Sesame Street first premiered on this date in 1969. Happy birthday, Sesame Street! And thanks for all the fun and learning over the years.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.
Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others.
I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.
These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.
Luceat lux vestra
September 24th is a significant date in Muppetdom. Most serious Muppet fans probably know that it’s Jim Henson’s birthday, and many know that it’s also Steve Whitmire’s birthday (which I celebrated on Monday). But there’s another reason why September 24th is significant that even the most dedicated Muppet fan may not be aware of: Jeff Moss passed away from cancer on September 24th, 1998. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.
(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.
I want to take a moment to reiterate my reader-response-informed theory of criticism: it is neither the creator of an artistic work nor the audience that confers meaning upon it; rather, meaning is created when the intention of the author meets the interpretation of the audience. This is not to say that the creator of a work cannot have his or her own interpretation of its meaning; rather, it means that the creator’s interpretation is not the “only” correct interpretation.
I bring this up again because the matter of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality became an issue again this week. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. I believe that, much like Batman in The Dark Knight, Bert, Ernie, and all the other Muppets are whatever each of us, as individual viewers, need them to be.
I really identify with Ernie in these sketches, not only because, if I have an interesting book, I can read in circumstances that other people would find too distracting, but because I sometimes don’t realize how annoying I can be to other people.
I wanted to post this video a few weeks (or possibly months) ago, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. I tried searching for it by the name of the song, which was difficult because I didn’t know how to spell it. I’ve known this song for most of my life, but I’d never seen the title or the lyrics written out.
A few weeks ago I got a Google alert on a brief interview that Steve Whitmire gave to a local news station in Knoxville, TN regarding the Fanboy Expo that was going on there. I hoped that would not be all that we heard out of Knoxville and happily, it is not.
This morning, YouTube helpfully and accurately suggested that I might like this 25-minute Q&A that Steve gave at the Fanboy Expo. This panel was recorded and posted by Joseph Scarbrough, a name I recognize from the Muppet Pundit forum, even though I don’t think I ever interacted with him there, but a big “thank you” to him on the off-chance that he’s reading this.
This panel is a little different than some of the other panels we’ve seen. It’s shorter by approximately 20 minutes, and instead of the moderator sitting up front with Steve and asking him questions that we’ve already heard a gazillion times, he stood in the audience and helped with their questions. The whole thing pretty much consists of audience questions, so in that sense, it’s a true Q&A
For whatever reason, Sesame Workshop chose to mark the occasion of the Fourth of July this year with a parody of NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”:
Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: This video is not good. The reference is dated, it’s not close enough to the original to be readily recognizable, Ernie sounds like Walter in spots, and what the heck is up with the gratuitous autotune?
With that said, I’m glad that they did something that steered clear of frank patriotism because, as I have observed before, it is difficult to take pride in a country where children are being put in cages, and given Sesame’s mission and ethos, it would be disingenuous of them to do so.
I also enjoy Oscar’s contributions to the video because he’s basically saying out loud what I’m just thinking. And bless Matt Vogel’s heart, he’s in fine voice as the Count and really giving it his all. His level of commitment is admirable regardless of the overall end result.
So first of all, I have to take a moment to praise Frank Oz: As Ernie is putting the scarf on Bert, it accidentally gets in his mouth, and Frank reacts the way a person would react if someone accidentally stuffed a scarf in one’s mouth. It’s that combination of skill, commitment, and instinct that give the Muppets life.
Last night I wrote about why I didn’t like Twitter. Specifically, I don’t like being notified that other people like it when somebody is mean to me. I said it was like being kicked repeatedly in the shins by total strangers and not being able to defend myself.
Well, that was yesterday. Today I like Twitter.
On April 7, 1989, I suffered an abraded cornea.
(“Abraded” is a fancy medical term for “scratched” that I didn’t learn until much later.)
I was 8 years old and in second grade. It was a Friday, and unusually windy even by South Dakota standards. The wind was out of the east and blowing so hard that it was almost horizontal. After school, I had to walk directly into the wind to get to my carpool that would take me to my weekly Girl Scout meeting, and the wind blew some dirt or debris of some kind into my left eye.
All my life, people had told me not to rub my eyes, but no one had ever tried to explain why. And I didn’t know any other way to dislodge foreign objects from my eye, so I just kept rubbing it, and it just kept hurting, and so on in a vicious cycle.
So on the off-chance that there are any little kids reading this, let me pause for this public service announcement: Don’t rub your eyes, kids, because you could accidentally scratch your eyeball, and that really, really hurts.
Hello, all! I haven’t posted anything of real substance for a while, and I wanted to take a minute to catch up. I wanted to let you know that it is not my feelings and convictions that have changed; all that has changed is my schedule.
The good news is that I recently landed a new, open-ended, freelance writing gig (thank you, FlexJobs.com), and while it doesn’t pay much, I think that the experience I gain is going to be invaluable to me as I embark on this new career path. The bad news is that, while I have given two weeks’ notice at my other part-time job, at the moment I am working three jobs, and while this is a temporary situation (until the end of the month) I’m sure you can imagine that my life is quite crazy and hectic at the moment, and free time for blogging is at a minimum as I try to manage my schedule and meet all my various commitments and deadlines.
I did, however, purchase and watch Frank Oz’s documentary Muppet Guys Talking yesterday, and it was probably the nicest brunch I’ve ever had (perhaps second only to this). I could only afford to purchase the film, not all the extra stuff, but the film itself was well worth the 10 bucks or so. I can heartily recommend it, and I’ve been informed today that it’s not going to be available forever, so I’d advise you to carpe diem and carpe documentary while you can.
When I have a free moment, I’ll come back and tell you my thoughts and feelings about it, but don’t expect it before April.
This may well be my favorite Bert-and-Ernie song.
Have I mentioned that I love this song? I love this song.
I wrote about this song almost five years ago and observed that, even when Steve is performing characters originated by someone else, “there is an ineffable Steve-quality to his voice because, as this song echoes around my cranium, I can imagine Wembley Fraggle singing it too. Like, as a duet with Ernie. And now I really wish that could be a thing.”
Now I really, REALLY wish that could be a thing that existed outside my own head. Add it to the list of Muppet duets that I’d like to hear but are either impossible or extremely unlikely to occur.