Happy Birthday Jim

Jim Henson would have been 77 yesterday.

As I was getting ready to leave the house this morning, I had CBC NewsWorld on in the background, per usual, and for some reason (I missed the lead up) the weather dude, Jay Scotland, was talking about this particular gem from the Sesame Street archives:

I had to look for it immediately.  For some reason, I can remember laughing until I was in pain as the spider chased Kermit.  I think it was the ‘heeeeey Frog’ that did it.  Too freaking funny.  Looking back at it now, you really have to love the hippie/70s sentiments coming through in the granola that Little Miss Muffet prefers over the curds and whey and the waterbed in lieu of the tuffet (which is a type of ottoman/pouffe/stool that one sits upon).

Jay claims that Kermit, as the Roving Reporter, was his first push toward the world of broadcasting.

I can believe it.  Sesame Street (and, in a different way, The Muppet Show) provided first steps in education, community building and entertainment- all at the same time- for generations of children.  Beginning in 1969, Jim’s Muppets helped the Children’s Television Workshop provide the early building blocks of learning by employing an innovative use of tv.  Attempting to positively use the ‘addictive qualities of television’ the CTW (now Sesame Workshop) helped young children in the States and Canada prepare for school.  It is now broadcast in over 120 countries.

Focused on holding the attention of children, so that they can actually absorb the education on offer, CTW quickly realized how pivotal Jim and his Muppeteers were in the overall execution of their objectives.  Arguably, Sesame Street set the paradigm for all children’s programming.  It has certainly earned its place in popular culture.  The Muppets have been everywhere.

If there was no Jim Henson, there would be no ‘best joke ever,’ as told by Pepe and Seymour on Muppets Tonight.

I still hear ‘hell if I know’ (or, more properly, ‘Eleph-Ino’) in Pepe’s voice whenever it happens to be uttered in my general vicinity.

This song- with both Muppets voiced by Jim- fits right in with my current attitudes (although not as applied to romantic involvements).

(I DO hope that something better comes along.  Veryvery much.  I’m doing my damnedest to make that happen.)

I loved The Muppet Movie in general, but Steve Martin’s role as the disgruntled waiter remains a classic within the Classic film.  So many wonderful- and wonderfully cheesy- cameos in the movie, and those subsequent.

Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog was the first of Jim’s Muppets to appear regularly on network television.  His dry delivery and sense of humour, combined with his love of the piano and unflappability in the face of the usual Muppet-y chaos that surrounded him was always inspirational to me.  He was my Muppet alter ego.  As much as I love Kermit- and many of the others (Pepe remains a favourite, and how can you not love Animal?)- Rowlf has always been my go-to Muppet.

Rowlf with Jim and Frank Oz- literally his ‘right-paw man.’

I’m finding it hard to stick to my Humanistic outlook on life at the moment (as you might have gathered).  There have been too many examples lately of the opposite of goodness in people- internationally, here at home and in my personal environment (although there is one particular exception to that seeming recent rule.  I’ll have to write something about that guy soon).

In any case, Jim’s birthday yesterday- and Jay’s remembrance of Kermit as the Roving Reporter this morning- reminded me just how much of an impact he had on my life.  I distinctly remember where I was when I heard that he had died (he mightn’t have been John Lennon or JFK, but he was THAT big a deal, as far as I was concerned).  The memorial tributes- often featuring sad Muppets- broke my heart more than a little.

Years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (where I was a ‘junior member’ and participant in the OSCOTT Club- ‘Ontario Science Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays’) hosted a touring exhibit called ‘The Art of the Muppets’.  I still have a postcard from my visit to see some of my faves live and in person (as it were).

I have no negative memories of Jim Henson yet he and his creations pervade my existence in a very real way.  To paraphrase a friend of mine  (who was talking about Davy Jones’ death.  You can find the original quote here), Jim did nothing to make his fans sad.  Ever.  Except die suddenly and rather inexplicably.  But he did make myriad people happy.  Still does, since his creations endure thrive and continue to entertain and enlighten new generations.

He was certainly a great educational facilitator but he was also an incredible storyteller and teacher in his own right.  His Muppets have presented old stories in new ways, taught life lessons as they explored their own origins and concepts of family and continue Jim’s legacy to instill in us the reality that we are all the same.  Humans, monsters, animals (and Animals), birds (and Birds).   And that even inanimate objects- like food and furniture- might have stories to tell and lessons to impart.

Makes me think that Kermit/Jim (and Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher) might have had it right. Perhaps we will find that rainbow connection.

Some day.

If we channel our inner Muppets (‘calling Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog’) and keep listening to the voices of the Monsters, Frogs, Dogs, Grouches, Aloysius (who knew Snuffy had a first name?) Snuffleupaguses and other storytellers among us to figure it out.

Storytellers like Jim Henson.

P.S. Didn’t I just say the Muppets were everywhere?  This morning (Thursday) I caught the time-shifted Jimmy Fallon show (not sleeping again, me) and the cast of Sesame Street joined him to sing their theme song.  To celebrate the start of their 44th season.  44th.  Go Muppets Go!

Moving On

Every once in a while I take a weekend and unplug completely.  This past week was pretty much the epitome of ‘working for the weekend’ (ah, Loverboy.  Where would we be without that particular concept?) and I honestly couldn’t watch anymore as the grief of the citizens of Lac Mégantic was broadcast across all news outlets while the owner of the train company not only refused to take responsiblity, he sounded like an arrogant sociopath once he finally deigned to comment on the situation.

As of Friday evening at 5pm, I turned off and tuned out for the duration.

Nice to have the break, but I missed a whole whack o’ news- little of it good:

The Zimmerman verdict down there in the States represents yet another violation of anything resembling justice.

A young Canadian actor was found dead in his hotel room from a (likely) drug overdose.

The waste of youth, talent and potential in both cases is tragic- if for different reasons.

Both will prompt all kinds of discussion in the coming days. On Moyers and Company Lauren Feeney and Eric Boehlert discussed the media frenzy around the trial, how the story went from being about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin to the ‘Zimmerman Show’- and the conservative ‘news’ groups that viewed him as some kind of persecuted innocent (!).

I imagine that greater minds than mine with more knowledge of the American system of (in)justice will try to make some sense of the travesty.  I can do little more than add my dismayed voice, in whatever small way, and shake my head at the ‘one step forward, two back’ social reality evinced by the US over the past month.

I admit that I watched the first season of Glee.  There was an energy to it that was attractive- and the flashback song selections were pretty fun.  Sort of lost the plot as it went on- and as we started to see less of Sue (who was awesome)- but I appreciated the talents of the actors/singers on the show.  In comparison to the endless selection of ‘talent’ competitions, Glee offered some real musical theatre in an entertaining one-hour format, and Finn was at the heart of the whole shebang.

Not being all that tapped into much infotainment, I wasn’t aware that Cory Monteith struggled with addiction.  31 is too young to exit this world- especially for someone of talent and support.  Sad.

All this waited to be discovered when I turned the computer/tv back on this afternoon.

But before I did so… as part of my hiatus, I went for a good long walk yesterday.  It was a glorious weekend- especially after the, um, extreme weather we had last week.  We took the storm- and the clean-up and aftermath- in relative stride.

The Indy was in town- always interesting for the crowds it brings to the downtown core.  And there were the usual festivals, community parties and special events that make Toronto such an awesome place in which to hang out in the summertime.  LOVE this place in the summer.

Anyhoo.  While out for my walk, the Shuffle Daemon was at it again.  This time it seemed to be anticipating the fact that I’d need a reminder that sometimes the bad stuff- even when it’s really really bad- has to be put behind us and we just need to keep on keeping on.

Perhaps the iPod was tapped into the fact that I had just been thinking about story and song, and Papa Nez, because the first song to come up was a country/southern-rock classic:

That song never ceases to put a smile on my face.  The idea of just rolling with things and moving on as the spirit takes you… something that I find so very hard to do.


Running on Empty.

Same type of message, but Jackson Browne describes one of the key things I try to keep in mind in my life:  “Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive- trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive.”

The frenetic pace that he describes in the song reminds us that we need to both keep moving on and stop every once in awhile and appreciate those things that are most important.

Further good advice from Billy Joel came next:

Working/worrying oneself into heart attack (ack ack ack ack ack)- so not worth it.  It’s all about priorities and perspective.

This one hurt my heart:

Although it was in keeping with the whole keep on moving theme that the Daemon had going, and despite the fact that INXS remains one of my fave bands, the tragic death of Michael Hutchence (also too young) always casts a bit of a cloud over their fantastic songs.

Still, Just Keep Walking, from their first album, when they were (ridiculously) young and hopeful, frequently reminds me to keep my head down and move forward regardless of the difficulties thrown in my path.

U2 always seems to weigh in:

Walk On is about Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the more than 20 years she spent under house arrest as a result of her fight for her country’s freedom.  On a universal level, it talks about leaving behind baggage while taking only what is most important as the fight requires a change in locale or perspective.

And, because the Shuffle Daemon has a sense of humour (and because I have rather strange eclectic taste in music):

Who better than Kermit and Fozzie to demonstrate that moving it along is about adventure and companionship- and those we might chance to meet on the way.

Sometimes you just have to let things go and shift gears/change scenery/take a break from the known and breathe in the new.

These six story songs illustrate the concept wonderfully.  Although we can, and should, get caught up in the dailies and the important issues of the world, sometimes we have to shake it off and go in a different direction.

It is important to be aware of and engaged with the terrible stories that happen with way too much frequency.  Our access to communication requires that we not ignore the injustices and atrocities.  The stories- well-examined and evaluated- must spur us into action to counter the wrongs that we find contained within them.

Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to move on.  Becoming mired in the negative leads to anomie and apathy.  Being bombarded by the bad, it is hard to find the good.

And there is very good to be found.  Our stories continue- regardless of how some might try to silence the inspirational voices among us.

Malala knows- and our songwriting storytellers remind us (through the medium of ‘possessed’ iPods)- that the status quo is always subject to change.

A hopeful note on which to start a new week.