Tag Archives: Sesame Street

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.”

Musing about Muppeteers :: My Appreciation for the People Behind the Fur and Below the Cameras

11 Aug

I was on Tumblr this morning, as per usual, and I was looking at the pictures of Eric Jacobson with Super Grover at this year’s San Diego Comic Con that both Lara and myself had posted simultaneously on our Muppet tumblrs today, and it really got me to thinking, which got me to writing. What follows is a long response to this picture (over on the left) that I wrote about on my Muppet tumblr today, with a few minors edits and a couple additional pieces. I guess today is ‘Julia-has-a-lot-of-feels’ day, or else I wouldn’t have spun off into this lengthy rant that not too many people are going to care about.

Anyway. Here it is.

If I had been at San Diego Comic Con 2012 and had gotten my picture taken with Super Grover, I think I would’ve asked Grover if it was all right if I had my picture taken with his friend Eric as well. I wouldn’t direct the question at the man on the floor, I would have dignified the part he was playing by addressing the cute, furry blue monster on his arm. Of course, a part of me likes to think that I would have just run straight passed everyone and flopped down on the ground next to Eric right away, but that would have disrupted his performance and thrown everything off, ruining the illusion, and I would never want that. Not in a million years. I know that later in the Con Eric was at a table for signings and pictures, but I have a feeling that upon first sight of Grover I would’ve been instantly overwhelmed and would’ve wanted to share my appreciation with the world immediately. But not for Grover. For Eric Jacobson.

You see, I know Grover’s the name and the face that everyone knows, but I pride myself in being one of the fans who appreciates the man underneath just as much as the monster up above. I wish Muppeteers got just as much recognition for the work they do as any other performer out there. Sure, you could argue that maybe if they did it’d all go to their heads, as it does with so many entertainers nowadays, but I don’t think so. I believe the material they work with keeps them grounded, humble, and human. It certainly did for Jim. These people though. They’re such amazing, talented people, and no one seems to understand that. Their job is far from easy. They portray so much emotion, brevity, and heart in their performances, all while keeping themselves out of the camera’s sight line. They have to be precise in their movements, able to shape their voices to fit a multitude of characters, and they all can sing their ever loving hearts out. They are the most under appreciated performers in all of Hollywood.

Yes, Jim truly got the recognition he deserved, as Frank still does to this day, but if you walk up to someone on the street and ask them if they know who Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta, Karen Prell, or David Rudman are, they wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. However, if you ask them about Gonzo the Great, Zoe, Pepe the King Prawn, Red Fraggle, and Cookie Monster? Of course they’re going to know. Hell, Steve’s been performing Kermit for twenty-two years now, and people still don’t know the name of the man who kept the Muppets alive after Jim’s passing (well, Steve and Brain both did, in my opinion). I suppose Kevin Clash has become much more recognized, thanks to the brilliant documentary Being Elmo; however, instead of hearing people praise his work as Muppet Captain and co-producer on Sesame, I’m still much more likely to hear, “Can you believe Elmo’s played by a black man?” (Yes I can, you ignoramus.) I also think it’s a crime against nature that Caroll Spinney isn’t a household name. That man’s dedicated forty-three years of his life to making children happy. He’s a national treasure and should be treated as such (and hopefully, with the release next year of I Am Big Bird, he will be).

These performers have touched so many people’s lives with the work that they’ve done and they deserve all the praise and adoration in the world.

So no. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten down on the ground with Eric, as not to disrupt his performance, but I certainly would have turned to Super Grover and told him, “I just want you to know, your friend Eric? I really respect everything that he’s done and he is, truly, one of the most talented people alive today. He’s one of the many people that’s changed my life for the better these past couple years, and I just want him to know that.” And I’d hope that would be enough to get my point across to Eric down below, and I hope someday I do get the opportunity to tell this to, not just Eric, but any Muppet performer I might meet. Each and every one of them has taken the last two years of my life and made it so much grander, so much more wonderful, so much more extraordinary. I will never, not ever, stop being grateful to this amazing group of people. They’ve made life a thing of beauty for me, and that is something to be truly thankful for.

After profusely thanking Eric, I would also tell him never to cut his hair this short again. Not his best look.

The Lover, The Dreamer, and What He Means to Me

17 May

How do you express love for a person you don’t even know? A person you will never know, not really, and yet, a person you know so much about. Not only that, but a person who has effected, shaped, and touched your life in so many ways, and you know you are changed all because of this singular, extraordinary person. No person alive can be compared to them, not in a million years.

I am, of course, talking about Jim Henson.

Jim Henson passed away on May 16th, 1990. Forty-nine days before my birth. To have never truly inhabited the world at the same time as such an amazing person slays me.

I’ve spoken quite a lot in the past about how much the Muppets have effected me for the last sixteen months of my life, but I often neglect to go into detail about how much they effected me as a child. And they did. They really did. My family owned The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and Muppet Christmas Carol, which my brother and I watched enthusiastically on a regular basis, and I remember seeing Treasure Island in theaters with my cousins. My brother and I would play Muppet Babies during play time, letting our imaginations run rampant (I was always Rowlf, while he assumed the role of either Kermit or Animal). Then there was Sesame Street, which basically taught me all the general information of the world that I know today. I rocked out to Elmo’s World daily, I sang along with Big Bird, I helped Big Bird track down Ernie, and I anxiously anticipated Slimey’s return from the moon.

The Muppets and Sesame characters were always in my life, meaning that Jim Henson has always been a part of my life as well. I don’t know when I ever became aware of who Jim Henson was. I knew his name at a young age, long before I could recognize his face. After all, his name was attached to all the films and shows of his that I so loved. I feel like I knew his face long before (I have a very vague memory of asking my mother who Jim was at a young age), but the first concrete memory I have of Jim is my freshman year of high school. I passed his face almost every day on a poster in Mr. Housley’s AP Gov classroom.

Okay, so it was really a poster for Apple. Even so.

I was fourteen when I was a freshman in high school. That was about seven and a half years ago. Only six years later would it suddenly occur to me how wonderful, hilarious, and life changing the Muppets could be and how desperately I needed them in my day to day life; only six years until it really struck me what exactly this man had accomplished in his life time.

It’s always difficult to express my grief of Jim’s passing to people who are not Muppet fans and to explain why this day brings me down so much. How am I supposed to describe why the death of a man, a complete stranger whom I will never meet, grieves me so? The thing is though, Jim was not just a man. He was an innovator, a mentor, an artist, a builder, a giver, a performer, a friend, a dreamer. He saw the uniqueness and goodness inside each and every person. He truly believed he could help make the world a better place, he never judged by creed or race, just by the kindness in one’s heart. No, I think it’s fair to say Jim Henson was no ordinary man, and I will strive time and time again to explain the part he’s taken in shaping my life as a human being. Because this man… well, the word ‘magical’ springs to mind.

While Jim and many of the other greats are gone (Jerry, Richard, Don, Kermit Love, etc.), the magic that they brought to life lives on, and the beautiful worlds Jim Henson fabricated out of felt and fur forever frequent in our fantasies and futures.

Thank you, Jim.

PS) I just realized that this is my 100th entry in my The Girl Who Loves Muppets wordpress. How oddly appropriate.

An Entry Where I Try To Explain My Muppet Obsession To The World

7 Jan

You all knew this was coming. You had to. It’s me, after all. How could I go without writing an entry dedicated to them? Hell, the URL for this blog pretty much says it all. It was unavoidable, so we might as well get this subject out of the way now, while this blog is still shiny and new. Best not to draw it out any longer.

I thought it appropriate to breach the topic of my Muppet infatuation today, January 7th, which is the twentieth anniversary of the great Richard Hunt’s passing.

What? You don’t know who Richard Hunt is?

Good grief, okay, well, you do know who he is, you just don’t know that you know. You know Beaker? Sweetums? The left head/hand of the Two Headed Monster? Scooter? Statler? Forgetful Jones? Junior Gorg? Gladys the Cow? Janice? Well, up until his passing in 1992, he was all of those characters, and much, much more. So while you may not recognize his face or his name, his voices and his performances you do and they will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

So. Right. Muppets.

For those of you who haven’t noticed, I love Muppets. I love them a lot. Over the course of this last year I have become the girl who loves Muppets; at least, I have in the eyes of my friends and family. It was my official one year anniversary as a Muppet fanatic last week, and I couldn’t be any prouder. For the most part, my adoration of all things Jim Henson has been received quite well. Some may find it a tad odd, but most people have been rather appreciative of my Muppet love. I’ve even been thanked for bringing back a few fond memories for quite a lot of people. And, of course, I wrote the somewhat popular “Where The Fraggles Roam” slam poem, which has garnered me quite a lot of attention in the realm of youtube and the Muppet-verse, which is lovely in its own way.

That being said, I do think that I underplay my obsession around loved ones. I kind of have to. If I were to show my true colors to my friends, my family, this quality of my life would go from endearing to questionable in a pinch.

I mean, how would I even go about it? How am I supposed to say that I once watched the Emmet Otter blooper reel ten times in a row in one sitting? How am I supposed to admit that I have 30+ friends on facebook who I’ve met via online Muppet forums? Or that I actually met and hung out with someone from one of those Muppet forums (and had a goddamn delightful time)? Or that I’ve sketched Muppet creations of my own? Or that I’ve read Muppet fanfiction? Or how I started sobbing in the middle of a street when Bill Barretta responded to one of my tweets? Or that I’ve seen The Muppets six times in theaters and cried at the same parts each time? Or that I once broke down in tears because it hit me how old and sick Jerry Nelson has gotten? Or that I have Big Bird’s autograph on my wall? That I dream Muppets? That I daydream Muppets? Or that I have a speech prepared for the day I meet Steve Whitmire? Or that I’ve been in constant turmoil about what Muppet quote to get for my first ever tattoo?

Yes. It’s difficult to explain.

(And yes, I do cry a lot. Shut up.)

About a week ago, someone online called me out on being just a “Muppet poser” and that because I have yet to still see a lot of Henson’s work I’m just going through a “phase” and will move onto the “next fad” when I decide Muppets are “too mainstream”. First and foremost, this is bullshit. After the year I’ve gone through? I don’t think there’s a person who doubts that Muppets are going to be a part of my life for, well, the rest of my life.

Growing up, I’ve gone from obsession to obsession to constant obsession. From Harry Potter to Star Wars, from Xmen to Lord of the Rings to Newsies in middle school. From Broadway musicals to LOST, from Firefly to Geoffrey Rush movies in high school. From Repo! to Parks and Rec, from pirates to Game of Thrones, from Steve Buscemi to Stanley Tucci in college. You name it, I obsessed over it. Some obsessions lasted a week, some five months, some two years, and some even longer, but the Muppets have been different. It’s almost as if I’ve been flitting around from obsession to obsession looking for the one I can call my own; the one I can call home. An obsession filled with wonderful fans, fascinating facts, interesting processes, innovative minds, extraordinary hilarity, brilliant and beautiful movies, and just a world I can learn and apply to my life.

That is the Muppets for me. They are my heart. They make me happy and they give me hope and fill me with a sense that anything is possible. They remind me of the importance of friendship and the necessity of dreams. They bring me peace, joy, laughter, harmony, and love. I view them not only on a personal level, but a philosophical one. They see the world the way I wish everyone could see it. They see rainbows as a sign of hope, not hate. Dynamite is used for humor instead of hurt. Everyone has the right to love and befriend whoever they want. Death, when mentioned in any of the Muppet mediums (and Sesame, Muppets, and Fraggles have all touched on it majorly at this point) is talked of so genuinely and beautifully. They offer a world where balloons can whisk you away, where a bear and a frog can conceivably be identical twins, where appearance doesn’t matter, and where friendship and love will always outrank evil doing and fame. To quote Kermit the Frog: “Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.

Why wouldn’t anyone want to live in such a world?

Not to mention the fact that Muppet fans do not bicker or quarrel, like Starkid, Community, or LOST fans. We are not scary like tween girls who fawn over Twilight; we are calm, collected, warm, and welcoming. We understand that you are never too old to love Muppets. We are intelligent. We are comedic. We are awesome, in every sense of the word. While some people see mere fabric on hands of men and women who shape them and make them talk, we see magic and wonder and beguilement. We feel real emotions, and we connect with these characters because they are able to make us feel those emotions. It doesn’t mater that the characters are made of felt and faux fur, in those moments when we watch their shows and movies they are real to us and that is all that matters. And no, we are not stupid, we do know, for a fact, that the characters we’re watching aren’t real, which makes us even more dedicated to the people behind the fabric. We know the names of the performers, the writers, the costumers, the crew. We appreciate every single person, because we understand how much work and effort goes into creating these performances, which makes me come to the conclusion that Muppet fans are truly the most appreciative fan base out there. Just saying. We may be a small community, but we are mighty.

And it’s not like Muppets are the be all end all of my own life. I mean, okay, they kind of are, but believe it or not I actually do have days where I don’t want to watch anything Muppet related. I once planned a week in advanced on watching The Muppet Show on my free night off from school/work, but when it got to that night I decided I’d rather catch up on Merlin instead. What can I say? Most days are generally Muppety, but other days I’d just really rather be watching 30 Rock or Doctor Who.

That being said, Muppets are still number one in my heart. To quote a very wise man:

“As long as there are singing frogs and joking bears, Swedish chefs and boomerang fish, the world can’t be that bad of a place.”

…. Okay, fine, yes, I did just quote a Muppet. Um… Okay! Wait, here, here’s an actual quote from someone who’s real:

“[Muppets] are just such a force for good, and I know that’s crazy to hear me talk about it, but I’m in love with them. They remind us of the best version of ourselves. They’re who we wanted to be when we were kids.”

Jason Segel said this in an interview. Oh what a wonderful, wonderful man (ie. my future husband-to-be).

I don’t know what else to say. To me, Muppets are more than just an amazing fandom. They’re a lifestyle. As odd as that may sound, I like to think in the world we live in people are going to be rather accepting of this fact. If not? Well, I’ve got my ToughPigs and MC Forums peeps to rely on.

So thank you, Muppets, and thank you especially to Mr. Hunt, on this day of all days, for being one of the key contributors to the thing that brings me the most happiness in life, because that’s really what everyone should strive for: To find the thing that makes us happier than we ever conceived.