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The House of Tudor 

Wednesday, Dec 23 1998
For some of us, Jesus Christ Superstar is a guilty pleasure somewhere between Deepak Chopra and Three's Company: It's cheesy as all hell but can be exorcised by neither time nor liquor. On a recent occasion when a delirious curbside prophet stopped midrail to take a swallow of fortified wine and sing the opening bars of "What's the Buzz" underneath my window, I was instantly plunged into a childhood sound loop, compelled to hum the damnable song for nearly an entire week before determining its insidious origin.

You see, during several of my most formative years I was subjected to a barrage of JCS. It took the form of amateur and professional stage productions, recordings, movies, ad-hoc serenades, seaside improv, and progressive lullabies. I tried to sleep through it, demanding to wear footed pajamas when forced to attend yet another outdoor interpretation of the rock opera, but my folks were lenient beyond all reason. Somewhere, between sheltering sleep and incredulous consciousness, the songs penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were engraved on my cerebellum. This is the reason I later asserted, during an illegal forced Bible lesson given in my public classroom by a Reagan-loving principal in a truck-stop Oregon border town, that Judas Iscariot had to be Christ's best friend because he was the only one brave enough to help the holy dude get crucified and rock on. My insight was not welcomed.

Early exposure to JCS is also the reason why, as an teen, I possessed the latent belief that all whores secretly sing like angels and rock stars are emerging messiahs. I still half-believe it, and I'm not the only one. A couple of years back, the JCS-obsessed Michael Lorant -- frontman of Atlanta's Big Fish Ensemble -- brought together nearly 100 other young JCS-obsessed musicians to create Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection, an album that brilliantly cast the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray as Jesus and assuaged the guilt of poor taste for thousands by putting the rock back in the opera. For those who missed the funked-up, ska-laden, emotionally rapt rendering, I can suggest no better Christmas soundtrack, and for those whose secret holiday movie tradition does not include It's a Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz, might I suggest a pilgrimage to the Roxie Friday through Thursday, Dec. 25-31, at 2, 4:30, 7, and 9:15 p.m. Admission is $6.50; call 863-1087. Don't forget to bring wine, bread, thorns, and plenty of gold lame.

With "Hail Bebop #12," producer Richard Moore continues to follow the artistic conception realized by John Coltrane and Charlie Parker when they began combining older jazz traditions with current innovations. Moore searches out emerging talents in the hip hop, spoken word, DJ, and jazz communities, drawing them together to pay tribute to great artists who have come before. Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, and Sun Ra have been among the magi who have stimulated these vibrant free-for-alls. This particular slice of saturnalia puts Sly & the Family Stone in the spotlight with funkified poetry and song inspired by the masters in platforms. As is often Moore's intention, "Hail Bebop #12" also honors Kwanzaa, the African-American celebration created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.

Kwanzaa -- which translates from Swahili into "first fruits of the harvest" -- was not intended as a replacement for Christmas or Hanukkah, but over 13 million people take part in the observance, which begins on Christmas day and lasts until New Year's day. Each of the seven days is based on one of seven guiding principles, or Nguzo Saba: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. During the week, homes are decorated in black, red, and green. Fruit, ears of corn (one for every child in the house), enriching (but affordable) gifts, a communal unity cup called the kikombe cha umoja, and a kinara (candle holder) with three red, three green, and one black candle are artfully arranged on a straw mat, and each day folks share stories in accordance with the respective guiding principle.

On the last day, the Kwanzaa feast or karamu takes place in a communal space where everyone contributes a dish of food. Distinguished elders pass down knowledge to the young people; culture is honored with music, song, dance, and poetry; each person drinks from the unity cup "for the youth who represent the promise of tomorrow" and "in remembrance of those who have struggled on our behalf"; the names of family ancestors and black heroes are called; gifts are exchanged; and everyone eats. The "Hail Bebop" Kwanzaa potluck begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26, followed by the dance party at 8 p.m. (honoring Sly as one of Moore's African-American musical heroes) at La Pena in Berkeley. Ticket price is $5-10; call (510) 849-2568.

Speaking of guilty pleasures, Journey is apparently popular enough to be playing one of our city's larger venues. This means that at any moment during the day you may be surrounded by numerous people who rush home to crank up "Wheel in the Sky" and "Don't Stop Believin'." Just thought you should know. Journey performs at the Warfield on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 8 p.m. Ticket price is $35 (no kidding); call 541-0800.

-- Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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