Kieran Moore – When it was decided that I’d celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Show by writing a top ten chart for each year since its debut, one of my first thoughts was how to tackle 1990.
For those of you that don’t know, 1990 was the sad and terrible year that Jim Henson passed away. After a very short illness brought on by Group A streptococcus, Jim died in hospital in New York on May 16th.
Like most of you reading this, Jim had an immeasurable impact on my life and I truly owe so much to him. So how do I put all of that into words that are (hopefully) interesting and entertaining whilst encompassing everything I feel? For a really long time I wasn’t sure I could do it. And then something wonderful and Muppety happened… As part of my preparations for this piece I re-watched “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson” and a certain moment really hit home. Towards the end of the special Fozzie Bear learns just how much Jim meant to the world and figuring he couldn’t do justice to everyone’s feelings decides to cancel the tribute finale. And then Robin speaks up…
After watching this clip I realised that if I believe in myself and take what I have and fly with it, I could probably just about get away with my very own tribute. And so I’m going to do it – for me and for Jim. So the song above is kicking off this week’s chart in incredible style. “Just One Person” has become as much of an anthem for the Muppets as “Rainbow Connection” or “Bein’ Green”. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet Jim and I wish I had, but as far as I can tell the sentiment of this track was him to a “T”. He knew how to nurture talent and inspire you to be your best. This is evidenced in all of the fantastic work Jim and company produced throughout his career.
So Just One Person has spurred me on to write this piece, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent much more time researching this week’s chart than normal because I really didn’t know where to start. I guess I’ve done that now so at least I don’t have to worry anymore.
I’ve cried a lot this week too. Whether it’s watching YouTube clips or reading the final chapter of Brian Jay Jones’ wonderful biography, I’ve found myself leaking all over the place. Such is Jim’s influence on me. It’s incredible that I can feel such loss for someone I never met 25+ years after the fact. It’s not like I didn’t know how the book ended… Jim had a profound affect on so many people and the next song I’m presenting here perhaps shows why – because the Muppets aren’t afraid to be profound themselves.
I had never heard this song before I looked at it for this chart and I’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I must admit it seems strangely fitting for this tribute to Jim Henson as it’s not afraid to tackle big issues with lyrics like “How unexpected things turn out to be” and “Life is a riddle, beginning to end”. I defy anyone to listen to this and not instantly think of Cantus Fraggle. He’s a character that really chimed with Jim and if not in name or person I’m glad I’ve managed to get at least a little of his essence in this tribute.
I think Jim really turned me on to the world and introduced me to its wonder. Frank Oz described Jim as an “appreciator” and I think through his work we’ve all become great appreciators too. It’s some how fitting then that Jim’s last singing performance on Sesame Street was a song of wonder all about appreciating our surroundings. It’s a beautiful piece.
I’ve always been a big fan of the sky. That might seem like a weird thing to say, but I clearly remember a time when I was having a bad day and I went for a walk as I just had to get away from a situation. For some reason I suddenly noticed how big and beautiful the sky was. Even before I had ever heard this song, I had similar feelings about how the sky was always with you and that meant you were never alone. Maybe unwittingly Jim and Kermit were with me that day reminding me that life is a gift. That’s a nice thought though probably unlikely.
Considering we’ve only seen three songs so far we’ve definitely strayed into very deep territory and although Jim was a deep and spiritual man, he was so much more than that. He had a wicked and zany sense of humor and he knew that through comedy we could be united despite our differences. There is no one more different than Gonzo for me and here we see him having fun with someone that truly accepts him as he is even though they might not be birds of a feather.
I’ve always loved this song. I must admit today in particular I’m appreciating its jaunty melody. For me this is a great way to show Jim’s weirder side which I think often gets forgotten. Go back and watch some of those early sketches or a Wilkins Coffee commercial and you’ll see that Jim was a big fan of offbeat humor.
I guess as well as showing us that there’s someone there for everyone, this song also speaks of acceptance which is a big thing for Jim and all of his creations. It’s probably the most common thread that runs through his work. By coincidence Sesame Street’s focus in 1990 was about getting along and appreciating everyone’s differences. This leads me to my next song – Skin from season 22 of Sesame Street.
This fun number makes me think of New Orleans bands and men in boaters doing strange dances with Banjos. I guess that’s another thing we can check off our things we associate with Jim list (although that’s really only because of Kermit – and I guess the Country Trio). This song is sung by Kevin Clash who I must admit I’m loving a little bit more every week now that he’s appearing in my charts. Can we get him back please? Clifford wasn’t that bad – he just joined the troupe at the wrong time. Anyway, this song talks about accepting yourself no matter what color you are. However, we all know there’s another more famous Muppet song that covers the same territory…
(I can only apologize for the affects this next video will have on you. I recommend you don’t watch this while travelling on the bus, operating a gorilla detector or basically doing anything else that could be affected by crying like a small child.)
If any of you can watch that clip and not be moved I’m not sure you’re certifiably sane. I’ve watched it several times over the last few days and it never fails to get me. Caroll Spinney is on record as saying he’s not sure how he got through this performance without crying – he sounds only a shade away throughout the whole thing. There are plenty of Muppet versions of Bein’ Green and if I’m honest I always feel like Kermit’s speaks to me the least. I think my favorite Jim Henson rendition is the one from “Ol’ Brown Ears is Back”, but I’m jumping ahead a few years there. Bein’ Green has become such an important song to so many people. My fandom of Jim and the Muppets has always stood me in good stead. I truly think they’ve allowed me to make peace with who I am. I also accept that ultimately we are all good people with faults. That can only happen when you realize it about yourself first and Bein’ Green did that for me.
I think after the sadness of the last song we need another pick me up to skewer the tone. If Jim were in charge someone would get eaten or explode, but we don’t have that in the budget. Strangely, we can instead somehow afford a world tour…
Sorry for the poor quality of this clip, but I couldn’t resist having a little something from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. This song reminds us of two things regarding Jim’s work. The first is quite obviously music. I genuinely can’t think of a single thing the company has made where music isn’t a major part of the overall experience. Whether that’s cute bunnies singing lullabies, Podlings playing folk music or Animal upstaging Rita Moreno, the Muppets without music is like night without day. I 100% attribute my eclectic taste and knowledge of musical styles to The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock.
The other aspect of Jim’s work that is reflected in this song is his worldwide appeal and the number of countries he worked in. The U.S., U.K. and Canada all played regular host to Jim and company and several international versions of Sesame Street are still shown. What a legacy!
We only have a few songs to go now and I hope I’ve managed to convey everything I wanted to regarding how I feel about Jim. As I looked through Jim’s biography I was struck by something Jocelyn Stevenson said at his London memorial. She put it so eloquently that rather than try to paraphrase I will quote it directly.
“When Jim left the planet so suddenly, all of us who loved him, worked with him, were inspired by him, gathered together in New York City. We were like dandelion seeds clinging to the stem and to each other. And on May 16th the wind began to blow.
There’s no stem any more. We’re all floating on the breeze. And it’s scary and exhilarating, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But gradually, we’ll all drift to the ground and plant ourselves. And no matter what we all grow into, it’ll be influenced by Jim. We’re Jim’s seeds. And it’s not only those of us who knew him. Everyone who was touched by his work is a Jim-seed.”
I’m proud to be a Jim-seed. I might even get it on a T-Shirt. I can testify to the power of Jim’s work. I know I was touched by it and it has shaped my life and will continue to do so. I don’t want this to sound like a sermon as that’s really not what it is, but it is a matter of the spirit for me. We never know which way the wind will blow, but I feel like I’ve drifted to the ground and planted myself. Being a Jim-seed has given me a solid foundation on which to grow and I’m sure it has done the same for you. Life is like a movie and Jim has taught us we can write our own ending. Jim famously wrote “My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.” As a Jim-seed my aim is to do the same. We should all strive to leave a world full of “Kieran-seeds” or “Jarrod-seeds” or [insert name here]-seeds. As a wise frog sang earlier – if he can do it, I can do it.
The last three songs all seemed to be a fitting way to end this week’s article so I present them here in no particular order. First, is the organ version of Rainbow Connection from Jim’s memorial. As with Bein’ Green it’s such a signature piece I just couldn’t leave it out. Next, is the medley performed by the Muppet performers at the same service. You don’t need me to tell you why you should watch this clip. Last, is the finale song from The Muppets at Walt Disney World – More, More, More. It talks about the love of performing and how the Muppets will never stop. That seems like the best tribute ever.