Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Loving the Muppets, this has nothing to do with Skeeter. This is a strictly platonic love.

What I love about the old Muppet Show (1976-1980) is the way it preserves a little slice of history for us to remember. Not the history of its time, although there's plenty of zeitgeist stuck in there (Florence Henderson? Crystal Gayle?) But the way it actually snatches away little bits of history while they're still on the dim fringes of living memory.

Vaudeville is pretty much dead in the year 2005. I dont think this is a controversial statement. We no longer know what it's like to go to a theater and sit with a crowd, singing along to classic old songs, listening to comedians with well-worn, time-tested material, and watching song-and-dance routines from famous touring performers. We don't need to. TV, movies, video games, plays, the Internet, and CD music have pretty much obliterated the set of cultural conditions that brought about the old vaudeville circuit. But Henson realized, in some way, that the actual material of vaudeville needed to be immortalized.

Through the Muppets, he did. Fozzie Bear is an old Borscht Belt comedian in fur. The songs are classic vaudeville standards--I learned the words to 'Lydia, the Tattooed Lady' from Kermit the Frog. And as for song-and-dance routines from famous touring performers: Ethel Merman, Ben Vereen, Sandy Duncan, and Gene Kelly, and that's just to dip one's toes in. And that, in turn, is the even more beautiful thing about the Muppet Show; the list of guest stars was so eclectic as to become a spectrum of the human achievements in art. They didn't go for whoever was hot, fresh, and young; they went for people who were quirky, unique, and in their own way immortal. Gene Kelly delivers a truly awe-inspiring rendition of 'Singing in the Rain' one week, and Alice Cooper sings 'School's Out' the next. And all delivered to Jim Henson's immortal rules of comedy: If you can't figure out how to end a sketch, have one character eat another, blow something up, or start tossing animals around.

It's beautiful that these shows are being preserved on DVD, because they, in turn, are preserving our culture in the only way possible in the pre-VHS era; by repeating it.

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