This is an example of what I was talking about yesterday; it seems to me that it takes way too long for Bert to figure out that Ernie is going to take a bath.
Well, the best-laid plans of Fraggles and frogs often go awry, I suppose. I had a whole Fraggle Friday feature all planned out…and then I developed a migraine, with its attendant photosensitivity, which means I can’t turn on a light to see my notes, at least not without feeling as though a Doozer with an ice auger is standing on my head trying to bore its way into my skull.
So instead, let’s focus on the night when the lights went out in Fraggle Rock: episode 218, “The Day the Music Died,” aka The One With the Ditzies.
“Five minutes into the [Hollywood Bowl] show, and I forgot that he had a new performer – Kermit was just Kermit.”
–Joe Hennes, “REPORT: The Muppets Take the Bowl,” ToughPigs.com, September 12, 2017
I’m genuinely happy for Joe that he enjoyed the show, and the same goes for anyone who attended and enjoyed it.
But this is exactly why I don’t want to watch clips from the Hollywood Bowl show; not because I think it won’t be good, but because I’m afraid it will be good.
The last two months have been terrible in so many ways, and yet they’ve brought to my life a sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in a long time.
Today, while doing research online, I found a quiz that was put together a week ago by Slate Magazine asking the reader to identify (by voice) the puppeteer performing Kermit in various audio clips.
Sarcastically, I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. Turn Steve’s professional tragedy into a party game.”
But I took the quiz anyway, hoping to prove the point that, as wonderful as Matt is, he doesn’t sound anywhere near as much like Jim as some people would like to believe he does.
“Christine Nelson [daughter of Muppet performer Jerry Nelson] would die of complications from cystic fibrosis at age twenty-two. Jim attended the service, his presence quietly reassuring Nelson–but Jim’s actions always spoke louder than any words. Several years earlier, when Henson Associates’ insurance provider had notified Jim that it would no longer be paying all of Christine’s medical expenses, Jim had insisted that Henson Associates change insurance companies to ensure her costs would continue to be fully covered. Nelson had gone to Jim’s office and tearfully thanked him in person, nearly choking on emotion. ‘Jerry,’ said Jim, smiling, ‘that’s what insurance companies are for.'”
–Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography, pages 322-323
Happy birthday to Steve Whitmire and Jim Henson! Steve, this year you get top billing; I don’t think Jim would mind. 🙂
I’m sure there are probably other examples of Jim and Steve singing together in harmony, but I can’t think of any of the top of my head, and it doesn’t matter because this one is probably the best anyway.
This is a song from Kermit…and FOR Kermit:
What follows is an open letter to Steve Whitmire:
Although I am a child of the ’80s, Fraggle Rock was, regrettably, not a significant part of my childhood. I saw bits and pieces of it back in the day, but I never got to watch the series in its entirety until 2013–although I’ve been trying to make up for lost time ever since. In a way, though, I think I’m kind of lucky because I think that maybe I get more out of watching Fraggle Rock as an adult, bringing my education and life experience to it, than I would have as a kid–a relatively blank slate.
Be that as it may, I identify strongly with Mokey. Her abstract, fanciful, introspective approach to life, and her idealistic worldview, remind me a lot of myself. In particular, however, I relate to Mokey in this episode of Fraggle Rock, in which she attempts to discern her vocation. I’ve been trying to discern mine for 37 years, and I still haven’t quite figured it out.
CANTUS: Listening is the first step and the last step.
MOKEY: Ohhh…then I’m on the LAST step!
CANTUS: YOU…haven’t even begun.
MOKEY: Well, I’m already there! I mean…what about the ping?
CANTUS: The ping is the start, but then comes the beginning.
–“Mokey and the Minstrels” Fraggle Rock, (Jocelyn Stevenson, screenwriter)
It’s been almost two months since I started this blog, and while I’ve created quite a bit of content that I can be proud of, in a way I still feel like I haven’t even really begun.
Not counting Kermit, who appeared on Sesame Street but wasn’t created specifically for it, Ernie is probably my favorite Sesame Street character of all time, although it is hard for me to choose between him and Bert (they’re always at their best when they’re together). If you were to ask former classmates of mine whether I was more like Ernie or Bert in school, most of them would probably say Bert. But in my own mind, I always identified with Ernie. Certainly, Ernie is everything that I would like to be: clever, funny, easygoing, with an infectious laugh and a perpetual smile on his face.
And yet, I said before that, of all of the Muppet (and non-Muppet) characters that Jim Henson created, Kermit the Frog is the most “real” to me. So when Sesame Workshop recast Ernie in 2014, my reaction was one of mild annoyance rather than panic.
It was the episode in which Bert learns to ride his bike without training wheels (clip). At first, I was happy to see a street story featuring Bert and Ernie because that hadn’t happened since who knows when. Then Ernie opened his mouth to speak and I said to myself, “Is Ernie going through puberty? Because his voice seems to have changed.”
Someone posted the following video in the Muppet Pundit comments. Steve has yet to talk about it, so I don’t know all of the backstory, but it appears that Steve returned to his old high school in 1988 with some of his characters (Muppet and otherwise) in tow to participate in a concert of some sort.
Take it, Wembley:
I have another confession to make: in all my years of studying literature, I’ve found that, a lot of times, I don’t think that an author’s–or, in a broader sense, an artist’s–most celebrated or well-known work is necessarily their best. I read The Red Badge of Courage in grad school and was underwhelmed by it; my favorite Stephen Crane work is called The Monster; you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s utterly brilliant. Similarly, I love Madeleine L’Engle, and I love A Wrinkle in Time, but it was a early novel of hers, and I think her later works show a growth and a maturity that is missing in Wrinkle, as wonderful as it is and as much as I have always loved it.
My point is that “My Way” is so famous and so popular, and arguably so overexposed, that I’ve never been that impressed with it. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever really paid attention to the lyrics before. But watching Wembley sing this little duet, the lyrics suddenly smacked me in the face, particularly the last verse:
“For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels.”
Those lyrics might have been written for and about Steve; that’s exactly what he’s doing on his blog, and he’s taken–and continues to take–the blows for it.
What follows is a clip from a 2014 benefit screening of Muppets Most Wanted at the White House for military families. Kermit speaks eloquently to the children of military personnel about the challenges they face:
You know, I’ve watched a lot of interviews with Kermit, and Steve as well, and one question that comes up a lot is who are their favorite celebrities that they’ve met and worked with. And, speaking strictly for myself, any or all of the Obamas would be near the top of the list. But I imagine that getting to do things to help kids–like this, or like the Labor Day telethon, or Make-A-Wish visits–would be the most rewarding part of being a Muppet performer. I imagine that that stuff would stick with you longer than the bits with the celebrities, although those bits would be fun too.
This is just to say that my little blog here is undergoing a slight rebranding. I deemed this necessary due to a rookie mistake I made when I first started this blog: I failed to Google the name that I intended to give my blog to see if it was already taken or in use in some other capacity.
It was brought to my attention a while back that there is a play called “Frog Quixote,” and that could potentially cause confusion. I wasn’t specifically asked to change the name of my blog by either the playwright or the publisher, although I would have been happy to comply if it had been considered a copyright infringement. But I don’t think there was much danger of my harming them; if anything, the existence of the play was potentially redirecting web traffic that would have come to me otherwise. So this in my best interest as well.
I would have done it sooner, but I had a hard time thinking up a new name. I only want to go through this rebranding once, so I want to get it right. “Don Quixote” and “Man of La Mancha” are more or less synonymous, so this seems like a logical step.
Most importantly, the URL is staying the same for now. If, for some reason, that changes in the future, I will definitely let you know.
Thank you for your kind attention. 🙂
“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
–T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
I have a confession to make: Kermit the Frog is more “real” to me than any of the other Muppets. I remember when Jim Henson died, my first thought was not “What’s going to happen to the Muppets?” or “What’s going to happen with Sesame Street?” but “What’s going to happen to Kermit?”
So when news of the Schism broke, I was less concerned about Steve’s other characters than I was about Kermit. But as I processed the news, I started worrying about Beaker.
Since Beaker doesn’t really talk, I feared that Disney would feel that it didn’t matter who performed him. In fact, the opposite is true: a character who doesn’t talk needs a skilled, consistent performer who knows how to convey an idea nonverbally.
Three years ago, the Muppets were featured on “A Capitol Fourth,” the yearly Independence Day special that airs every July 4th on PBS. In order to promote the special, Kermit the Frog and host Tom Bergeron did a series of satellite interviews with local TV new programs. One of these was an affliate in Omaha, Nebraska, which is about 175 miles, or a 2-3/4 hour drive, south of where I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:
In the interview, Kermit mentioned the zoo in Omaha, and I freaked out: “OHMYGOSH! Kermit the Frog just mentioned the name of a place that is relatively close to where I live, and that I’ve actually visited!!!”
These are the scraps that you have to console yourself with when you’re a Muppet fan who lives in South Dakota. Although, there may be an obscure Muppet connection for those of us to live in Sioux Falls: Raven Industries is based here in town; their main thing is the manufacture of balloons and inflatables, including some of the big balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that sort of thing. I’m not able to verify it now, but I think I remember hearing once that Raven Industries had made the Kermit the Frog balloon that appeared in the parade from 2002-2012. I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but it’s certainly possible.
Anyway, getting back to Omaha: what really impressed me is not only that Kermit mentioned the Omaha zoo, but he actually called it by its proper name: the Henry Doorly Zoo. I think that was the first time I’d ever heard someone not associated with the zoo call it by its real name; most people just call it “the Omaha zoo,” as I have done all throughout this post.
I asked Steve Whitmire, in a comment on his blog, if he had ever actually been to the zoo in Omaha. He didn’t respond at the time, so I still don’t know, but I am not without hope that he will be able to address it someday.
But anyway, the other reason that I wanted to post this interview is because it’s really a beautiful example of the lovely, fluid, dynamic facial expressions that Steve gives Kermit when he performs him. It really makes Kermit alive and vibrant.
We don’t have footage of five consecutive minutes of Matt Vogel performing simula-Kerm yet, (at least, not through official channels) so I’m not yet able to make a fair comparison, but thus far simula-Kerm’s face seems very static.
I’m also a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and there’s a phrase related to that show that keeps running around in my head. When Bill Corbett took over performing Crow T. Robot from Trace Beaulieu at the beginning of Season 8, he had not done a lot of puppeteering before, and he apologized for the resulting mediocre performance by telling people, “Crow has had a stroke.”
And I’ll just say that, if I didn’t know what was going on with the Muppets and Disney and Steve and the whole thing, if I looked at those videos with Matt performing Kermit without knowing what was going on, I would have said, “What’s the matter with Kermit? It looks like he’s had a stroke.”