For Love of Felt and Foam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a book review.

I spent my free moments this summer pouring through a six hundred page biography, most of the time on my porch while my daughter played with her friends in the yard or poolside under a big umbrella while she swam. In my mind, I’m already associating the memories of reading of this book with that feeling of sweat building on my upper lip and eyebrows.

The book was a gift from my brother for Hanukkah last year. I’m a horrible person to shop for unless you know me really well. My brother knows me better than probably anyone, and he knew I would be giddy when he gave me a copy of Jim Henson’s biography.

green-book

The cover, sans dust jacket, in Kermit Green

I’m not going to review the book, per se, though I would highly recommend reading this book if you are a huge fan of Henson’s work. Written by Brian Jay Jones, who is currently tackling the George Lucas biography, the book is very detailed and heartfelt and I, who thought I was such the Muppet expert, learned a whole lot from it.

I’ve been a dedicated Muppet fan since childhood. I watched Sesame Street with the kids of my generation, enamored by characters made of felt and foam. I watched the Muppet Babies cartoon every Saturday morning. My family had all three Muppet movies in our limited mid-80s VHS collection. And I watched reruns of The Muppet Show, which ended its popular television run the year I was born. I didn’t understand the pop culture jokes at the time, but I was glued to the screen anyway. I was only eight years old and barely aware in 1990 that Jim Henson had died; his family would keep the franchise going for more than a decade before it would be sold to Disney, so for many of us, the Muppets never skipped a beat.

Henson started out young, doing puppet shows for local television stations in college. He claimed in one interview that he always knew he would be successful. He felt that anyone who worked hard and loved what they did that much was sure to be successful in time, although time would become a major issue for him. He would never have enough. When Henson was twenty-two years old, his older brother was killed in a plane crash at age twenty-four. His early death would instill a sense of urgency in Henson – no one really knows how much time they have here on earth. And he was going to squeeze in as much as humanly possible.

Jim Henson was a highly creative individual who had an imagination that had no limit. For every complicated project he attempted, there were two in the wings that he was already planning. For every successful show or movie he made, there were a series of failed endeavors that either never got off the ground or were not critically successful. He never shied away from trying, even when facing almost certain failure. The man died rather abruptly with a head and heart still filled with passion and ideas.

His reach has been immense.  Sesame Street alone was a huge innovation in its time. Designed as a teaching tool for low-income, inner-city children who didn’t have access to early education programs, Sesame Street would redefine educational television programming. Not only was it entertaining and fun, but millions of children would learn basics skills such as saying the alphabet, knowing how to count or identifying shapes and colors. Sesame Street was by far the most important of Henson’s projects and he was very protective of it. By the mid 1980s, Henson would be busy running a Muppet empire while filming would-be cult classics like Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and The Labyrinth, but still found the time to actively perform the part of Ernie on Sesame Street until his death.

SandW

Jim Henson and Richard Hunt as Waldorf and Statler. *

He was the life force behind several of the Muppets. He was Kermit the Frog, of course. But he was also Rowlf the Dog. And he was Dr. Teeth from the Electric Mayhem. He was also Waldorf, half of the heckling duo Statler and Waldorf. And he was Ernie, the sweeter half of Bert and Ernie. With his right hand inside the head controlling the mouth and his left hand as Ernie’s left hand – and a willing puppeteer basically attached to his hip performing Ernie’s right hand – a decorated piece of felt would come to life.  But it was more than just a voice and hand movements – it was a personality that was injected into the character.  It seemed like magic when you were sitting in your living room watching Bert and Ernie squabble. But really…it was a lot of hard work, dedication and collaboration.

BandE

A lot harder than it looks.  *

The concept of the “right hand” was one of my favorite take-aways from the book. I had always wondered how a character, like Ernie or Rowlf, could have two moving hands. I can’t even comprehend the amount of practice that must have gone into two people performing the same puppet…and it somehow still appears to be one entity, moving its hands fluidly together, gesturing and holding things.

I really, really enjoyed this book.  It was a soothing balm to one of my longest running obsessions.  The works of Jim Henson continue to amaze me through years, as I watch them (and make my daughter watch them) over and over again.  After all this time, the magic is still there.

Thanks for reading.

Jim Henson: A Biography by Brian Jay Jones.  On Twitter @brianjayjones

* Photos credits:  Muppet Wiki.

Personal thanks and admiration to Jim HensonFrank OzJerry NelsonDavid GoelzRichard HuntCaroll Spinney and Kevin Clash, for adding such color and imagination to my childhood.  Much love.

The Day the Music Died

All the best ideas come to me when I’m driving or otherwise unable to stop and write them down. This ran through my head stream-of-consciousness style when I was listening to the radio while driving home from work yesterday….

I’ve always been fascinated with the 1970s. And the 1960s. And the 1950s. And on and on. I’m fascinated with the different cultural atmospheres, the music, the television, the politics. The current events. The way it must have felt to be alive at that time. I become obsessed with songs and ideas and people from the past. I want to understand those times even though I was not around to experience them. I am thoroughly disappointed that we have not reached the age of time travel yet.

Time Machine

I’m still waiting.

On February 3, 1959, a small plane crashed in a cornfield in Iowa. All four passengers aboard the plane sadly perished. This included the pilot and three gentlemen: J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley, three of the most popular music acts of the late 1950s.

The music died that day for a 13 year-old paperboy in a small town in New York.

Don McLean is probably best known for his incredibly long, catchy and sometimes annoying song “American Pie” that debuted on America’s airwaves back in 1971. The chorus used to drive me crazy. And at eight and a half minutes, it was so damn long. But I eventually found that in between the jangly chorus repetitions were a treasure of memories and cultural impressions.

Feb-3-news-clip

Headline, February 3, 1959.  The Day the Music Died.

As a young teenager in 1959, Mr. McLean had opened a stack of his delivery papers the morning after the crash and was shocked by the headline. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan and the singer’s death at the early age of 22 was difficult to swallow. Twelve years later, he wrote a song about it and how it affected him.

But the song wasn’t just about the death of Buddy Holly. It was about the change that occurred over the course of the next decade. How the innocence of the 1950s faded into the chaos of the 1960s. His own impressions of what happened, written as unconfirmed characters in rambling, disjointed story throughout the song. These characters included a king (Elvis), a jester (Bob Dylan), a quartet (the Beatles), birds (the Byrds), football players (protestors), Jack Flash (Mick Jagger), and a girl who sang the blues (Janis Joplin).

I listen and I lament that I missed all of this. I feel like I should have been there.

But I can feel it. I can feel the loss and nostalgia through his words. Though I will never know what that was really like to be there.

My daughter is getting older. She’s almost twelve and a lot of the formerly taboo topics are becoming necessary things to talk about. She read a book about the Underground Railroad this summer for her summer reading program and we had many frank conversations about the history of racism in our country. Although I wasn’t there, I could relay the facts that I knew. We stood on the shore of Lake Erie last week and I told her about the environmental disasters that lead to the lake catching on fire 40 years ago. Again, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t around to hear about it on the news or worry about it. I simply know it happened and relayed that information to her.

I like to think I know a decent amount of history, mostly because I find it interesting and we tend to remember what we find interesting. So I can tell my daughter about the War of 1812. Or about the Great Depression. In a matter of fact kind of way. Not in a really affected way. I can remember my mother telling me about the day Kennedy was assassinated. And it was more than just facts. It was how her teacher broke down and cried in front of the class. How numb and unsafe she felt when she walked home from school that day. The mood that settled over the whole country. Not just what happened.

I’m probably too young to be the know-it-all that I think I am. Not in any profound way.

angelou

Thanks for reading.

 

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/learning/”>Learning</a&gt;

In the News: A Response

I want to thank Lizzi from The Well Tempered Bards for her beautiful response to my most recent post. She has kindly posted my poem and her response on her site, and I am now sharing that post with you.

I was honored to find that Lizzi had read my current events panic attack and used it to convey an important truth – we can’t just look away when things are ugly. It hurts to see all the pain and injustice in the world, but it is this pain and discomfort with the status quo that drives change.

And as compassionate citizens of this world, change in the face of injustice is our purpose.

The Well Tempered Bards

Love Wins

Sourgirlohio wrote the following, and it elicited a poetic response in me. She’s kindly allowed me to reproduce her poem, so you understand mine.

A troubled world will still exist
So pay attention if you dare
The horror of the evening news
Will rip your heart out if you care

View original post 212 more words

In the News

A troubled world will still exist
So pay attention if you dare
The horror of the evening news
Will rip your heart out if you care

A shooting mars another day
With evidence of senseless hate
When innocents are killed en masse
Their culture to debilitate

And then a privileged college kid
Would take what cannot be returned
Then blame the victim for his crime
Our system hardly seems concerned

The internet is hardly safe
They mark religion with a frame
Attempting a preemptive strike
With parentheses around my name

Election cycle politics
Have reached a new and frightening low
The issues haven’t lost their weight
But still get lost amidst the show

So with hope we’re hanging on
While the world appears to burn
And though we’ll never douse the flames
There’s still a chance that we could learn

scary

 

Making Time

I haven’t had time to blog much.

I know when something is important, you make time.  Writing is important to me, so I have made time to write in the past few months, but not to finish or edit anything.  I feel defensive playing the Working Single Parent card, especially when there really is no expectation to post.  Perhaps I just feel better having an excuse.

Yesterday was the last day of school.  And less pressure on Mini Me always means less pressure on me.  So I hope to find more time to write something worth posting.

I’ve yet to comment on the current political situation here in the United States as I am not proficient in writing horror.  I like gorillas but I love children, sorry.  Prince died and we all felt purple for a while.  If my brother makes me watch Deadpool again I’m going to vomit.  I won’t freak out if there is a boy in the girl’s bathroom.  In local news, I broke my toe, which now looks like a work of art combining a colorful blend of purples, pinks and deep blues.  And the Cavs….well, Cleveland sports will break your heart.

And now we’re caught up on current events.  I hope everyone is well and I will be trying to catch up on reading blogs this weekend.  If I missed something really great, leave me a link in the comments or tweet the link to me.

Thanks for reading!

time

Not a Love Song

A song I’ve heard a thousand times
Is less familiar than it seems
I’ve failed to note the discord
Between what I hear and what it means

And though I hear a happy song
Of peace and beauty in our time
A dedication of the heart
Wrapped up in a perfect rhyme

It seems this song is not of love
It’s often something so much more
So many songs that sound so sweet
Were penned to warn against a war

Some have no battles to protest
But rather speak of tragedy
Riots, drugs and serial loss
Insanity and apathy

So when I hear the pretty songs
I’m haunted by the hidden lore
Behind the melody I hear
I find what it was written for

song

Photo courtesy of moonhuntress.deviantart.com

 

 

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/music/”>Music</a&gt;

The Art of Your Demise

Looking back upon my words
And the undeserving muse
One chapter in my lonely tale
But at long last, I paid my dues

Forgive me if I use your sins
The pain you caused to dramatize
Like songs of lost and broken love
I’m making art of your demise

So hanging now in effigy
My artist’s take on ghastly things
Now on paper, in the past
I’ve moved on to better things

Hardy

Written for Matt.

Like many bloggers, I keep a backup copy of what I write in case the blog crashes or the internet dies or something. I was trying to categorize some of the poems….I think I can be a little more specific than “Morose Poetry”, right?

While sifting through my work, I noticed an unpleasantly large number of poems were written for an individual I have since dismissed. I felt ridiculous for a moment, at the amount of heartache I felt for such an undeserving specimen. But I realized, after re-reading the things I wrote, that I not only learned from the experience, but I was able to create something worthwhile from it. I lament that, when I eventually publish a book of poems, he will probably have an entire chapter dedicated to him.

I created something from carelessness. From disrespect. From selfishness.

And I’m proud of it. I’m no longer afraid to let the ugly things in life affect me. And I’m not afraid to write about them. And then leave them behind.

On a lighter note, I am happy to be back here after more time away. Things are looking up, because I am looking up. Thanks for reading.

ugly