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

By Jonathon Collis
04 Mar 2013

The story isn't complete with out a snake, and in "Sacred Cows," the Serpent manifests as a stogie chomping, three-headed advertising agent who looks to draw the hapless humans to the Tree of Knowledge with a series of catchy jingles. In another modern twist, the tree is a tower of televisions with CDs, VHS tapes and game cartridges hanging off wire branches and boasting a bright red remote.

As the serpent lures them in, the Angels fret: the same mistakes are happening all over again. Adame is down with the idea of the tree, but Yves is hesitant. As the Serpent woos them ("Move a little faster / Let it be your master"), a four-way counterpoint of fear and desire builds. When Adame and Yves succumb, God appears on the screens and condemns them not to banishment, but to house arrest: the pair are doomed to live with the Serpent in the garden, bored for all eternity. As the parking lot is replaced with an idealized set, Adame grows bitterly depressed from the lack of stimulation, Yves celebrates, and the Angels torture the Serpent, asking, "What would you do / stuck in paradise forever?" before departing, content that it will remain "morning forever, in paradise."

 



"God (Jonathan Larson) confines Adame, Yves and the Serpents to Eden, for Eternity…"
 

 

 

 

 

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"Sacred Cows" could have been indulgent, crude, or an incoherent mishmash of individual styles. It wound up being none of the three. The music builds on early-'90s trends, invoking early alternative-rock bands like Live and Nirvana, plus key female rappers such as Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa. While the lyrics were tongue-in-cheek (the Serpent asks: "How to go about it? / Should we go direct mail? / No post office / Print ad? Billboard? / They can't read"), we can still feel the Angels' tenuous position as they're forced to watch humanity repeating its doomed history and Yves' fear of corruption.

Musically, the score ran on character motifs: ethereal pop for the Angels, early-'90s pop-rap for Adame, country-western for Yves, hard rock for God, and earthy jazz for the Serpent, supplemented by big 1950s-esque advertising jingles. Running in and out of the individual tunes is the Angels' piano motif, a reminder that despite the jokes, disaster is just around the corner. Production-wise, all five collaborators played instruments and sang on the recording, with arrangements handled by Roberts, who deftly pulled everybody's styles together and incorporated both levity and an unearthly air to the recording.

Unfortunately, the satire-happy networks weren't ready for a work so casually undermining a core myth behind American religion. Golden remembers "going with [Goodman] to a meeting with MTV, but nobody knew what to do with it." Despite liking the songs and the ideas, the producers had no idea how to bring the show to life, and passed. The theatrical world responded much the same way: "We did a presentation of the demo for like 30 people at the BMI Workshop, and afterwards, they were silent. I've never been that uncomfortable in my life."

Even so, the project might have fit in well as a boundary-pusher on cable TV. In the early 1990s, MTV was a haven of quirky and offbeat programming, providing an outlet for outsider animation in "Liquid Television," rising alternative comedians such as Denis Leary and Colin Quinn, and would soon be home to cult sketch comedy heroes "The State." Comedy Central, meanwhile, carried "Kids in the Hall" and the derisive, smart-alecky "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Even network comedy was slowly getting its edge back as old stalwart "Saturday Night Live" was entering a renaissance with Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley leading the bill, while "The Simpsons" topped primetime ratings.

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