Twenty-two years ago, on May 16, 1990, Jim Henson died from a rare bacterial infection.
Like many in my generation, I had grown up surrounded by Muppets. There was Sesame Street (a mere four months younger than me) which taught and entertained twice a day until I had to go to school. There was the “Sex and Violence” special which served as a pilot to The Muppet Show a few years later. Once a week, on Wednesdays, the local CBS affiliate would air The Muppet Show, which my family would watch during dinner. The success from that television show would produce multiple movies, creating imagined worlds which seemed very real.
His sudden passing was a shock to many. Five days later, a memorial was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where the above clip is from.
I discovered that song by accident, a few years ago. During the second season of the Muppet Show, Bernadette Peters guest starred. Robin, Kermit’s nephew, feels ignored, and decides to run away. He stops by Ms. Peters dressing room to say goodbye…
So where did this song come from? 1975. Hal Hackady and Larry Grossman wrote the music for “Snoopy! The Musical”, the sequel to “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. (Both musicals were animated. You can find the Peanuts version of this song on YouTube, but it’s a bit strange, what with Snoopy singing, and some strange cinematography.) So how did this song work its way to the Muppet Show? Larry Grossman served as a musical consultant for the first three seasons, suggesting musical numbers for each guest, as well as penning a few songs during the third season. (“Jamboree” and “The Rhyming Song” are the two best known.)
But I’m sharing this because I got to thinking… It’s hard to believe in yourself when others believe you to be worthless, or less than perfect. Add in the uncertainty and awkwardness of adolescence, power it with just enough intellect which makes you question the world around you, and it’s easy to believe what others say about you, even when one’s imagination fuels hope for a better day someday.
I don’t know exactly what Jim Henson believed in, although he left many examples in his work. He had quite a few doubts and stumbles before the success of Sesame Street, and a few afterwards. But others did believe in him, like Lew Grade and Joan Ganz Cooney, and he managed to do what he loved, and to share that enjoyment with the world.
So to all those who believed and believe in me, for whatever reason, I thank you.
To those who inspire others, who mentor and empathize and encourage and entertain, you are the hidden saints which make the world a better place. You are not negative or positive, you are “transitive“, like so many verbs which begin with “en-” or “em-“.
Perhaps that’s the best legacy someone can leave, even if they leave much too soon.