We tend to slight Gonzo, some Muppets being created more equal than others, though we should take his song seriously. His ode to missed opportunities is up next in 200 Sad Songs.
The Muppet Movie demanded to be taken seriously. The first shot cranes down through the heavens, to a pond in which a frog sits on a log plaintively strumming a banjo. I get how that doesn’t seem overly serious, but below the surface of that pond, Jim Henson was submerged in a metal waterproof tank with a rubber sleeve and a breathing apparatus that was less “apparatus” and more “tubing”. It took five days to shoot that opening scene. The final scene utilised 250 puppets and 150 puppeteers, all crammed in close quarters for the good of Hollywood. But, above the technical inventiveness (such as a WTF full body shot of Kermit riding a bicycle), the tender moments, the goofy meta plot, the part with the literal fork in the road, and the host of high-profile cameos, it was the soundtrack that most demanded we take the film seriously.
In this post-Pixar world the idea of being brought to tears by a non-living creature has been normalised to an alarming degree, but in 1979 I’m sure there were more than a few moviegoers embarrassed that a felt creature singing around a fireplace had broken them. This was, after all, the same beaked creature who fired himself out of a canon on primetime TV mere weeks earlier to court a chicken. Even failed daredevil puppets have untapped depths, it would seem.
Also on The Big Smoke
- 200 Sad Songs: #166 Holly Throsby – When? (2011)
- 200 Sad Songs: #167 Neutral Milk Hotel – The king of carrot flowers Pt 1 (1998)
- 200 Sad Songs: #168 Cold Chisel – Four walls (1980)
- 200 Sad Songs: #169 Celine Dion – It’s all coming back to me now (1996)
- 200 Sad Songs: #170 The Magnetic Fields – I don’t want to get over you (1999)
While Henson was undoubtedly the heart and soul of The Muppets – his straight-faced goal with ’80s series Fraggle Rock was “to make a TV show that brings about world peace” – the songs on The Muppets soundtrack were penned by successful songwriters Paul “Holy shit I wrote Rainy Days and Mondays” Williams and Kenneth “Holy shit, I wrote those dreamy strings on Mind Games” Ascher, with Henson giving them complete freedom to write what they saw fit.
Luckily, that freedom was repaid by a series of songs both complex and beautiful: ranging from the ’60s-leaning psychotropic jam Can you picture that?, and the jaunty road anthem Movin’ right along to Piggy’s unabashed love ode Never before, never again (perhaps the only love song that can back up its claims of a truly singular love – detailing as it does a romance between a pig and a frog) and The rainbow connection, one of the finest songs ever written. If the line “All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic” sang earnestly by a charmingly off-key frog doesn’t warm your very essence then you are a lost cause. And assuming that wonder, hope, self-belief, and love are the four pillars of all Muppets songs (and they are), I’m going to go back there someday is the track that rests most solidly across all four.
A yearning, beautiful song sang by Gonzo as the characters sit around a campfire, despondent but never broken, I’m going to go back there someday comes deep from within a displaced creature who knows where home is, even if he cannot make out the particulars. It’s an emotional place, a physical place, blurry nostalgia blended with future dreaming – a mood rather than a solid thought. He’ll know it when he is there.
Sun rises, night falls, sometimes the sky calls.
Is that a song there, and do I belong there?
I’ve never been there, but I know the way.
I’m going to go back there someday.
Every line in this song could be a tattoo, but the one that cuts me (then pumps ink into me) every time is “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” 37 years later there still isn’t, but we all know the feeling Gonzo is referring to. It’s platonic-love-at-first-sight; that instant knowledge that someone will be a major player in the messy way your life unspools. It’s destiny, or something nearby. We know that it’s probably magic…