Published: January 28, 2012
Jesus is shorter than me. He is 68 years old, with slightly lazy blue eyes, short brown hair, and his voice is so quiet sometimes you have to strain to hear. When he speaks, tinges of a Southern drawl--Texan, he reminds people often--mix with the influences of California and a life that has seen the rest of not only America, but the world. He wears glasses and a denim jacket. He had worn a leather jacket earlier, coming out on stage singing "The Age of Aquarius," but had shed it soon enough, hanging it on the back corner of a rocking chair while complaining that it had become too hot too quickly.
I don't know how many of you know who Ted Neeley is, but if you've seen the 70's film version of "Jesus Christ Superstar," you've seen him. He played the Jesus Christ with the rockstar voice 40 years ago for the movies, but he basically lived through the beginning of the Rock Opera, when theater finally accepted rock and roll into its repertoire. He was in Hair, in Jesus Christ Superstar, played Tommy in the Who's Tommy, Billy Shears in Sergeant Pepper's. A drummer from a little podunk Texas town, who moved out to California to pursue a career as a musician, ended up auditioning (and getting a role) in Hair because of a bet with an artist over whether it was harder to get a job as an actor or a musician, and then became the Jesus despite wanting originally to be Judas.
AND he is probably one of the nicest people I've ever met. If ever there was a Jesus, I would like to believe he woulda been something like Ted Neeley.
Anyway, enough of that, today, I went to a concert he was holding in Ventura's Rubicon theater--I found out recently that he actually lives really close by; I guess that's one of the advantages of living in Southern California. I wasn't really sure what to expect when going to the concert--all I knew is that the first time I had heard the song Gethsemane, I'd decided that I wanted to meet this guy, wanted to see if he could still sing those high notes. What I got was great, man. The dude can still sing, and he spoke a lot to the audience, a lot about his experiences, how charmed his life was. He sang quite a few songs from Hair, a LOT of his original stuff (some of which was in a pretty forgotten movie called "Blame the Night," which I think critics hated and Mick Jagger wrote XDDDD but his songs were really good, actually).
But I think the highlight of the night was when he decided to sing "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar. This is what we had been waiting for, and holy fuck, the 68 year old man can STILL hit those notes, and I'd say he sings it better now than he ever sang it in the movie. I honestly started crying.
After that, he was weeping, and it was a little painful, and more than a little touching to see. He explained that it was because he remembered JCS so well--how much of an effect it's had on him. He met his wife on the set of the movie (she was one of the dancers), and travelled the world because of it, heard so many stories of people who had been affected by the music (one of the stories was actually something my friend Aletheia told me, about how in Soviet Russia there were no religious materials allowed at all, so just the album of Jesus Christ Superstar was contraband, was illegal but being passed around), and of course his deep friendship with the spectacular Carl Andersen, who played Judas in the original film.
He recounted how they had planned a reunion, how they were planning a world tour...and then Carl found out he had leukemia. And soon after, Carl died of Leukemia, and Ted spoke about how it suddenly felt like he was doing it all alone. He was crying because he was remembering Carl--and explained that he sang Gethsemane at Carl's memorial, how he felt his presence, and every time he sings that song, he sings it in memory of him.
And then to counteract that, he sang Paralyzed. For an encore? The Beatles Medley at the end of Abbey Road.
We met him after the show, and he seemed genuinely interested. Spoke about our experiences in the theater. He had asked me if I was in the theater group too, and when I told him I was an artist, he sort of smiled at me, and told me how important artists were in telling stories.
He then told me to follow my dream. Go for it.
"I am. I'm chasing it like a beast, I promise."
"Well, you're a gentle beast. I can tell."
It was strange. it felt like a religious experience. Not just because he played Jesus before, but just someone who I've seen so many times before just being so humble and attentive and real, and really caring about what I had to say and who I was, who I wanted to be. There are so many fake people here in California, I hate to say it, but it's true. I wanted to cry. It might as well have been Jesus who told me to follow my dreams. And so I'm going to say he did. Jesus told me to follow my dreams.
And then he gave me a hug.
Jesus gives the best hugs.
Best day ever.