How the Feverish Imaginations of Jonathan Larson, Rusty Magee and Friends Birthed the Musical "Sacred Cows"

By Jonathon Collis
04 Mar 2013

Jeremy Roberts
Photo by Mary Ellen Mathews

From November 1992 through March 1993, the group met weekly at Roberts' studio to discuss ideas, bring in songs, revise the script, and record the demo. "Everyone contributed," recalls Roberts. "We all wrote on it, we all performed on it." Tempers flared, but in expected ways, as everybody had strong ideas about the project, especially Larson. "Part of the challenge [...] was to see if everyone could collaborate," remembers Goodman, "[but] when we fought, they were always healthy fights."

"There were a lot of egos in the room at the start," says Golden, but as the concept took shape, outlooks became enthusiastic, though Golden also remembers ideas taking precedence over order: "Everybody would go home and write, then bring something in. It was totally the opposite of what I was used to in TV." A week after the first meeting, the five collaborators began bringing in material, and within three weeks, the first recordings were being made, with Roberts producing and engineering in the booth in addition to creating material. Over the five months of writing and recording, songs would be written solo or collaboratively, either on a music/lyrics split or with the entire group pitching in, then reworked and performed by all five members of the team.

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While the exact format for the series never solidified (would the show be live with an audience or strictly studio-bound?), the first Multi Media Musicals project, now titled "Sacred Cows," was devised and pitched as a weekly anthology with each episode taking a different Biblical or mythological story and giving it a '90s celebrity twist (for example, casting Prince as Icarus) using contemporary music and visuals. "We decided on Bible stories," explains Goodman, "because they were in the public domain and we wouldn't have to pay royalties on them." For the pilot, the team reworked the Garden of Eden story.

"We were years ahead of the game," recalls Roberts. In a television landscape before "Family Guy" and "South Park," observational comedy reigned. Even the wave-maker of the day, "Beavis and Butthead," was focused on mocking suburbia and American life but not challenging its institutions. For American viewers, sarcasm and expression could be edgy, but such direct criticism of traditionally off-limits foundations — like the Bible, say — was still limited to stand-up specials on premium networks, away from advertisers facing the aftermath of 12 years of rule by the Moral Majority. While Jesus Christ Superstar may have been safely ensconced in the cultural landscape, the sheer irreverence of "Sacred Cows" made it a greater gamble to produce.

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