By Chris Cummins
By now you've probably seen the YouTube videos in which an uncharacteristically dour Kermit the Frog covers songs by Nine Inch Nails, Elliott Smith and Radiohead. As hilarious as these unauthorized "Sad Kermit" videos are, they also bring to mind some of the more downbeat musical moments from the real Muppets' history. Sure, everybody remembers "Mahna Mahna," but what about the bittersweet symphonies that so often took center stage during The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock? Part of the enduring charm of these shows (and their respective spin-off movies and albums) is how they made puppet characters seem like real-life pals. As Gonzo reminds us, there's not a word yet for old friends who've just met. That's exactly the sort of feeling that the Muppets invoke. So when Kermit sings about feeling like an outsider in "Bein' Green," it's only natural for viewers of all ages to relate to his pain--often leading to some pretty devastating moments of self-realization. With that in mind, grab a box of tissues and prepare to unleash repressed childhood traumas with this list of the seven most tear-inducing songs from Jim Henson's various productions.
7) "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
While obviously not a Muppet original, this cover is well worth a mention regardless. Throughout the history of the Muppets, the characters have frequently gotten mileage out of performing poignant versions of other artists' work. (Check out Rowlf the Dog's take on "New York State of Mind" from his Ol' Brown Ears Is Back album or The Muppet Show's reworking of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" into an anti-hunting anthem as seen here). But none of these have the impact that Floyd Pepper's version of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" does. As silhouettes of other Muppets are seen going about their business through window blinds, the Electric Mayhem bassist--whose last name was taken from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band album--performs a stark cover that somehow manages to heighten the original's themes of isolation. George Harrison would be proud.
6) "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along"
Relationships can be brutal and they often end badly. But the appeal of finding someone to complete and compliment you is so great that you'll put up with all the bullshit of chasing love -- regardless of how miserable it makes you. That's the point of this song, a rare duet between Kermit and Rowlf (both portrayed by Jim Henson) that gives kids advance warning about how difficult matters of the heart will be once they get older and start caring about such things. It's pretty much the pre-schooler equivalent of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart. " A hard lesson that needs to be learned, "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along" proves that while Sesame Street may teach kids about the ABCs and 123s, The Muppet Movie tells them about life.
5) "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday"
Taking a break from making jokes about wanting to fuck chickens, Gonzo finally came into his own with this wrist-cutting ditty about longing written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher from The Muppet Movie. Accompanied by Rowlf on harmonica, he contemplates where he belongs in the world and sings about attempting to "hold on to love like invisible strings." Good luck with that. Stupid YouTube doesn't feature the scene from the film, so click ahead to 6:36 in the above clip and enjoy a live performance of the song from 2001's The Muppet Show: Live event featuring Gonzo, Rowlf and Paul Williams. If you are feeling especially sadistic, check out the bullshit remake of the song from the Gonzo-centric Muppets in Space soundtrack. It will depress you too, although for entirely different reasons.
4) "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon"
Written by Jeff Moss -- who also penned "Rubber Duckie" and "The People in Your Neighborhood" -- this pensive Sesame Street song features Ernie dreaming of visiting far-off destinations before deciding that homesickness will always bring him back to the people and places he's known all his life. Although this song features similar themes of wanderlust to those explored in "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday," there's an additional subtext here suggesting that venturing out on your own is ultimately a bad thing. No wonder so many twenty/thirtysomethings seem unwilling to start their adult lives, Ernie has brainwashed them into states of arrested development. And they say Bert's the evil one.
3) "Bein' Green"
The first Sesame Street song to make an impact upon popular culture, "Bein' Green" has been covered by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles since it debuted in 1969 during the show's first season. It has become Kermit the Frog's signature tune, bringing inspiration to people everywhere and being interpreted as a plea for self-acceptance and racial equality. It's also a miserable anthem of self-loathing until the last verse when Kermit finally realizes that he's beautiful and that green is what he wants to be. Just saying. If you doubt that this song can evoke both pain and joy, just watch this performance of "Bein' Green" from Jim Henson's memorial service:
...yeah. We'll wait while you get a tissue.
...yeah. We'll wait while you get a tissue.
2) "The Rainbow Connection"
Admittedly, there is nothing depressing about "The Rainbow Connection" per se. It is an uplifting song about having the courage to pursue your dreams, just as Jim Henson himself did. But when he died unexpectedly in 1990, it became impossible to listen to without thinking about the tragedy of his death. Nearly 20 years later, it's still difficult to hear Kermit---to hear Jim Henson--singing about "the lovers and dreamers and me" and not feel a sting of sadness about how his life and work were so abruptly halted.
1) "The Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"
The most depressing Muppet moment since Big Bird had to learn about Mr. Hooper dying, this song is sung by the mentally handicapped Junior Gorg when he thinks he has killed Mokey in the Fraggle Rock episode "Mokey's Funeral." It turned out that she was alive and well, but that's small consolation for the kids who were traumatized by this dirge about the "dead little Fraggle." Watch Fraggle Rock and dance your cares away...then go for years of therapy.