Andrew Lloyd Webber scared the hell out of me.
The scene was the family living room of a split-level suburban ranch. I was 4-year-old with an active imagination. My family was listening to the 1970 double-LP of the original Broadway cast version of Jesus Christ Superstar on the Zenith Console stereo when the eerie orchestration and creepy voices of the song The Crucifixion conjured up the Menja Monster.
Never an aficionado of musicals, I had not actually seen the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. So my reference point was not from the theatrical performance or 1973 movie, but from what I was taking in on Sundays at St. Cecelia’s. Catholicism was pretty scary. (A little backstory: At that time, I was of the belief that St. Cecelia was kept in a crypt behind the bas relief carving of her above the alter. Why the saint was buried in Mt. Prospect is something only a 4-year-old thinks.)
The LP version The Crucifixion begins as the Roman soldiers pound spikes into Jesus’ hands. The disembodied laughter of the crowd are reminiscent of the cackling in the beginning of Tomorrow Never Knows. The swirl and screech of strings and a bed of jazzy piano runs lead up to Jesus pleading to his father.
At some point, Jesus is looking for his mother and upset with his father. In the background deep voices murmur mockingly. And Jesus is thirsty. Then there it is, right around the 2:35 mark. Menja Monster, Menja Monster, Menja Monster, Menja Monster. At least this is what my impressionable ears heard. If you listen for it, really hard, you will hear it, too. I would hear the squeal of the soundtrack as the sound the Menja Monster made.
So as I understood it, Jesus was being done in by the Menja Monster. And it was now in my house.
It hides in the laundry room in the basement, back near the furnace next to where my mom keeps the 16-ounce returnable bottles of Coca Cola. But I am safe when the laundry room door is closed or someone else is home. It only comes out if the door is open and someone turns the lights off before I can get up the stairs. I never turn the lights off until I get to the stairs.
Not a lot of people have seen the Menja Monster, but I have. It’s big and hairy and looks sort of like a character from Where the Wild Things Are with hair the color of Dr. Zaius. You can see it in that brief instant between when the lights are on and when it changes to darkness.
One time, I turned off the lights at the other switch — the one outside the laundry room door — when I heard it rustling behind the door. I took off for the stairs. I could feel it closing in. Menja Monster, Menja Monster.
I got to the switch by the stairs in time and flicked on the light to neutralize the Menja Monster. In a blink it was gone.
I bounded up the steps only to realize that I couldn’t leave the lights on or I would get yelled at. My dad was an electrician. I used to think he took it personally if I wasted electricity. I took two steps down and stretched my arm the rest of the way to flip the switch to off.
Later that year, my brother would turn me on to Black Sabbath.
To this day, when no one is home, I will still turn on all the lights when I am in my own basement. No need to take chances.
I could always beat the monsters up the stairs from the basement.