I’ve been a fan of the brilliant Jim Henson for as long as I can remember, from “The Muppet Show” to “Fraggle Rock” and everything in between, including films such as “Labyrinth,” “The Dark Crystal,” “The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper” and now, “The Muppets,” which hit the big screen in 2011, more than 20 years after his death at the age of 53.
And while it will never be the same, knowing that it’s not Henson providing the unmistakable voice of Kermit the Frog in this most recent production (the family and I sat down to watch it last night), I must admit it’s good to see the whole gang back together.
Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, Gonzo the Great ... not to mention the Swedish Chef and, of course, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (one of the greatest band names ever created); these characters represent what I love the most about Henson: the camaraderie, the imagination, the sheer skill involved in bringing them to life.
What more can I say? The man and his remarkable body of work remain a huge inspiration for this intrepid reporter and musician. In fact, the Muppet creator ranks right up there with Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Andy Rooney, Stephen King and Robert Jordan as far as said inspiration goes, which is saying a lot.
My first experience with Henson’s work, as far as I can remember, was – like many – “The Muppet Show,” which I watched with a fascination that probably bordered on the obsessive side. Every week, I would round up my own collection of “Muppets,” which consisted of each and every stuffed animal I owned at the time – an impressive number, I assure you – arranging them on the living room couch for the most recent episode of Kermit and friends.
There’s even a picture of this, buried somewhere among the other relics of my youth at my mother’s house, which I pray never sees the light of day ... I’d never live it down.
And then there’s Happiness Hotel, my first real band (with best friend and drummer Eric Tozer and my father on bass guitar), named after the rundown hotel Kermit and Fozzie visit in “The Great Muppet Caper.”
“Sneak out in the middle of the night ... very popular choice.”
You can always tell it’s a classic if it still makes you laugh 30-plus years later.
And that’s the thing about Henson’s work, whether it’s his movies (most of which I’ve now owned in some way shape or form, whether it be VCR, DVD or Blu-Ray) or his television shows (Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock).
It’s a list that goes on and on.
There’s an image that often pops into my head whenever I happen to find myself thinking of Henson and his many creations or watching one of his films, an iconic black and white photograph of the man himself, sitting on a windowsill while staring at his greatest creation (Kermit, of course). It’s a touching snapshot, as if Henson is communicating with the most famous little green frog to ever exist on some subconscious level. It’s an image of an artist searching for (or perhaps examining) that inner voice, that emotional attachment every artist feels but can rarely explain.
It’s a photograph that has soul, if you get my meaning.
And that – when you get right down to it – is what Henson brought to everything he did ... soul. Something he put into every project, every character he ever created. The man was a true genius, and it’s impossible to put into words just how inspiring he truly was.
But it was worth a try.
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