I am a huge fan of The Muppets. I had grown up with the Muppets in my life.  Of course, I was raised on Sesame Street.  (This was back when Sesame Street wasn’t just “The Elmo Show.”  It was Sesame Street which actually introduced me to the first instance of serial episodic television that I so love today.  It was a series of episodes where Big Bird went to summer camp, which aired back in 1982, and which took place over several episodes.)  I remember watching reruns of the original Muppet Show on TV with my parents.  I watched the Muppet Babies animated series.  Twice a year, the Disney Channel (which was a premium channel like HBO back in those days) would have a week-long preview week where it was free for everyone, and when that happened, I would catch all the episodes of Fraggle Rock that I could. I even had a record and accompanying book of The Muppets Take Manhattan. The Muppets were part of my growing up. 

I didn’t enter true Muppet fandom until I was in my Sophomore year of High School, though.  That year, for Christmas, our family got our very first VCR and our very first family computer capable of connecting to the internet.  (I fondly refer to 1993 as the year the Armstrongs joined the modern world.)  I quickly bought VHS tapes of all of the Muppet movies I could find, and watched them repeatedly.  I also found the Muppet Usenet groups online and joined the discussions.  I even used our computer to record audio clips of some of my favorite lines from various Muppet movies.  One time, I snuck onto my dad’s work laptop and swapped out the Windows default sounds with Muppet sound bites for the Windows themes.  The next time he was at work, he booted up his computer, and Janice exclaimed, “It’s my life okay, mother? If I want to walk around on a beach naked…oh.”

I am such a big Muppet fan that I even went to Disneyland at the age of 30 for the sole purpose of seeing the Muppets 3D experience, which is one of the last things Jim Henson did before his tragic and untimely death.  Recently, in a job interview, I was asked if I could pick anyone to spend the day with, alive or dead, who would it be. My answer, of course: Jim Henson.

As an adult, I’ve actually taken a little time to try and understand why I love the Muppets as much as I do. For me, The Muppets embody a perfect harmony. They are disorganized, diverse, and crazy. They are funny, but without resorting to mean-spiritedness or gross humor. And surrounding it all is a wonderful through-line of perfectly balanced sentimentality and optimism.  I know that I can be harsh with my words and my actions, that I can be gruff or come across as unfeeling. But deep down, I am an extreme sentimentalist. There’s something about the sweet, simple love of The Muppets that touches me very deeply.

When The Muppets, the new movie written by Jason Segall came out last year, I was there on opening night. I was going through a particularly difficult time in my personal life at the moment, and my emotions were (as they so often are) a little raw.  It goes without saying that I loved the movie.  It was sweet, it was sentimental, and parts of it were very funny. But it was the hope of the movie that got me.  I had just finished watching all three DVD sets of the original Muppet Show before going to see the movie in the theater.  When, toward the end of the movie, they recreated the opening sequence from The Muppet Show, I got a little choked up. It was like coming home to old friends.

Toward the end of the show-within-a-show of the movie, Kermit and Piggy sing a duet of Rainbow Connection that turns into a full cast number.  The simple plucking of the banjo that always starts that song did me in. I had tears streaming down my face as I grinned like an idiot in that theater.  Feeling a little self-conscious, I looked around and noticed that I wasn’t the only one wiping away tears and smiling at the same time. 

Throughout the years, the song Rainbow Connection has taken on a somewhat different meaning for me than it did when I was a younger child.  When you look at the lyrics, on their own, they don’t mean very much.  I mean, the very first line, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” Are there?  Counting Rainbow Connection itself, I can think of a total of three, and I’m not sure I’ll Build You a Rainbow even counts as a song.

As I was struggling through the great majority of my adulthood with admitting I was gay and with trying to decide what I was going to do about it, this song seemed to pop up all the time.  In particular, the end of the third verse, always stuck out to me:

Have you been half asleep

And have you heard voices?

I’ve heard them calling my name.

Is this the sweet sound

That calls the young sailors?

The voice might be one and the same.

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.

It’s something that I’m s’posed to be.

Someday we’ll find it–

The rainbow connection.

The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

The obvious connotation between the gay community and rainbows notwithstanding, the idea of hearing a voice too many times to ignore it, and searching for a connection that was missing in my life was a potent one.  So hearing the song in the movie brought back all of those emotions and feelings that I had spent so many years trying to sort out. 

That night, after the movie, I came home and sat down at the piano.  I spent about an hour working out the chords.  Then, over the next several months, I worked on a little piano arrangement that had a slightly more upbeat, swung feel to it rather than the very simple banjo intro of the original version of the song.  I’ve been sitting on it for several months, just waiting for time to record it, and since I had the time tonight, I figured why not.

It’s just a simple piano and vocal, recorded on my Canon 7D. I recorded the MIDI from my piano and the vocal from the Mic at the same time, then ran the MIDI through a different piano sample that has a cleaner tone than the one that is integrated into my piano itself.  Then some simple EQ, compression, and mixing, and I uploaded it to YouTube.  I didn’t put much polish on it (for instance, no AutoTune), but it was just meant to be a little sample.

So here it is: On of my all time favorite songs. A cover of Rainbow Connection written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, and originally sung by Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog.

Of note in this video: I actually managed to record this entire video in a single take, because I didn’t make any major mistakes.  This is very, VERY unusual for me.  I’m okay on the piano, but I’ve never managed to be consistently accurate with my playing. Secondly, this is the first video I’ve done since I started shaving my head. It’s weird seeing myself without hair. Finally, because this video was recorded from a side a view, I think I look fatter than ever. If I ever start trying to talk myself out of going to the gym, then I just need to watch this video for about 30 seconds, and I’ll be on my way.