Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jim Henson

I don’t remember my first introduction to the Muppets, or anything Jim Henson. Like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Singing in the Rain, and Looney Tunes; the Muppets have always just seemed to be apart of my life.
My parents tried to introduce me to other Jim Henson classics such as The Labyrinth, but since I was probably only four or five at the time, that movie scared the heck out of me and I still remember the slightly nightmarish dream that resulted.
I am happy to say that I did pick up Labyrinth (on my own, without any prompting from my parents) about two years ago and love that movie. It doesn't surprise me that I love it, I actually find it funny that a movie that scared me so badly as a child is now one of my favorite movies.
But I love anything done by Jim Henson.

Jim Henson’s stories on film and characters have impacted me greatly. His characters were on Sesame Street teaching me shapes and numbers and my ABCs. His Muppets made/make me laugh for hours on end, no matter how many times I watch the show. One of the earliest Muppet videos (yes, VHS) I remember watching was Muppet Classic Theater. They were slightly fractured fairy tales and full of slapstick, but that’s what makes a Muppet a Muppet! And there were exploding penguins! Who doesn't love random penguins (and chickens) zooming through the air? Admit it, you know you love them too. Don’t lie to yourself.

I know Jim Henson has inspired many people, and many people claim that a piece of a song he sang resonates with them. I think the songs Jim Henson and the other men who made the Muppets sang were supposed to resonate with everyone on some level. I can name about 5 or 6 songs off the top of my head that resonate with me and what’s going on in my life RIGHT NOW.  The songs were about life, about getting along, about finding your place, about silly stupid stuff that just made you laugh. Songs that get stuck in your head. Tunes simple enough that children will be able to sing all of the verses after hearing the song only a few times.

Today in the anniversary of Jim’s death. He died 22 years ago, about two years before I was born. Just watching the video footage on YouTube of his memorial service is enough to send me into a stream of silent tears. Every time. Seriously, if you want to get me to cry, make me watch his memorial service. Everyone was touched by knowing Jim Henson. Kind of like how everyone who knew Christian Stillwell was touched by his light. The biggest difference was that Christian is a Christ follower, and as far as we know, Jim Henson was not. This makes me cry even harder.
I watched part of a TV special (on Youtube), Muppets were putting on a Tribute to Jim Henson. They had to come up with a finale and Fozzie Bear found a folder that Kermit left for them to look through for inspiration. The folder was full of condolence cards and letters from their fans, saying how sorry they were that Jim had passed away.
If you ever say puppets can’t have emotion, just watch all of the Muppets deflate after reading these letters. There’s no music, and not one of them has anything that they can say in response.
A few seconds go by and Robin (Kermit’s nephew, a small frog) starts singing a song called Just One Person. It’s from Snoopy the Musical, but it applies perfectly. Eventually everyone joins in singing along (I’m sobbing at this point when I watch the video).

If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you...
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
"If he can do it, I can do it."

Making it: two whole people, who believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you.
Hard enough and long enough
There's bound to be some other person who
Believes in making it a threesome,
Making it three.....
People you can say: believe in me.....

And if three whole people,
Why not -- four?
And if four whole people,
Why not--more, and
more, and

And when all those people,
Believe in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you...
Hard enough, and long enough

It stands to reason that you yourself will
Start to see what everybody sees in

And maybe even you,
Can believe in you... too!

I think that this is the most perfect song to describe the impact that Jim Henson had on people. He was a soft spoken man, hiding his brilliance behind a shy smile and when his humor came out, everyone laughed. When he came up with an idea and took a look at the world in a different way, everyone paid attention. He was able to present important ideas in an innocent and simple way that helped people to understand each other. He helped people to believe in themselves. I think he was able to do that because he showed puppets acting like people. Not people acting like people, but silly little puppets that everyone loved. I haven’t met a person who has a Muppet that they don’t like.

There will be plenty of times that I talk about Jim Henson, or want to watch something made by him, because it brings me back to my childhood and inspires my future. I hope that we never forget this man and the impact he left on the world in his short time here.

Life's like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.” 
             -Jim Henson 

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