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Wonders Follow Me: A Personal Reflection on Jerry Nelson

24 Aug

Yesterday a star went out, as news quickly spread that long time Muppet and Sesame collaborator, Jerry Nelson, had passed away.

Many of you probably assume you don’t know who he was, and you’d be incredibly wrong in thinking so. If you grew up with Sesame Street, then you’d know Jerry best as The Count, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, and Mr. Johnson (ie. Fat Blue). If you grew up with Fraggle Rock, then you’ll know him as Pa Gorg, Gobo Fraggle, and Margery the Trash Heap. And with the Muppets he will always be known for Lew Zealand, Robin the Frog, Floyd Pepper, Crazy Harry, and hundreds of others. Just looking at all his puppeteer credits on the Muppet Wiki should clue you in to how much Jerry’s been apart of not just your childhood, but your life as well.

Jerry was seventy-eight, and his health had been deteriorating over the years, so his sudden death wasn’t too considerably shocking… but then again, losing such an influential figure is always jarring. I knew straight away I’d want to write a personal reflection on the part Jerry’s played in my own life, but finding the words have been so difficult for me. I can’t help but think on these lyrics from The Muppets Take Manhattan:

“Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.
Much more to say, foolish to try.
It’s time for saying goodbye.”

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I haven’t been in the Muppet fandom for very long. Not compared to the multitude of friends I’ve made, who’ve been obsessing over Muppets, Sesame, and Fraggle Rock for years on end. I’ve always loved Sesame and the Muppets, but I’ve only been around the fandom for a little over a year and a half now. Even so, that’s still enough to make me want to run outside and sprint through the streets screaming, “Don’t you realize what’s happened? Doesn’t it eat away at your heart? Doesn’t anyone care?”

I’ve been playing the song ‘When the River Meets the Sea‘ on constant repeat since my friend, Scott, informed me of Jerry’s passing last night. The opening verse Jerry sings of this song touches me so much, because I can’t help but relate it to his passing:

“When the mountain touches the valley,
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully.
Though our minds be filled with questions,
In our hearts we’ll understand
When the river meets the sea.”

Jerry Nelson was the first Muppeteer I became aware of after Jim and Frank, seeing as I knew about Jim and Frank long before my Muppet love became a prominent part of my life. I’d seen footage once in 2010 of all the Muppeteers performing at Jim’s memorial, but while I recognized the voices I couldn’t place the faces (besides Frank’s). Cut to January of 2011, I’m stuck in bed with strep throat and discovering more and more by the minute that the Muppets are the most amazing thing on this planet. I made the first real steps of my life as a Muppet fan while bed ridden and ill: I found the Muppet wiki. I spent hours on that thing, learning people’s names, who played what character, who wrote for the shows/movies, and so on. I remember the first Muppeteer I ever looked up was Jerry. I remember this as clearly as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking, “Okay… Floyd! Yeah, I know who Floyd is. And Robin too, but… Uh… Who’s Louis Kazagger? … And is Crazy Harry the one with the bombs? And who’s Gobo?” I had a long way to go as a fan, but I cemented Jerry’s face and voice in my mind that day, and it’s never left me since.

Jerry’s also the reason I found the Muppet fan community so quickly. I’m sure I would’ve found them out eventually, but upon doing a Google search for Jerry I found that he had posted on Muppet Central before. This led me to making my own MC Forums account, which led me to meeting some incredible people and, eventually, got me onto Tough Pigs. Again, I’m sure I would’ve discovered all this on my own time, but thanks to Jerry I learned right from the get go that I was not alone in this brand new obsession.

One thing that saddens me about his passing is that I’ll never get the chance to meet the man. For months now I’ve had the idea of getting the words “Something’s Calling Me” tattooed on one wrist, and “Wonders Follow Me” on the other. I had always hoped I’d someday meet him once I had these tattoos so I could show him. I bet he would’ve gotten a kick out of them. He seemed like the type of guy who would.

I’m sure every fan and friend of Jerry is thinking the same thing today: what did Jerry mean to me? Mortality tends to do that to us. It makes us think on all that the person did for us and the rest of the world. And Jerry did so much. He taught us to count. He taught us that halfway down the stairs is a great place to sit, and that being little isn’t such a bad thing (which is good to know, as I am a pretty short person). He taught us that silly things like boomerang fish can be art, that chickens can be beautiful, and that theatre phantoms aren’t always so scary. He taught us that adventures are worth going on, and what some people consider to be trash can be the most important thing on this planet to others. He even taught us that sometimes you just get bad service at restaurants and it can’t be helped (curse you, Grover!).

Goodbye, Goodbye,
And every eye is dry.
Leavin’, there’s no grievin’,
Just a rainbow in the sky.
Goodbye, goodbye.

More so than anything, Jerry taught me what it means to be an all around swell guy. I never met him, as previously stated, but I’ve heard enough about interactions with him to know he was a truly amazing human being, just as every person who works with the Muppets is. He brought laughter with performances by Lew and Mr. Johnson, tears with songs by Robin, and the need to dance with pretty much every song Floyd ever did. He was a guy filled with soul, which is greatly reflected in his own personal music that he’s recorded on his own.

This morning I deliberated if I wanted to go on my usual run, since I wasn’t feeling quite up to it. The only reason I decided to go really was because I had to make a stop at the bank to deposit my paycheck anyway. I’m glad I did though. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed the book on the bank’s table of toys for kids that had the Count on the cover. It made me realize that, even though Jerry is gone, his characters will truly live on forever. I also noticed two older men bickering in a friendly fashion on the sidewalk that bore a striking resemblance to a certain two hecklers, which I couldn’t help but think of not just Jerry, but Jim and Richard as well.

Times like this makes us reflect on not just who we’ve lost, but everyone we’ve lost. The song ‘Can You Picture That’ came up on my iPod during my run, and I couldn’t help feeling heartbroken that the main three singers of the song are all now gone. Not just those guys either. Over the years we’ve lost Jerry Juhl, Eren Ozker, Will Lee, Don Sahlin, Judy Freudberg, Northern Calloway, and the list goes on. I wasn’t alive for the passing of Jim, and I was only one when Richard passed on, so this is the first time I’ve ever had to cope with losing a truly prominent person of Muppet and Sesame renown.

I don’t know if I believe in heaven or not, seeing as my relationship with religion is so jumbled, but I know I’d like for it to exist. If heaven does exist, then I really hope Jim, Richard, Christine (Jerry’s daughter), and Jerry Juhl were all waiting for Jerry as he made his way through those pearly gates. Especially Richard. I can just see Richard, a big silly grin slapped on his face, approaching Jerry with open arms. The duo reunited. What a sight to see.

If you guys have some time, I recommend watching these clips of Jerry’s performances:

I’ll end this piece with a quote from the article the AV Club wrote up on Jerry’s passing, that I think defines Jerry’s contribution to Sesame and Muppets to a tee:

“If Jim Henson was the heart of The Muppets, and Frank Oz the brains, than Jerry Nelson was the soul.”

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One Hell of a Woman

3 Aug

Today marks the ninth year of my mother’s passing. In the past, August 3rd tends to be a day where I take to the blogs to express my everlasting dismay of losing my mother at such a young age. This act instantly earns me loads of sympathetic responses, and I suppose that’s what this entry is in turn, a plea for sympathy, though I’m gonna try to hold off on the moping and the whining, as per usual.

I’m a little in shock that we’re already at year nine. One more year and my mom will have been dead a decade. Four more years and it’ll be half my life. That’s insane.

I don’t have much to write about. I mean, of course there’s always the fact that I miss her, but that goes without saying. However, there have been two occurrences in my life lately that apply to her, and I thought I would share both of them.

Recently I watched the film A Summer in Genoa, a movie that has been sitting in my Netflix Instant Watch queue for probably going on a year now. It was one of those indie films that Netflix suggested for me, and, well, I’m not going to say no to a movie starring Colin Firth, am I? So I turned the movie on sometime last week, not bothering to look at the plot synopsis. In the first fifteen minutes of the film: two young girls lose their mother, it is revealed the mother’s name was Mary Ann, one daughter throws up at the funeral, and the remaining family (the dad and his kids) go off to Italy for an extended period of time. I almost turned the movie off. All of this, meshed with the fact that I think that Colin Firth looks like a much younger (and much more attractive) version of my own dad, made me sick to my stomach. Why was this movie doing this to me? What had I ever done to deserve it? I did almost turn it off, but I stuck with it, believing I would be rewarded for my efforts. It ended up being an all right movie, not really as good as I had been hoping (thus no reward for me), but it’s still fascinating how, after all this time, something so simple as a movie can hurt me so much.

Secondly, I’m almost done reading Stephen King’s book On Writing, and I’m currently at the section where he keeps talking about how every writer needs to have an Ideal Reader in mind. The Ideal Reader is the person a writer writes for, whom they hope to please. I sat for a long time trying to distinguish who my ideal writer would be. My dad? My brother? My godfather? Nick? Brynne? Aileen? But, when it comes down to it, it’s my mom. Even when I get married someday I doubt it will change. I will always be writing to please a ghost.

When going through some of my drafts of unfinished entries on my WordPress today, I came across something I had written about my mother. I’m not sure where it was headed or what purpose it serves, but it was a nice quip so I might as well share it now:

I wish I could talk to you about To Kill A Mockingbird, The Things They Carried, Pride and Prejudice, The Lovely Bones, and all the other wonderful books I read in high school, college, and now. I wish you had been on the phone with me when I found out I had appendicitis. I wish you had been there for me when I spent two and a half years confused about my sexuality. I wish I knew what you were doing when you found out JFK had been shot. I wish you were here to tell me that every boy who’s turned me down is a jerk and I don’t need them. I wish we could’ve shared a drink or two together. And I wish – I wish with all my heart – you had been alive for the growth of my Muppet adoration. You not only would have been understanding of my Muppet love, you would have gotten on the band wagon right alongside of me. You would’ve watched The Muppet Show with me and told me stories about how you caught episodes when you were a kid. We would’ve argued about our favorite characters. We would’ve cried watching clips of Jim’s memorial together. I have no doubt of any of this in my mind.

I’m not quite sure when I initially started writing this. Probably a couple months back.

The loss of a loved one is a curious thing. As time goes on, years pass, seasons change colors, and you begin to only feel the effects of their death in short, random spurts of emotion. You have no control of when these spurts will take place. One day you may be walking down the aisle of a grocery store or doodling in class or watching a movie with friends, and suddenly a song starts playing over the intercom or the teacher begins talking about Italian families or some (asshole) actor makes a joke about aneurysms. Suddenly you can’t control your emotions. And yet, some days, like the loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their passing, when you feel it is very necessary for you to be sad, the emotions don’t come. And that’s today for me.

It’s not that I don’t feel any emotion and I haven’t spent almost every waking hour thinking on her, because I have, I’m just not flooded with the amount of emotion I have been in the past. Perhaps this is a good thing. Hell, I know this is a good thing. I know that some things will always spark more emotion than others, like the book A Prayer for Owen Meaney or the episode ‘The Body’ of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I guess when it comes down to it what I’m trying to say is that I miss her and still wish she were here. I wish she never left. My dad has a saying, which I always roll my eyes at upon every utterance, but I can’t deny that it doesn’t bear a heavy dosage of truth with it. “Worry about the things you can control.” I can’t go back in time and fix this, no more than I can go back in time and stop myself from eating that meat that gave me food poisoning in Mexico or stop myself from getting involved with that dude last spring. I just can’t, and it sucks, but we’re human so there’s really not much we can do about it. At least, not until someone builds me a TARDIS and gives me the power of time travel.

And when my TARDIS day comes I can guarantee you that my mom and I will be riding dinosaurs with Gilda Radner and Frank Sinatra across the outer rims of space, and no one’s gonna stop us. No one.

regrets of the day

11 Apr

i regret not telling you “i love you” more than i could have

i regret not speaking to you as we walked for two whole minutes in absolute silence

i regret buying that quesadilla

i regret not raising my hand fast enough

i regret not leaving that lecture sooner

i regret not iming you more often

i regret making you the first to share in my secret

i regret not leaving the house five minutes earlier

 

They say “forget regret”, but sometimes I find that an impossible task to accomplish.

~*~*~~

Happy 59th birthday, Mom. I have no clue what lies in the great blue yonder, but whatever it is I thoroughly hope it involves you enjoying birthday drinks with Frank Sinatra, Gilda Radner, and Jimmy Stewart.

A Daughter Without a Mother is like a Bird Who Lost Its Tail Feathers…

29 Jan

Death is a difficult subject to tackle. It’s one that everybody tries to write about and, more often than not, one that people usually fail to really captivate. God only knows I’ve written about death a number of times, and I still don’t think I’m well equipped enough to speak on it.

But on some levels, maybe I am. Death was introduced in my life when I was five years old when my favorite uncle died of lung cancer, and then again when a girl named Audrey died when I was in the fourth grade. I don’t remember much of them. I remember Uncle Dave had a thick mustache and thick glasses, and I remember Audrey was one year younger than me and was in the same Girl Scout troupe as I was, but besides that I really can’t remember them. I can’t remember why he was my favorite uncle and I can’t remember if Audrey and I were ever friends or at least pleasant acquaintances. Time and age has stolen all my fond memories of the two of them.

Then when I was thirteen my mother died of an aneurysm. It was sudden and quick and nobody saw it coming. It happened at six in the morning and by 12:15pm she was gone. That was over eight years ago, but to this day it still hurts. It’s always going to hurt, I realize, even when I’m eighty years old and can no longer remember the sound of her voice – which is already hard enough to remember as it is.

The reason I bring up death, namely the death of my mother, today is because of two things that have happened in the last twelve hours: I watched O Brother Where Art Thou and I watched the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled “The Body”.

O Brother Where Art Thou may baffle some to a certain extent, so I will explain. My mother showed me O Brother when I was just a kid, about ten or eleven, probably deemed “too young” for the movie, but for some reason she allowed it. It was one of the first times I was ever invited to watch a “grown up movie” with my parents. She instructed me never to say any of the “bad words” that I’d hear, she had to explain to me why a bunch of men in white robes wanted to kill an innocent black man and she had to explain the word “nigger”, and she made me close my eyes when the Cyclops squished the toad. That being said, it quickly became one of our favorite movies to watch together and we watched it several times before her passing. It’s not a movie that always makes me think of her though; not really. I watch it on a somewhat regular basis (at least once a year?) and while she may be floating in the back of my mind as I do, there are definitely other movies that are more emotionally tied into memories of her.

However, last night as I was rewatching it and shoveling Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream into my “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-this-diet-anymore” mouth, I was struck with a sudden odd memory. When I was eleven, I had a major crush on Delmar in that movie. Y’know, Delmar? The short, little guy played by Tim Blake Nelson? Really simple-minded, the comic relief of the main trio, and says things like “Oh George, not the livestock” and “We thought you was a toad”. Yeah, him. I had totally forgotten this over the years and was highly amused upon remembering. I wanted to share it with someone immediately and, for some reason, the first person who came to mind was my mother. I fantasized how amazing it would be to have that one, simple conversation with her. It might seem strange to others, but the image of me calling up my mom and saying to her, “Hey, so, I totally just remembered when I was a kid I had this weird crush on Delmar from O Brother! Isn’t that ridiculous?” and then her saying something funny in response, as she always did, is the thing I want most right about now. I know it’s an odd thing to fantasize about, but geez, what I’d give for that moment.

The Buffy episode is a bit easier to understand why it made me think on my mom. (SPOILERS ahead for Buffy, just so we’re clear)

I have never seen a TV episode portray the loss of a loved one, especially a mother, so brutally honest. Whedon does such a great, poignant job when it comes to matters that are as serious as this, and he really did the death of Joyce justice… but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt any less to watch. I got to work this morning and told myself, “Okay, just one episode of Buffy and then I’ll get straight to the homework”… well, that one episode ended with Buffy finding her mom dead on the couch and I instantly knew I had to watch the next one. And I did. And I cried. A lot. And I was utterly thankful that no one came into the office during that time, because if they had they would have found me red-faced, tears streaming down my cheeks, and choking back sobs of empathy. The part that got me the hardest was finding out the character had been taken by an aneurysm and then realizing that the character of Dawn is very close to the age I was at when I lost my mother to an aneurysm. It’s so rough at that age. And Buffy’s reaction and shock to the situation was unbearable, and seeing how all of her friends took the news… ugh. Heart rendering. Also, I thought his line was extremely accurate:

Buffy: Was it sudden?
Tara: What?
Buffy: Your mother.
Tara: No. And yes. It’s always sudden.

It’s always sudden when we lose a person; whether it happens in the blink of an eye or it’s a gradual, slow process that you think you’re prepared for. You’re never truly prepared. Not really. It’s always going to hurt like a bitch to say good-bye to someone you love with your whole heart.

I’m sure this is not the last time I’m going to write about death, and it’s certainly not the last time I’ll reference my mother. There’s still so much I wish I could say to her, and I feel like writing it down is the only way I’ll ever find that sense of closure that I’ve been looking for ever since I was thirteen.

A daughter without a mother is like a bird who lost its tail feathers…it’s still possible for it to fly, it’s just a much greater challenge.