My thoughts on Jim Henson

Today marks what would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday.

Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990 – same day as Sammy Davis Jr.  I will remember Jim Henson’s death and its impact on my small life forever.

I’ve never actually written down my feelings about Jim Henson and his Muppets and what they mean to me before.  So, here goes.

When Jim Henson died, I was 14 years old.  I guess you could say that I wasn’t a typical 14 year old, in that sometimes I was attune to more mature feelings about life and death.  Blame it on my upbringing, life experiences whatever.  It is what it is, and there’s nothing else to do about it.

I was ready to go to school that morning, when the DJ on Montreal’s 990 Hits broke the news that Jim Henson had died.

It was like he had just thrown a boulder into the pit of my stomach.

I didn’t know Jim Henson, but I knew his work and even as a 14 year old boy, I knew that if you loved his Muppets then you just loved Jim Henson.  I had seen him in interviews here and there and he seemed friendly and kind – much like his creations were.

The DJ that morning played “The Rainbow Connection” on the radio – and I sat on my bed all alone, the sun shining hot through my bedroom window.  And I cried to myself.  I cried a lot.

To say that I love the Muppets is quite possibly the hugest understatement.  I was a child born of television, and the Muppets somehow connected to my heart in an real indescribable deep way.  A resonating way.  They were misfits which I felt like I was too, they were ridiculously wacky and funny – something that I gravitated towards as well.  And they all sang together as a family – something I loved to witness.

Besides that, I also loved the technical and creative to Henson and his imagination and puppetry.  It amazed me that I could focus on a Muppet and not see the puppeteer that clearly made his or her every move come alive.  That is an amazing feat of magic that not every person can do.

I can still remember watching Sesame Street as a child and being brought into a world where these creatures were my friends.  I can remember watching The Muppet Show and also feeling the same way.  I have clear memories of myself going to the theatre and seeing The Great Muppet Caper and also seeing The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan on VHS and rewatching key scenes in each film.

I remember thinking how cool Jim Henson must be that not only could he tap into light but he could also tap into dark with The Dark Crystal and Labrynth, both of which scared the crap out of me as a child.

And I can remember getting choked up when Big Bird realizes that Mr. Hooper had died and how his friends were talking to him to help him understand (the thought of which as I type this right now, I still get teary).

And “The Rainbow Connection”.  Kermit singing his song with his banjo.  Gets me every time. Because when I hear it, I think of that 14 year old boy sitting on his bed feeling really sad that Jim Henson had died – someone, now that I think about it, that I had hoped that one day I would meet in person.

So, here we are 21 years after his death and on his birthday.  From no forcing of my own (at least not consciously), I now have a daughter who loves her Muppets in a very familiar way.  And now I have a viewing partner to rewatch these funny, precious moments with – and we will laugh.  A lot.

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25/35

On September 11th, 2001, my mother woke me up in the morning to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  25 year old that I was, I liked to sleep in, seeing that I had probably gone to bed at around 3AM which was my norm.  The jolt of her waking me up and then telling me this news was jarring to me that I went into the living room and turned on CNN.  I was stunned at what I saw.  I got some cereal from the kitchen and brought my bowl into the living room again, but I couldn’t eat.  Then, as I watched, I saw the second plane crash into the second tower.  What was happening here, I thought.  And then crashes at the Pentagon.

And then everything fell down, and mass chaos ensued.

I was convinced that this was some kind of apocalypse that was taking place.  My first thought of course was of my friend Peter, who had just moved to NY the day before.  I wondered if he was ok.

That day, my plan was to go to downtown for some reason that I can’t remember.  So, I took the bus and went downtown.  Everywhere I looked, it was though Montreal was taken by stunned zombies.  There were TVs set up in various gathering places like food courts and people congregated and watched the events unfold.  Even store fronts were airing the news and people were outside watching the TVs.  I looked at everyone – it was all so surreal and strange.  No one was talking to each other – everyone was just glued to the sets.  It made me want to go home and watch from the safety of my own home.  I remember thinking there was this fear that Montreal would be hit with something similar as well – that New York was the first target of a great mission of sorts for all metropolises in the world.  I remember hearing planes in the air flying and everyone looking upwards to see if there was something more happening.  Paranoia was seeping through all of our pores, and I felt it happening in me too.

Peter ended up being alright, as he called me that evening as he was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.  I couldn’t even imagine what he had witnessed.  I didn’t want to.

I remember writing and writing and writing – letting out all of my feelings about this catastrophes in notebook after notebook.  I still have those books, now tucked away in a bin at my in laws place.  That moment in time, like for most people, wrecked me and also smashed that naiveté that we all viewed the world with.  It was gone.

Today – 10 years later – I find myself wanting to avoid any coverages on TV and yet my fingers and brain have better ideas.  I watched a program which was footage taken from that moment – and I felt both repulsed and curious to rewatch.  But I stopped.  I couldn’t watch the whole thing.

I guess I find myself not wanting to relive but wanting to see if we as a people have learned something from this disaster.  I don’t know if we have.  I don’t know if we will.  I think it’s human nature that we have this theoretical need for peace, when the practical need is for revenge.  The pacifist blood that coarses through me hopes that the latter will prevail.