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May 16, 2014

What I’m Thinking About on May 16th

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: , — Ryan Roe @ 12:25 pm

jimandsomemuppetsToday is May 16th, which is a day when all Muppet fans’ thoughts turn to Jim Henson.  Of course we think about him all year, and we celebrate him on his birthday, but the anniversary of his death is an especially poignant time to remember our favorite bearded genius.

I live in New York City, where Jim spent a lot of time.  Last fall, Brian Jay Jones’s terrific book Jim Henson: The Biography was published, and I devoured it in a matter of days, as I’m sure many fans did.  On the day I finished reading, I happened to find myself on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an area with a few important locations from Henson history.  My head was full of Henson after completing the book, so I decided to take a walk to some of the nearby points of Muppet interest.

I walked to the original home of Muppets, Inc. on East 53rd, which now looks to be some kind of music venue.  I went by the one-time Muppet workshop on East 67th Street, now home to a gym.  From there I strolled two blocks up and an avenue over to the former Henson Townhouse, which is undergoing a major remodeling by its current owner.  It looks like they’ve pretty much gutted the interior, which is kind of painful to see.  On the other hand, the building known as the Carriage House is still being used by the Jim Henson Legacy, and there’s a delightful reminder of its past life as the headquarters of Henson Associates over the door:

Carriage House Ha
As I roamed the streets of the city to each of these places, I imagined Jim treading the same ground:  Hey, Jim probably hailed cabs from this corner.  Hey, Jim’s office was in there.  Hey, maybe Jim bought a pack of gum from a newsstand on this sidewalk.  Hey, did Jim chew gum?  I know Jim was just a guy, but he looms as large as any historical figure in the hearts of Muppet fans like myself.

Having just finished the biography, the other thing on my mind was the thing we think about every May 16th, manifesting as a series of “why-nots”: Why didn’t Jim get to live a longer, fuller life?  Why didn’t he get more time on this planet to create awesome things?  Why, instead of mourning his passing today, aren’t we talking about our favorite episodes of Muppet Voyager, or posting photos on Facebook of ourselves eating at The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor?

Jim Henson and KermitBut I didn’t linger on those thoughts too long.  As I pictured Jim working in those buildings in New York — leading creative meetings, pitching ideas to networks, looking in on his puppet builders — I switched over to thinking about how lucky we are to have gotten all the stuff we do have.  Instead of whys and why-nots, here are some what-ifs: What if Jim had never made The Muppet Show?  What if he had never gone into puppetry?  What if there never was such a thing as a Jim Henson in the first place?  My own life would be so different I can’t even imagine it without the help of a Clarence Odbody, or at least a David Arquette.

I’ve known and loved Muppets my whole life. They shaped my sense of humor more than anything else I can think of, other than the Marx Brothers and my dad.  They’ve informed the way I look at life — watching Fraggle Rock as a kid ingrained perspectives in me that I carry with me to this day (as well as a bunch of songs that regularly get stuck in my head).

But it goes beyond just the works of Muppet art that exist, because the Muppets have also led to my meeting a lot of swell people.  The internet is great for letting people share their passions with like-minded weirdos —  I mean, like-minded people — and I’ve made dozens of cool friends because of the Muppets whom I otherwise never would have met.  So many of the folks I know from the Tough Pigs forum are near the top of my list of Favorite People Ever.  They’re people from other states, people from other countries, people older and younger and the same age as me.  If not for Jim Henson, all those friends would be strangers to me.  If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you, too have a few people you communicate with regularly after first bonding over your fondness for those puppets.

So, yeah.  I’m pretty grateful to live in a world where there was a Jim Henson, who got a chance to spend as many years as he did doing Jim Henson-y things and creating great works that would become part of our lives.  Would we notice that something was wrong if we lived in the alternate universe without The Muppets Take Manhattan or Guy Smiley or the Roy Clark episode of The Muppet Show? Probably not.  But I’m still glad I don’t live in that universe.

It’s May 16th.  Go ahead and revisit Big Bird singing “Being Green,” and cry if you feel like crying.  But after that, why not choose a fun, uptempo Muppet number like “Can You Picture That?”, and sing along?  And maybe dance in front of your computer or your TV or your mobile device. I bet Jim would appreciate that.

Jim Henson Kermit smiling
Click here to talk about Jim Henson on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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