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April 2018

Jesus Christ SuperstarOn the eve of what I’ve seen called Easter Fool’s Day (seriously, has Easter Sunday ever fallen on April 1st before?), I feel like I’m having a bit of a calm before the storm moment. Later this month, the majorly invasive knocking-down-walls part of our ongoing home addition project will begin. And suddenly, the June 12 release of Starless is right around the corner, and I’ll be on the road doing some promotional events, including this awesome panel at the American Library Association’s conference in New Orleans on Saturday, June 23.

But right now, I’m mostly just waiting on the details. So as I considered what I might write about for this month’s update, my thoughts turned to… Jesus Christ Superstar. As of this writing, I have no idea if the live version airing on NBC on Sunday will be awesome or terrible or neither or both; but I do know that I’ll be watching it.

I grew up in an agnostic household. Not a deliberately agnostic household; it was just the sort of thing where my parents had both drifted away from the Christian traditions in which they were raised, while keeping the cultural trappings. So we observed Christmas, which was mostly about Santa Claus and Rudolph and presents, and we observed Easter, which was about the Easter Bunny and eggs and candy, but we never went to church, except for events like weddings and funerals. Religion and faith just weren’t topics we discussed.

But we had Jesus Christ Superstar.

I’m not sure how old I was the summer that the original concept album was on constant play in our house. It was sometime in the early 70s, so I was maybe 8 or 9, 10 tops. Maybe it was more than one summer. All I know is that my parents played that album a lot, and to this day, I not only know every word to every song, but every inflection of every syllable and every single musical beat by heart. And for a very long time, it pretty much informed the entirety of my understanding of Christianity.

And y’know, decades after the fact—and a lot of education and research later—I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. At its core, it’s a work of art that wrestles with the conflict between humanity and divinity. Doubt. Destiny. Frailty. Fear. Hope. Compassion. Cynicism. Exploitation. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Love, and the terrifying power of love. Superstar didn’t make me a Christian, but it did help make me an artist. Listening to the album as an adult, I realize there are examples in the songwriting and performances of a powerful balancing act between restraint and passion that I internalized at a tender age, and inform my sense of pacing to this day.

All of these things went into my becoming a storyteller interested in exploring these elements. And to that, I say, “Hosanna!”

Okay, actually that’s “Hosanna, heysanna sanna sanna ho, sanna hey sanna hosanna.”

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