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!