JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – WHAT’S THE BUZZ/STRANGE THING MYSTIFYING
My parents were involved in local theatre productions when I was growing up, and there was often a musical being played and sung to either in the car or in the house – most notably ‘Man of La Mancha,’ ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘Camelot,’ and those first two Anthony Newley gems. And then there came ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ rolling down the hill in a VW bus, weed smoke billowing from its windows like puffy angels with LOVE patches on the thighs of their frayed bell-bottomed jeans. This was not your parents’ musical (or perhaps it was, if your parents had a hippie streak in them).
One thing my dad liked to do (and really excelled at) was explain plots of musicals to you as you listened to them. One day, he and I had a long out-of-town drive together and we listened to this for probably the hundredth time with him offering insights into the plot and characters, and making little performances of his own, when – during one of Ian Gillan’s (as Jesus) wailing, emotional outbursts – he said, and I quote, “This guy playing Jesus has more control of his voice than anyone I’ve heard. Certainly more than any of those rock stars you listen to.” Oh, Dad.
But I chose this song in particular not only because the musical performance is so rockin’ and funky (it is…follow that bass and the often Robert Quine-like guitar!), or because of the way Yvonne Elliman comes slinking in and gets all sexy-tangled with Ian Gillan (she does). I chose it because the second part of this song (‘Strange Thing Mystifying’) opened my eyes to the beauty of lyrical phrasing and how not only can words have two meanings but the second meaning doesn’t even need to be logical to be evocative.
It happens when Murray Head as Judas sings, “It seems to me a strange thing / mystifying / that a man like you…”
Obviously, what he’s saying is “This is a strange thing to me. A mystifying thing,” but to my young ears his delivery sounded like he was implying that “There is a strange thing mystifying…a strange thing coming from or fading into the mist.” Of course that makes no sense, but the visions it created in my head were fantastic, and even now I have to stop myself to get the proper context. I don’t know or care if it was intentional or not…it just did it for me.
Ever since, I get giddy when I hear a lyric phrased in an odd manner that inspires illogical but beautiful thoughts or imagery.