Monday, September 25, 2017

Musical Monday - Can You Picture That? by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

Yesterday was Jim Henson's birthday. He would have been 81. He died in 1990 at the age of 53 from toxic shock syndrome that probably could have been treated if he had just paid attention to the signs his body was telling him and gotten medical attention earlier.

I am the exact right age to have been influenced by Jim Henson. Sesame Street debuted in 1969, the year I was born, and by the time I was ready to watch it, it had hit its stride. When he made The Muppet Show, I was seven, which is pretty much the perfect age to first watch that series. When The Muppet Movie came out, I was ten, and once again, the perfect age to watch it. When he followed that up with The Great Muppet Caper, I was twelve, and despite the movie's odd flaws, I was in overjoyed to have it. When he put out the somewhat surreal Dark Crystal movie in 1982, I was thirteen, and ready for the quirky fantasy story. I even liked The Muppets Take Manhattan. I didn't really appreciate Fraggle Rock when it was first aired, but in 1986 when he put out the movie Labyrinth, and in 1987 when he made the Storyteller series, I was primed and ready.

The Storyteller series was essentially the last major work we got from Henson.

Between 1969 and 1990, Henson produced one of the most magnificent bodies of work in the entertainment world. Under his guidance, puppets became a major force in the entertainment world. He gave us educational children's entertainment, snarky humorous shows and movies, surreal fantasies, all which was packaged with vibrant, beautiful music, and a perspective on how people should live that was joyful and optimistic. Even his "failures" (such as, for example, Labyrinth, which lost money at the box office) were brilliant.

He contributed more than just the Muppets though. He was instrumental in so much of what Sesame Street was: He appeared in several stop-motion pieces that were regularly aired on the show, and one recurring "counting" feature always ended with a chef proudly presenting a number of confections as he walks, and then fell, down a small set of stairs. The triumphant voiceover announcing what the chef was carrying was Jim Henson's voice. Every day I am grateful that Henson hit his high points during my childhood, when I was of the age to be able to truly appreciate them. Even things I discovered later, such as his production of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, are so good that I wish I had first seen them when I was younger. It is hard for me to explain the influence Henson has had on my life, in part because I am almost certainly not aware of the full extent of it. I grew up awash in Henson's life philosophy, and I am certain I wouldn't be who I am without that.

And yet, every year when his birthday rolls around, I am also angry. Henson's primary creative career spanned a period of twenty-one years. (Yes, he did stuff before Sesame Street, but that show marks the beginning of the explosion of creative output from him). He's been gone for twenty-seven years now. Even if you assume that he would have retired at some point between then and now, there is no question but that we have missed out on years and years of fantastic work that he could have done. I know it sounds greedy, and I am grateful for all of the work we have of his, but I will always wonder about what might have happened had he just taken some time out of his workaholic schedule and gone to see a doctor a couple of weeks earlier.

Previous Musical Monday: Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Rainbow Connection by the Kermit the Frog

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