Look, Matthew, It’s You!

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Look, Matthew, It’s You!

Muppet Movie Album Cover

The Rainbow Connection, by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, performed by Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson), 1979 (encountered ca. 1991)

Available on Spotify | Buy it here | See it here | Sheet music here

In 1990, after about two years of marriage, Mary and I became parents. For me it was a second go at fatherhood, a chance to do it better.

I was not disappointed and, I hope, did not disappoint.

Almost immediately it was clear that our son Matthew’ life was lived mostly in the sunshine. Lots of laughter, lots of enthusiasm. I have a wonderful video of Matt right after he’d learned to walk, just following me around the house, giggling with excitement. It sums up our one-year-old. Of course no child is always happy, and Matthew, our tiny son, could start that little lower lip trembling with incipient tears at the drop of a hat; any frustration would do. Still, there were a lot more laughs than tears.

His older brother accurately said of Matt a little later that his tail was always wagging. And while I know that every child brings something uniquely his or her own to the relationship with parents, I am certain that coming up in an atmosphere of palpable stability and love improves the odds of happiness. I couldn’t sufficiently provide these the first time around; this time I could.

Look MatthewYou could see this dynamic in Matthew’s efforts to learn to speak. It was a joyous thing for him. He had a “language tape,” a VHS video transcription of the first three Muppet movies that I had made in the previous decade for his older brother and sister during a Muppet marathon on old Channel 45. It was complete with commercials and station breaks and really, really bad video, but it was perfect for Matt.

For instance, there’s a moment when the Kermit and Fozzie are behind the wheel of a Studebaker en route to Hollywood, and they come upon a billboard on which the evil Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) has appropriated Kermit’s likeness to sell his would-be fast food Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs. “Kermit, it’s you!” exclaims Fozzie in astonishment. Matt, who watched the tape a lot, and whose command of his own name was still a little wobbly, would go around saying things like: “Look, Mytoo, it’s you!” He mined the three movies for all sorts of things like that.

Of course, it was more than the lexical vocabulary of the movies; Matt inhaled the sunny, madcap spirit of them, and the music. And now the music makes me think of him at that age.

Midway through The Muppet Movie, Dr. Teeth and his band crowd around a copy of the script of The Muppet Movie, reading the movie’s own first scene: “Exterior. Swamp. Day. In a long helicopter shot we discover Kermit the Frog playing his banjo and singing.”[1] Dr. Teeth doesn’t get around to telling us what Kermit was singing, but the audience members are not likely to forget; once having heard The Rainbow Connection, Kermit’s wistful but hopeful little tear-jerker, one will never be free of it.

It is a song with two sides: the as-yet unsatisfied pursuit of wonder and the faith (naive or not, you choose) that we will attain it one day. It is not a religious song, because the wonder the frog aspires to find is probably earthly (though I have heard the song sung in church), but it is close to a secular equivalent.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions
But only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
 
So we’ve been told
And some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Some day we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

When we get older, we know that in this life at least we will never quite find that rainbow connection that Kermit aspires to with such touching confidence. But we grownups tend not to tell our children about that letdown. Childhood should be touched by magic.

Matt’s was.

Look Matthew 2

 

[1]. Per the Wikipedia entry (accessed 11/16/2014): “To perform Kermit static on a log, Jim Henson squeezed into a specially designed metal container complete with an air hose (to breathe), a rubber sleeve which came out of the top to perform Kermit and a monitor to see his performance, and placed himself under the water, log, and the Kermit puppet. He was also assisted in this operation by Kathryn Mullen and Steve Whitmire. This scene took five days to film.”

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for cover art

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