find My Way Home," but not because I heard it then...maybe later during my brother Chuck's Traffic stage. And of course this song, "Well Alright," was originally done by Buddy Holly and has been covered by lots of folks. While the Blind Faith version is, in my opinion, the best by far, two others are worth a little trip down memory lane:

Santana did a version in the late 1970's. Here's a video of his band performing it in 1980 - and Carlos actually sings back-up, a rare occurrence for him:

And, of course, we must pay tribute to the originator. Although there is no video, this is worth a listen: