Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Muppet Gift

I am a Muppet freak. I am obsessed with all things Muppet. I have a giant poster in my bedroom closet that features all the recurring characters from The Muppet Show. It is in the closet as a secret surprise for me, as other people seem to find this obsession disturbing. I'll admit, arriving at a friend's apartment to find huge, felt, monster faces smiling down at you might be a little off-putting.

While M has fostered my love of puppet creatures, even buying me a book called Street Gang, about the development and history of Sesame Street (which I highly recommend,) he seems to find my breaking into Muppet-fueled songs slightly odd. Luckily, my brother, G, shares this habit with me. Between the two of us, we have associated over 20 songs with the Muppets and Muppets alone, often mistaking the vocals originated by famous people like Nat King Cole for tunes crafted by Jim Henson and company. For example, apparently "Tenderly" is a real song. Not a short, loud rant by a crazed Animal.

In August, M and I went to the wedding of one of my college friends, and she danced with her dad to "Time in a Bottle." And it was sung by Jim Croce, who I am fairly certain, was never a Muppet. I was shocked. That classic song, "Something's Happening Here," that features prominently in the Vietnam portion of Forrest Gump apparently does not have construction worker sounds at the end. In the Muppet version, the song is being sung by woodland creatures, before their habitat is torn down by bulldozers, and so the end is drowned out by "Hey, get out of the way!" and lots of shouting. This is not included in the Buffalo Springfield version.

Short of going through all of the songs G and I grew to love on our Muppet Show audio tapes, and the eventual confusion this caused for our knowledge of music history, I can't explain the depth of our relationship to the goofy felt creatures. To us, these are not just children's playthings, or a craze that we experienced as kids. To us, they still exist in a very real way. We had three Muppet Show tapes that we wore out listening to mostly in the car to and from Boston. We grew up as Midwestern kids of East coast adults. Almost every summer we traveled to Boston to visit family. And we took this trip by car. How my parents sat through 20 hours one way of Muppet tapes every year is beyond me, but in these repeated sessions, G and I absorbed every line, every note and every snide comment from our fuzzy friends. To the point that now we reference them as if they are classmates, or friends we catch up with every so often. If I were to mention someone named Lydia, I guarantee you my brother would launch into "Lydia, oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia, Lydia the TA-ah-too-ed lady."

For Christmas a couple of years ago, G bought me a DVD box set of the first season of the Muppet Show, which I watch more often than I care to admit. Having spent most of our childhood hearing these songs and skits without watching them, these DVDs have been fascinating for both G and I. We have shared how we thought a certain song was performed by different Muppet, and sometimes we each had different Muppets in mind for the same sequence. Similar to the way your imagination works in reading a book and creating the setting and pictures in your head, hearing theater stimulates a different creative sense in a way that television cannot provide. This is the genius of marketing Muppets in audio form - it further pushes children's creativity.

The reason I mention all of this is that The Muppet Show is almost impossible to find in audio form currently. As my brother and I wore out our tapes and haven't even been able to find them in a million years, I have been looking for a way to get a CD of our favorite Muppet-y songs as a present. Last year, for Christmas, I found a compilation CD of the best of The Muppet Show and ordered it online from Borders, to be picked up in store. It doesn't have everything, but it does have "Mr. Bass Man," which is his favorite. I decided to pair this with our Christmas tradition, "Merry Christmas from Sesame Street," which we listen to every year, like we are 6 yrs. old. It is cheesy and lame, but it reminds me of little kid Christmases and how these voices were very much my friends for a long time. Hearing Prairie Dawn say, "Welcome, oh welcome to our lit-tle play," is like curling up in a blanket when you are very sleepy.

Anyway, all we have of this amazing Muppet-related holiday concert is a record that is falling out of its sleeve. We have listened to it so many times that the grooves have become trenches and it sounds like it was recorded at the dawn of radio. But apparently, a CD version of this does not exist. Neither do tapes, or anything that would bring this recording into at least 1988. Maybe this is due to the fact that the Children's Television Workshop has undergone a lot of changes in the past ten years, and that they release things very slowly and carefully. Or maybe it is because the idea of religious diversity has taken on a new importance since 1980 and the powers that be do not want to draw attention to a purely Christmas-themed album. Whatever the reason, its controversy or its politics, this record is non-existent in the world of music sales. So I turned to the Internet. Where I found a lovely fan site, listing all the tracks to "Merry Christmas from Sesame Street," for FREE. I downloaded them and made my own CD. I also downloaded the picture from the front of the album and printed it to use as the wrapping paper.

The best part of this gift is that it keeps the love my brother and I have for Muppets secure in that it keeps our mutual appreciation current. At Christmas this year, G and I broke into a rendition of "Simon Smith and His Dancing Bear," which we were told again, was not designed for Fozzie and Scooter, but originated from somewhere else entirely. We were yet again surprised, but not daunted. Give us even a veiled reference and we will break into song anew.

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