“But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?” —Pontius Pilate, “Trial Before Pilate,” Jesus Christ Superstar
I’ve written a lot about Jesus Christ Superstar. Our village recently experienced a second coming of Jesus—see what I did there—when we were visited by Ted Neeley, aka the Jesus who is easier to love than the one presented by the Church, at least for many people. The Little Art is the smallest venue to ever have hosted Superstar screenings with cast members present. And after this past weekend, Frank, the tour manager, told us that Yellow Springs is second only to Chicago for the total number of screenings. Ted and Frank assured us that they wish to return. They marvel at the welcome and friendliness they’ve experienced in our village.
When I spoke to Ted last in preparation for a pair of articles (click here and here) I wrote for the Yellow Springs News, Barry Dennen had just died owing to a tragic series of events. An intimacy developed in our conversation, and while I am readily aware that Ted could make a lamppost swoon from the charisma, we experienced a deep, authentic connection. It was like pastoring Jesus.
I was supposed to attend the Saturday night screening, but an incident in which my actions directly related to painful and panicky experiences for two persons I love deeply, I was devastated. I engaged in repentance and self-reflection, trying to gather myself for worship the next morning. We returned our tickets so that others could use them. I received messages from Gilah Pomeranz, who then went to Fort Wayne as the head roadie for Ted and Frank, Ted’s road manager. And I also received a message from Ted himself, expressing sympathy and regrets. Little did I realize, there were plans afoot that I had just monkeyed up.
Sure enough, when I walked into the church, there was Ted, waiting for me outside my office.
Did you know that Pontius Pilate is a saint in the Greek Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches? There are reliefs on sarcophagi picturing Pilate at the Last Supper or observing the crucifixion with sadness and disdain. In one example, Pilate is represented as being akin to Abraham while Jesus is paired with Isaac. Augustine called him a convert. And in Jesus Christ Superstar, as played by Barry and Ted, Jesus and Pilate loved and felt sympathy for one another.
And now you know the rest of the story.
Last Sunday evening, after a worship in which Miriam and I sang “The Rose,” at least after it took me a good 45 seconds to find my note (because that’s what you want, right, when you’re singing in front of Ted Neeley and are already horribly self-conscious about your singing voice), we met Ted, Gilah, Shep, and Frank at Tokyo restaurant in Fairborn. Once we were all settled in, Frank said, “Well, we should get this out of the way.” Everyone was looking at me.
What is about to happen? Am I being committed? Is this a food intervention? The bipolar mind boggles.
Frank went on to explain that they were leaving relics of Barry in each of the places they visit in which Barry visited previously. He then told me to look at Ted, who had an impish grin and pulled out a bag.
“It’s Barry’s hat,” Frank said.
Me mustering every single bit of energy I have to not burst into tears; my lip looked like a dog’s cushion.
These are the Pilate hats sold on tour, and Barry wore his for the duration of the VIP and screening the Little Art hosted in 2015. While the one gifted to me is not the one he wore in YS, it is the one he wore in the documentary film just released about the screening tours.
Here’s a better shot of it.
They were going to give it to me in front of the crowd on Saturday, and I know that Ted was a little disappointed, although he was gracious beyond measure because that is who Ted is in his DNA. And while that would have been a great moment, it also would have been too overwhelming for me, and I wouldn’t have been able to contain my emotions.
If you read the blog, then you know all the details about why this is such a powerful gift. Barry said that it is a club one enters into having played Pilate in Superstar. For me, I studied every gesture, every breath, every vocal intonation. When I played the part, I less played Pilate and more played Barry Dennen playing Pilate. The director herself once yelled at me, “Lose the accent, Aaron, you’re not Barry Dennen.”
I haven’t posted about this on Facebook. I haven’t even told my parents because the gesture has struck me so deeply. Words fail, and I’ve been told I can turn a phrase. I have been so deeply impacted that it shut me up.
I know, right? I’m a talking and writing fool.
Barry’s hat will find its home on a very special shelf next to Stephen’s ashes with his hat on top, Guinness’ ashes with her color on top. There will Barry’s hat will reside, until Ted and Frank return again. Then I will don the crown in honor of St. Barry of the Pilates.