I’m a long-time Muppet fan and a huge admirer of the late, very talented, Jim Henson who, through “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show”, educated and entertained in equal measure.
If you’ve ever been taught anything by anyone, you’ll know just how rare it is to find someone who can both educate and entertain at the same time…
The characters Jim Henson created, using only foam and fabric, are etched on the minds of everyone who lived through the last 50 years or so. 80 year old grandmothers know who Kermit the Frog is, as do children at nursery school.
The stories Jim Henson and his team of muppeteers developed were at the same time both ridiculous and profound, in a style that’s so unusual and so creative that there has never been anything like it before or since…and, I suspect, never will be again.
Jim Henson’s brain had the sort of wiring that only comes along once in several generations. His sudden and untimely death in 1990 robbed us all of a great talent who, I’m sure, would have been continuing to astonish and inspire us if he was still here with us today.
I was reminded of all this while watching “Strictly Come Dancing” (or “Dancing With The Stars” outside the UK) last Saturday. Two contestants took to the dance floor accompanied by an exquisite version of Kermit the Frog’s signature song, “Rainbow Connection”.
This time round, “Strictly” singer Tommy Blaize treated us to a silky, soulful version which captured every ounce of the gentle innocence and sense of wonderment the songwriters had lovingly built into “Rainbow Connection”. You couldn’t have wished for a more perfect choice of song for the tender, wistful performance on the dance floor.
I’m a long way from being an expert on dancing, but I found this an absolutely charming performance…the singing, if anything, was even more so.
Much as I love The Muppets, we can probably all agree that Kermit…voiced at the time by Jim Henson himself…was not what you’d call a classically-trained singer. For a frog he does great, but if Kermit was human, let’s just say there’s some room for improvement.
The joy of The Muppets, though, is that none of this matters. You’re swept along with the tenderness and beauty of “Rainbow Connection” even when it’s sung by a slightly adenoidal frog.
Jim Henson did many brilliant things in his all-too-short life. But one thing he didn’t do was write “Rainbow Connection”…Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher did that.
Paul Williams has been mentioned in dispatches around here before. Amongst his considerable list of songwriting credits are “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days And Mondays” for The Carpenters.
(Quick side note — Karen Carpenter recorded a rough working vocal of “Rainbow Connection” in the early 1980s which wasn’t released at the time. Many years later, long after her passing, her brother Richard took the rough vocal and worked it up into more of a finished version. You can hear one of the greatest voices of the 20th Century singing one of the most beautiful songs of the 20th Century here… https://youtu.be/PYuE2roIkH0 )
Kenneth Ascher, in addition to his work on “The Muppet Movie”, where “Rainbow Connection” first appeared, is also feted for his work on the Barbra Streisand version of “A Star Is Born” and has worked with a long list of other star performers over the years.
“The Muppet Movie” starts with Kermit sitting on a log, playing the banjo while he sings…
Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side
Rainbows are visions
But only illusions
Rainbows have nothing to hide
Rainbows are a perfect metaphor. They have a child-like innocence to them, but adults buy into their magical qualities too. Rainbows mean something to everyone, just like the original “Muppet Show” which often used the same storyline to give different message both adults and children at the same time. That was part of the magic of Jim Henson and “The Muppet Show”.
Rainbows also symbolise a journey of discovery…following the rainbow wherever it may lead, to an undiscovered land far away, to its end, where the mythical pot of gold lies waiting for us.
Rainbows are tangible — we can see them with our own eyes. Yet at the same time, they’re intangible — we can’t touch them and they only appear through a well-understood scientific interaction of sunlight and water vapour in the atmosphere.
Rainbows are part of science. But their intangible beauty also represents hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires, longing, discovery and much, much more.
Which is largely what “Rainbow Connection” is about…
Who said that every wish
Would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that
And someone believe it
And look what it’s done so far
We’ve all got wishes and hopes and dreams.
But the older you get, the more likely you are to dismiss your hopes and dreams as childish ambitions with no place in your grown-up life. You learn to accept that you’ll never get the job you wanted, or that you’ll never find anyone who thinks you’re worth loving.
After enough disappointment, it can seem safer to stop wishing. When every dream leads to heartbreak along the way, you can easily train yourself to stop dreaming.
There’s a numbness in not having dreams any more. But there’s none of the pain of disappointment either.
It’s a choice.
But it’s not a life.
It’s easy for well-meaning friends to say “keep on going”… “you’ll find someone just right for you one of these days” … “that promotion will come sooner than you think”.
In reality, there’s nothing harder than trying to keep your dreams alive when every time you think you’re getting close to reaching them, the world deals you a succession of ever-crueller cards from the bottom of the deck.
As each new hurtful experience ratchets up the pain a bit more than last time your dream didn’t pan out, you start to wonder how much more pain can you take before deciding to give up altogether.
But there’s no life without hope.
There can be an existence without hope… “eat, sleep, work, repeat” as Fatboy Slim nearly put it… but that’s not a life. You’re just in a state of suspended animation, waiting for that final cruel turn of the cards to take away forever the life you never even had the chance to live.
After a while, you start turning a deaf ear, even when opportunities come your way. It’s safer that way, you tell yourself. At least then you don’t get hurt when things don’t work out.
That’s why “Rainbow Connection” reminds us to never stop listening out for those opportunities, to never give up hope that things will get better, to never abandon our dreams…
Have you been half asleep?
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 supposed to be
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
Some day, you’ll find your rainbow connection too.
There’s people out there trying to make this all happen for you…the lovers, the dreamers and me. We’re all waiting at the end of your rainbow…
For the wonderful “Strictly” performance, complete with Tommy Blaize’s wonderfully tender vocal, take a look here… https://youtu.be/uTsute1CrUM (I love how the choreographer used the visual cue of the log that Kermit sat on while singing “Rainbow Connection” in “The Muppet Movie”…whoever choreographed that routine definitely knows their Muppets…)
However for a performance from the man (frog?) himself, rather than the version in “The Muppet Movie”, I’ve linked to one of “The Muppet Show’s” celebrated duets where Kermit sings “Rainbow Connection” with Debbie Harry from Blondie.
I think it’s fair to say that when this excerpt was recorded in the early 1980s, gentle and tender songs like “Rainbow Connection” weren’t exactly seen as Debbie Harry’s usual fare.
She does a lovely job on it though. But more than anything, this song is a celebration of the great Jim Henson, through the medium of his little green companion, Kermit the Frog.
Here’s Kermit with Debbie Harry, and the wonderfully gentle and tender “Rainbow Connection” which…ever so softly…challenges us to keep hold of our dreams no matter what upsets we stumble across while travelling along the highways and byways of life…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here…this version is just Kermit by himself from the original movie soundtrack album…https://open.spotify.com/track/4Fx3LVYQXplhz70cfoqbgq
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.