Jesus, Judas: Judas is kind of a hater in Jesus Christ Superstar
So, last Sunday morning, I was cruising up and down I-57 around dawn (long story) and listening to various albums on my i-pod. There, buried between Counting Crows, Neil Young’s Harvest, and the Black Seeds, the first lines of one of the best musicals came pouring out of my (admittedly) outdated speakers:
“My mind is clearer now.. At last / All too well / I can see / Where we all / soon will be. / If you strip away / the myth / from the man /you will see / where we all / soon will be.”
(I know, I know, I skipped the overture. Let me say, it’s splendid. But the lyrics… well, they’re nonexistent) This line, of course, is the first line of the first song of Jesus Christ Superstar, a song which is titled “Heaven on Their Minds.” The version I listened to (I think) was from the 1970 album, where Judas is sung by Murray Head, Jesus is sung by Ian Gillan (lead singer of Deep Purple), and Mary Magdalane is sung by Yvonne Elliman (On review, Wikipedia confirms). For my favorite version of “Heaven on Their Minds” see Carl Anderson’s version above from the movie.
Anyways, “Heaven…” is sung by Judas to Jesus (the Carl Anderson version gives a great visual of this) regarding their followers, who Judas believes are not following him because of what he preaches, which is to be good to others. Rather, Judas claims, they are following him because of the afterlife Jesus promises. Of course, this is one of the main themes/conflicts of the musical– that Judas believes Jesus is not doing what he should be doing, or that the followers aren’t hearing what they should be hearing.
Regardless, in this song, Jesus is hanging out with his followers, and they’re all having a merry old time prancing around and feeling pretty good about themselves. They think of Jesus as a God more than a man, and Judas walks down from the (somewhat hypothetical) mound he is standing on to yell at them and, basically, tell them to calm the hell down. Which is fine. It makes sense– he believes that Jesus is missing the point, and that the crowd is wrong, too. Seriously, it’s fine, except…
Judas isn’t done. The second song on the album is called “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying” and it begins with Jesus preaching to his followers about how they should act. He essentially tells them to calm down, to chill out, and Mary Magdalane comes in to help him relax. But the followers keep just pressuring him into doing something, which he wants to resist. Whatever… it’s pleasant and interesting, I guess.
Then the “What’s the Buzz” chorus fades away, and Judas comes flying in, calling Mary Magdalane a whore: “It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying /That a man like you can waste his time on women of her kind.” Unneeded shot, and especially off topic, right? Jesus and his followers were having a completely separate conversation about other issues, and Judas, for no real reason, is like: “I don’t like this whore” (Recording of the song here). Haters gonna hate, I guess. Even Simon (not sure which one) notices that Judas is kind of being a dick and says to him: “Hey, cool it man.” If Simon Ascariot thinks you need to cool it, then you probably need to cool it.
Judas, aroused into such a passion by Mary Magdalene’s touching of Jesus’ face, tries to justify himself with this line: “Yes, I can understand that she amuses, / But to let her kiss you, stroke your hair, that’s hardly in your line. / It’s not that I object to her profession, / But she doesn’t fit in well with what you teach and say…” Judas, I’m pretty sure you object to her profession. That sounds a lot like: “I’m not racist, but…” So, we get the point, Tim Rice: Judas doesn’t like what’s going on with Jesus. So let it go.
But noooo. The next song, called “Everything’s Alright” (which is a beautiful, beautiful song, btw) begins with Mary Magdalene telling Jesus to relax, to “let the world turn without him tonight” (great line). To try to get Jesus to loosen up and sleep, she starts rubbing fine ointments on his face, feet, hair, and hands. There are nice fragrances and aromas in the air. The mood is right.
Then, here comes Judas, sitting in the corner of the cave, looking pissed off as a mother fucka. Seriously. Go to the 1:00 mark of this clip. He flips on them, and Jesus specifically, to tell them to stop wasting money on feet and hair and go help the poor. Which is a valid point, I guess.
But, combined with the above hatin’, I gotta say it: Judas is a hater of everything about Jesus. And he needs to chill the hell out. Let the man have his sleep. Let the man have his hooker. Let the man have his followers.
So, being serious, what the hell is going on here? Tim Rice, presumably, is using these first three songs to set up the fracture that is occurring and will keep occurring between Jesus and Judas. Specifically, it addresses the gap between the movement Judas wants and the movement actually happening with what appears to be Jesus’ tacit approval.
I had always assumed, from the point where I began to understand JCS, that Judas was the hero. That TR and ALW wrote it to illustrate his rationale. To show that, perhaps, one of the great villains of Christianity is not a villain at all, but, in his own way, actually a hero. Which, of course, leads to the greater commentary about the story of Christ (and all history, to some extent). Essentially, we have no idea what actually happened.
Maybe there is more to it. I don’t doubt that “Judas as the Hero” is one of the themes of the musical, but it seems, with these three songs, that other interpretations are pushed on the viewer/listener. Could Judas just be jealous of Jesus’ attention? Pointing out the error of Jesus’ ways three separate times in one day, without any positive interaction in between, may indicate the jealousy that underlies Judas’ character. Could that be the explanation? I’m not sure, but it must be considered.
One other note from these songs: at the end of Everything Alright, in the 1973 movie, Jesus comes to Judas to calm him, holding his hands and looking deeply into his eyes (go to 2:16). And something happens, something never explained, and suddenly Judas is wide eyed and placid. What does this mean? Does Jesus has some amazing power to connect with Judas because they are such close friends? Because Jesus can do that with all humans? Because he is amazingly manipulative? I’m not sure, but how you view that scene can really inform how you understand the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and, above all, how you interpret Jesus Christ Superstar.