(I know that today is also Jim Henson’s birthday, and I have something special and separate planned for him on Saturday.)
I am sure you are already aware that today, September 24th, 2018, is Steve Whitmire’s 59th birthday. It sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to commemorate the occasion. I thought of showcasing some of his best work as some of his most prominent characters via YouTube video, etc. Then I thought, “Next year is his 60th birthday; maybe something like that would be more appropriate for the milestone?”
Then I realized, with Steve having worked with the Muppets for nearly 40 years, there’s a wealth of stellar material to showcase. Rather than try to confine it all to one day, why not spread it out over the course of a full year?
Here’s my idea: from now until September 2019, I’ll showcase five examples (be they videos or whatever) of Steve’s best work on the 24th of each month. Each month will feature a specific character or unifying theme. Then the project will culminate next year on Steve’s 60th birthday with a compilation of 60 examples of his best work.
The project starts right now, with examples of some of Steve’s best work as five of his best-known characters:
Ernie: “I Don’t Want To Live on the Moon” (Elmopalooza)
My list of favorite songs constantly fluctuates based on many different factors, but I think it’s safe to say that this one is always in the top five, and this particular performance is my very favorite version of this song. I wasn’t expecting much from a special called “Elmopalooza” when it initially aired in 1998, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to go on an emotional journey, to be taken back to the happiest and safest times of my childhood, while simultaneously being transported somewhere entirely new.
At the time this special aired, I was 17 years old and in high school, so my sister would have been 26. Then, as now, she was a music teacher, and at the time she was also a big fan of Shawn Colvin, so she really loved this song too. I don’t always see eye to eye with my sister on things, so it was nice to be able to share this with her.
Kermit: “Caribbean Amphibian” (Elmopalooza)
Okay, look…it’s impossible to pick one best Kermit bit, but this is one of my favorite Kermit songs and probably my favorite upbeat Kermit song. We don’t actually see as much of Kermit as I would like, but Steve’s vocals are beautiful here, particularly on the harmony parts.
Because Elmopalooza was something special to share with my sister, when she got married and started having kids, I wanted to share it with them too, so I gave the DVD to my oldest nephew* on his second birthday. Not long after that, I spent a weekend at their house, and while I was there we watched the entire special, then my sister navigated the DVD so we could rewatch my nephew’s favorite songs. The three of us got up and danced to “Caribbean Amphibian,” and for whatever reason, I said, “Do the Jon Stewart dance!” So we did.
My nephew is 13 now and, I imagine, less inclined to do the Jon Stewart dance. *sigh*
Bean Bunny: “Drum of Time” (Tale of the Bunny Picnic)
I’m sorry if I’m getting tedious, but this is simply the best of Bean Bunny. Hands down.
Sprocket: The curious case of the peach and praline ice cream (Fraggle Rock, “Inspector Red”)
Despite Sprocket’s protestations of innocence, Doc falsely accuses him of eating the peach and praline ice cream solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence, a laughably improbable premise with no real-life parallels whatsoever. *ahem*
Wembley: “Free and High” (Fraggle Rock, “Wembley’s Flight”)
As impossible as it is to pick the best Kermit song/bit, it’s even harder to pick the best Wembley song. Ultimately, I picked this one because not only is it uplifting (in more than one sense, har har!) and not only does it feature some magnificent vocals from Steve, but it also features some really cool puppetry effects of Wembley flying around Fraggle Rock.
So Steve…I don’t know if you’re reading this, but if you are, I wish you a very happy birthday. From what I hear out of the conventions and whatnot, it sounds as though you’re doing really well, and I couldn’t be gladder for that. Thanks for being a mentor, and thanks for never sacrificing your integrity.
Thanks for everything.