I’ve been thinking a lot about Jim Henson. We would have celebrated his 75th birthday a few days ago if it weren’t for his untimely death. It wasn’t until I started thinking about my own human-in-progress that I realized how influential he’s been in my life. And really, how influential he’s been for a lot of people our age.
I’ve begun drafting a letter to my baby boy and opened it with a Jim Henson quote, “Love people for their differences – not their similarities”. Seems rudimentary. But then I think about all his creatures and how strange and beautiful they are. And they all love each other – take care of each other – and find comfort in each others unique “weirdness”.
When Mr. Vanderberg and I were announced for the first time, we walked into our reception to “The Theme from The Muppet Show”, a simple salute to letting your freak flags fly during what is supposed to be a time of tradition and reverence. ”The Dark Crystal” has been playing over and over on some Showtime channel recently and I will, without fail, put down the remote and watch it – no matter which point in the movie I encounter it. I think I watched this movie daily as a kid, and I seem to be able to recall every line verbatim – which is not one of my talents. ”Labyrinth” remains to this day a cult classic for all ladies our age – who doesn’t know all the words to “Dance, Magic, Dance“? (nor who could resist David Bowie in tights?). Just last week my whole office broke out into “Somebody’s Getting Married” when a co-worker left for her pre-wedding high-light appointment. We have two friends from college who we refer to as Statler and Waldorf, because of their many supposed secret and hilarious antics which often get displayed in public.
Not so long ago I was wandering around Red Hook with my pal Jane and we came across a filming of Sesame Street. I felt a tinge of melancholy when I didn’t recognize one character…no vintage Grover or Oscar, just a fuzzy orange creature whose name eludes me. But there were at least 10 neighborhood kids absolutely enthralled by her! They certainly recognized her celebrity. It was heartwarming to know that Jim Henson’s legend lingers on – that he still produces magic for countless numbers of kids…and adults. (Although, about 10 seconds after the filming we watched them toss this Muppet into a black duffel bag and pull out another one dressed in a different costume – kinda killed it for me!).
The first song I ever performed as a kid was “The Rainbow Connection” on my grandparents fireplace. I recently bought “The Green Album” – a compilation of classic Muppets songs sung by some pretty awesome modern musicians. Weezer and Hayley Williams do a pretty heart-wrenching version of this song, which I imagine singing to my baby boy, pretty soon. Take a listen here.
I just read a story about Jim Henson’s funeral. He asked that no one wear black and had The Dirty Dozen Brass Band play New Orleans style jazz. At the end of the service at St. Patricks Cathedral here in NYC, the man who voiced “Scooter” got up with his Scooter Muppet and started singing one of Jim Henson’s favorite songs, “Just One Person”. One by one, each human who voiced a Muppet got up with their Muppet and joined in. Pretty soon the whole congregations was singing along too. A real celebration of a beautiful life and a real testament to how influential just one person can be. It’s said that Richard Curtis, a friend of Jim Henson who directed and wrote “Love Actually” was overwhelmed by this chorus. He claims it is the inspiration for the now infamous “All You Need is Love” wedding scene that makes us all tear up.
The new Muppet movie comes out Christmas of this year, around the same time the babe will be here too…I know he’ll be a little young to appreciate it, but I can’t wait to watch it with him. Although Kermit’s voice won’t be quite the same thing, I’m sure it will make us all feel pretty excited the way “The Muppets Take Manhattan” did. I particularly like the usage of Starships “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” in the preview – another favorite from my childhood – it’s like someone was trying to tell me something when putting this together, complete with a punching Miss Piggy “Hiyah!”.
My favorite Muppet was always Janice from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem – a clueless combination Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin, and the only girl in an all boy rock band, which seemed like fun. Who was yours??