This One Throws Me into Melancholy and Questions
I rented Godspell as part of my research for the new novel, where I delve into the folk Christianity of the 70's. Boy, I did not expect my reaction. At first I could not stop laughing. How goofy, the hippies painting on their clown faces and roller skating and playing their slide whistles! How fun to see it in the NYC landscape I know well now, these songs I learned backward and forward when I was a kid, a kid who had never seen these big landmarks in person. There's Lincoln Center! There's Central Park! Bethesda Fountain! Look at the angel, immortalized again (and more ironically) in Tony Kushner's Angels in America!
Then I start freaking a little. I mean, it's really goofy, and I realize that I was drawn in by the clown thing when I was little, the white fluffy-headed Jesus with his Superman shirt and pompom shoes and painted-on tears. The language is a little opaque, and I didn't understand it, not really, the way I didn't understand Shakespeare or hymns or the liturgy or even the Gospels I heard weekly in church. (And the songs in Godspell use the words from the Episcopal hymnal...) But the slapstick is what I lived for, back then, that's what I understood: the mime stuff, the happy-hippy feeling. Was this a big part of my religious indoctrination? And if so, what, exactly, did I learn?
For one, I got the basics of the parables. But I couldn't watch them now. Too much clowning, too much overlay. I had to fast-forward through the silly voices and hey-kids-lets-put-on-a-show thing.
And then there's this number, "All For the Best," filmed on Manhattan rooftops, including a finale on the unfinished World Trade Center. I'm feeling vertigo, and sorrow, watching the fast vaudeville-style dancing up there, too close to the edge, and the song's lyric: "don't forget that when you'll get to heaven you'll be blessed."
Did I believe in heaven? Was this part of my kid theology? Do I now? And do you have to die to find it? Or, as I would rather think, is our life on earth so full of possibility that it might just be heaven already?
Just seeing the towers brings flashbacks of my own daily walk through those buildings, fixtures of my landscape for the years I worked downtown, and the day I stood below and watched them burn and fall, watched people fall too. The film uses the towers as a symbol of wealth and what you "can't take with you." The antithesis of heaven. The message, which I did get when I was little: wealth and luck on earth mean nothing. But is that too pat? How has the meaning of this film changed, now that the city has, now that we've lost our happy-hippy innocence? Or our Wall Street business-as-usual innocence?
Does this mean I shouldn't be grateful for my good luck? My wealth, relatively speaking, in the global scheme of things? It does bring home one thing--it's all fragile. Jobs, things, and people come and go. What can I hang onto? Should I even try?
Or, is that what makes it heaven, life here? That it is fragile? Is heaven allowed to be fragile?
I rented Jesus Christ Superstar too, which was a much better fit for my current state of mind. Judas is the guy I identify with. The one who resists the groupthink. It's not enough to just follow and trust. You have to think about what you're doing, independently, even if doubt is a part of that process.