Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thoughts on Sesame Street @ 40

I know there are some whose noses are out of joint because Sesame Street poked fun at Fox News in a skit with Oscar the Grouch a couple of years ago. But I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to pay homage to Sesame Street which celebrates its 40th anniversary today with a guest appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama.

I've seen little of the show since the early days of the Reagan Administration. But it was a formative part of my childhood growing up in Canada in the 1970s. In fact, I watched both the American edition on PBS and the Canadian edition on CBC. The versions weren't all that different except there were a few segments done in French to promote bilingual education. In fact, because of Sesame Street, I learned to count to ten in French before I did in English.

What I take away most from Sesame Street is the quality of the music both in their own original material and through guest performances by numerous musical acts of the day.

Two of my favorite musical skits involve Kermit The Frog. He is best known for the song "It Ain't Easy Bein' Green." But the song that has always stayed with me is the Frank Sinatra inspired "This Frog." Co-written by the late Sam Pottle and David Axlerod (no, not that David Axelrod), the back up singers really make this song.

Kermit was also involved in an unusual skit with Bert (but not Ernie) and a cast of unknown muppets that paid homage to the New York City subway system in a song called "On The Subway." It is as representative of New York in the early 1970s as Serpico. The lyrics are pretty subsversive too. You could lose your purse or something worse on the subway, on the subway. The Childrens' Television Workshop would never do anything like that today. So I'm glad there was room for something like that in its day.

I also liked the skits between the construction workers Biff and Sully. Biff did all the talking but Sully was quite the piano player. There's one skit in which he plays a movement from a Beethoven sonata. I've not heard that piece in years and would love to see it again. Unfortunately, I can't find it on YouTube.

But Sesame Street has had a rich array of musical guests over the years. Some of them have sung their own songs while others have adapted their songs for educational purposes. Richie Havens and Stevie Wonder are good examples of the former. Havens and Wonder sang "Wonder Child" and "Superstition", respectively. Smokey Robinson and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist are good examples of the latter doing variations of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" (watch out for the letter U - it can get rather possessive) and "1,2,3,4", respectively.

So it's the music that I remember best about Sesame Street.

From what little I've seen of Sesame Street these days it's quite different from when I grew up. But if I should ever have the good fortune to become a father one of these days I will probably start watching it again. I can only hope.

No comments: