by Roxanne Tellier
My mother loved holidays – any and all celebratable occasions. She was the Holiday Fairy, sprinkling her magic dust on us, and making special days even more memorable with her joy and enthusiasm.
A talented poet, she made our childhood Easter mornings into a treasure hunt. My sister and I would wake to riddles, clues that hinted to where our candy and chocolate had been left by the Easter Bunny.
We didn’t have a lot of money, and chocolate was a luxury we rarely enjoyed. Easter and Halloween were occasions of great joy for sugar loving kids like my sister and I.
One year my godmother sent me an enormous chocolate bunny that was taller than I was! We ate chocolate until we could eat no more, and then mum said it would be kind to share what was left with our neighbours. I went up and down the street with a bowl filled with broken chocolate pieces, doling out the goodies, and veering between feeling like Lady Bountiful and a kid having qualms about the giving away of her precious chocolate.
Those were the days when everyone dressed up for special occasions, and thankfully, mum was a genius on the sewing machine. Although I could be counted on to appear in public bandbox neat and clean, I have to admit I wasn’t the happiest of campers when mum regularly made Jodi and I wear matchy matchy outfits.
Having a sister younger by five years meant that I spent a lot of time pretending to believe in things like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy andthe Easter Bunny. (Both the TF and the EB, by the way, have been officially declared ‘essential businesses’ during this Covid 19 plague.)
In Edmonton, I went to Academie Assomption, a Catholic, all girl school run by nuns. From grade three until grade six, when we left for Montreal, I learned how to survive the forty days of Lent. We would have to give up the things that gave us ‘pleasures of the flesh,’ and we had to do it with good grace and a willing heart, or – like a birthday wish spoken aloud – our sacrifice would be null and void. Forty days without candy! Forty days without teasing your siblings! Forty days of obeying your parents without talking back! Oh it was hellish, suffering such deprivation, and the days passed so slowly. But eventually, yes! We were paroled Easter Sunday morning, and got to enjoy a rare sugar overdose.
Along with the forty days of jonesing for sugar, my school classes would practice the hymns that we would be singing in church on the Big Day. “He is Risen!” we chorused, our sweet voices rising with Him to the heavens.
In Montreal I continued singing those hymns, first in Latin, later in English and eventually, in folk music form. I was part of that folk mass crew that tried to make going to church ‘groovy’ in the sixties. Actually, it was in the sixties that some of the best ‘Religious Rock’ was written and enjoyed.
Due to some – ahem – infractions I had been caught committing, my teenaged butt had been severely grounded in 1969. I had the choice of staying in my room ‘for the rest of your life!’ or joining our church’s youth group, which met regularly in the church basement.
It was in that basement that I learned how to play pool, and where I danced with a male for the first time; with Father Sauvé, to Cream’s White Room. It was there that I became a part of the group that performed at the Sunday folk masses, and eventually, through some of the people that I met in those days, formed my first folk rock group, with a convenient venue already in place for our performances.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there were many songs that crossed from the radio to the pews. It wasn’t just songs like Ocean’s Put Your Hand in the Hand that kept our folk masses humming; we were about to enter a time when religious rock would go mainstream.
Easter of 1970, the church group had bought into a new fad – fasting for a cause. The kids from my school and church decided we’d do a sponsored fast for 24 hours, and donate any money raised to the church. Soon, all of us were camped out in the church basement with our sleeping bags, stuffed animals, and guitars.
(As we all hunker down in our bunkers, riding out this virus and keeping our social distances, I’m so often grateful that I’m not a 15-year-old kid, high on life, and bursting with hormones. I’m even more grateful that I’m not a parent having to deal with that kid while trying to avoid getting ill. There aren’t all that many benefits of aging – but knowing how to keep oneself busy while in isolation is surely one of them.)
But – back to the fast.
So, twenty-four hours without food. An unimaginable torture to a bunch of kids ranging in age from 14 to 21. After flirting with each other for the first five or six hours, we started to get antsy. Some of us were crying, lonesome for our families. All of us could hear our bellies crying out for sustenance. And into this sea of overexcited teenagers waded Father Sauvé… with a big brown box filled with 33 1/3 records.
The basement, which was also the church’s rec centre and Saturday night dance hall, was set up for the playing of recorded music. When Father Sauvé dropped the needle on side one of the new rock musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” we all quieted and listened to the overture of what would become the first and most successful, religious rock opera.
I thrill, even as I listen to this overture this morning. At 15, and as a young woman who desperately wanted to be a professional vocalist, I was completely and utterly gobsmacked.
50 years later, I still know every note and every word to every song of the entire opus.
I’m not the only one who felt that way; I remember reading in 2010 that another Canadian singer had had the same sort of fascination with the musical, but that she had actually done something about her lifelong obsession.
“Peaches, the diminutive dynamo of raunchy electronic rock, was singing the entire libretto alone, just as she will in her one-woman show, “Peaches Christ Superstar,” which was to begin its North American tour on Friday in Boston.
As she sang her way from the Last Supper to Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Peaches cycled through nearly every character from the Gospels, embodying them in her voice and face: a dainty, mocking Herod; a guttural Caiaphas, the high priest; and a bruised Judas hurling insults at Jesus so heatedly that it raised the veins in Peaches’ ruddy face.” The New York Times, December 2010
I don’t think about Easter much these days. Time and events have left me irreligious and agnostic. And we’re so oblivious of the days during Covid that we even forgot to buy milk yesterday, when the stores were open between the Good Friday/Easter Sunday sandwich of shutdowns.
But still – this Easter, and as I have done every Easter for fifty years, I will search out my copy of Norman Jewison’s wonderful version of the musical, and once again relive how the music made me feel, all those years ago.
Hey! Here’s some good news! If you missed the live 2018 version featuring John Legend – or if you just enjoyed it so much, you’d like to see it again … you’re in luck!
“NBC just announced that they will air an encore presentation of the 2018 production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert this Sunday — Easter Sunday — April 12, 2020. The performance will air from 7:00-9:30 PM (ET/PT) on the NBC channel, as well as on select streaming services that offer live television, e.g. Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV.”
And … Happy Easter to YOU!
P.S. – Via my cousin Rita Donovan … food for thought .. the other side of isolation ….