I had this conversation recently about how childhood favorites seldom hold up when considered from the perspective of adult scrutiny. Often, the things that made us laugh boisterously or pulled at our heart strings as children will seem hokey, contrived, sometimes condescending and manipulative. And this realization is a little heartbreaking because you hold these memories dear in your heart, or you credit this show/movie/song with shaping some aspect of your adult life. And then you think, well, it’s not their fault… this is a show designed for children, after all, and to expect to feel captured by the same magic that I felt in my prepubescent years was always going to be a futile endeavor. After all, I’m jaded, I’m weathered, I am tired and achey– my soul has grown calloused and too cynical to enjoy a TV show tailored to children.
But then there’s The Muppets, completely obliterating any argument about children’s shows not being a good source of entertainment for adults, with their irresistibly charming brand of wholesome hilarity. I’m a huge Muppets fan– I was as a child, and remain one to this day– not just for their wacky hijinks and brilliant slapstick, but for the emotional core that runs through their work. This ragtag gang of adorable losers– a painfully unfunny bear comedian, a pig with delusions of grandeur, a Swedish chef who can’t seem to keep his kitchen from blowing up, a forever-flustered frog soldiering through extenuating circumstances and the complete ineptitude of his cast to keep the show running– are, above all, a family. There was no inherent mean-spiritedness in anything they did, Piggy’s braying notwithstanding. It was all just love.
Gonzo the Great was always one of my favorite muppets. Unlike most other characters in the repertoire, he wasn’t a clearly identifiable species or humanoid. He was a weirdo. He was a “whatever”. He dated a chicken and performed disastrous daredevil stunts that never worked. He added the suffix “-the Great” to his name when nobody else would call him that. He was all pomp and pout. But a look into his sorry doe eyes reveals all of that to be simply false bravado to cover up a terribly sad, lonely soul, unsure of where he comes from and how he got here. In that aspect, he’s like Wolverine minus everything that makes Wolverine a total badass. And, uh, with a bizarre hen fetish.
One of my favorite Gonzo moments is in the very first Muppets movie, from 1979. A wacky and wildly meta road film, it’s filled with surprisingly heartwrenching moments. Fozzie, Rowlf, Piggy, Kermit and Gonzo sit by a campfire as they lament everything that went wrong, and wonder just how they’re going to get out of the mess they’ve found themselves in. Except Gonzo’s mind is elsewhere. Earlier in the movie, he had been carried into the air by a bunch of balloons filled with helium. And though the gang was able to safely land him, Gonzo was a changed man. His brief dalliance with the sky somehow moved him deeply, and as they sit around the campfire, Gonzo tries to make sense of his longing to go back to the sky, and reflects on the strange circumstances that brought him where he is.
“I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” is a gorgeous song that cuts to the emotional core of the movie, and perhaps The Muppets in general. It is a bittersweet and genuinely heartfelt ode to the magic in life’s strange turns. The music in this movie was written by the brilliant Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, and it’s all wonderful. This wistful lullaby is often overlooked in favor of the equally genius “Rainbow Connection”, but there’s a forlorn beauty in this song that gets to me every time. It’s how it describes the forming of friendships that feel so natural if it’s as if they were always there. It’s about longing to go back somewhere, but being unsure where exactly that is. Coming at the tail-end of the second act and finding our heroes in low spirits, Gonzo’s soliloquy brings an air of sweetness to the catastrophic events preceding it, and primes the audience for the victorious denouement.
Gonzo’s longing to return to the sky will remain unexplained for twenty years, until the release of “Muppets From Outer Space”, which reveals Gonzo’s origin as a member of an extraterrestrial species. This would thereby explain both his awkward appearance and his longing to be reunited with the vast, starry night sky, adding a poignancy to this scene that was perhaps absent to viewers in 1979. Whether this was meant to be a hint towards Gonzo’s true origins remains unclear. Regardless of whether the foreshadowing was intentional or not, this song is still wonderful. It always elicits an emotional response from me, especially within the context of the movie. I can’t listen to it and not feel affected by it– by the sweet, stuttering melody, the gorgeous yet understated orchestration, the wistful harmonica or softly plucked guitar chords, and Gonzo’s raspy, tentative delivery. I’ve felt this way many times, looking around a room of people I love, in good times or bad, and smiling bemusedly to myself. Just how did we get here, anyway?
Listen to the absolutely lovely “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”, sung by the one and only Gonzo the Great (voiced by Dave Goelz), by clicking the player below:
“Bedhead melodies” is a seldom-updated yet always-on-the-back-of-my-mind post series about certain songs that happen to pull at my heartstrings late at night, when the mood is right and sleepiness is getting the better of me. A fortuitous find by my iTunes shuffle revealing the magic in a song I may have forgotten about. If you want to read about the other songs in this series, click here. They’re all good. All of them. Trust me.