There are plenty of mournful versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” many of which are on my iPod and I’ve been hearing in Christmas rotation this month. There’s the Jerry Vale department store version, a heartbreaking Rosemary Clooney, the great and tragic Judy Garland’s, even James Taylor got in on the act a few years ago. And Lou Rawls’ sexy and fun version always makes me smile.
But far and away this one is my favorite:
Simple, straightforward, true. I’ve written before about how this Christmas album gets to me more than any other.
But I think the magic of Jim Henson, and why I loved the Muppets so much and why that has stayed with me all this time, was that he never talked down to kids. He just said it like it is, and Rolf always felt to me like that little bit of reality. Somewhere there’s a guy who’s been run down by life. He’s OK, and he plays the blues in bars for a living, and he’s not happy, and he’s not destroyed either. He’s just out there. And he tells it like it is too.
Ironically I’ve been teaching and writing lately about just that. Many people tend to discount kid’s opinions, fears, even their ability to understand what’s going on around them. Jim Henson never did that. He knew that kids know what’s up. They understand so much more than we give them credit for.
When you watched the Muppets there were monsters, divas, cranky old men, stoners, nerds, weirdos, and a neurotic but capable frog trying to hold them all together. It was a true vision of life, not polished to hide away anything that might be unpleasant.
So much of what we offer kids today is just that. Turn on any kid’s show and everyone is happy and excited and speaking in a very high and fast voice! Life is good! You are a genius indigo child! You will someday rule the world if you just follow along with our hyperactive movements because someone told us that you learn more if you move at the same time and we’re also trying to make sure you don’t get fat watching our tv show and sue us to pay the medical bills for your early onset diabetes!
Oh my Lord, it’s constant screeching. When I dig out old videos to show the kids it’s all the cartoons that offended people somewhere along the line (i.e. Bugs Bunny and the Simpsons), with crankiness and conflict and real life.
My sister mentioned there was a group of parents in NYC trying to ban the Peanuts Christmas special because it depicted too much bullying. My first response (besides mocking them) was that bullying is a part of life, and that’s just the dumbest thing I’ve heard anyway. But today’s parents are trying to deny bullying or anything less than pleasant so their kids will have the most enchanted life possible.
When in fact, their child would probably identify with Charlie Brown, as we all did at some point. We feel depressed when we’re supposed to be happy and left out and rejected when others are having fun, and sometimes feel like the holidays aren’t really living up to what they’re supposed to be. And our friends pull us through, just like Charlie Brown’s.
Plus no one should ever be denied the coolest Christmas soundtrack ever and Linus’s awe-inspiring speech.
Someone asked me, why do these Christmas shows endure? That’s easy – we identify with the protagonist – it’s the basis for every story ever told. “Rudolph” is appalling in how horrifically every adult in the story treats him (and Kermie). But when you’re Rudolph, or a kid who has felt like Rudolph, what else can you do but go on? And isn’t it nice to know you’re not the only one who feels this way?
Kids who are watching learn that life is sometimes hard (Egad! No! Don’t tell them that!). People can be jerks and you will feel beat down. But you do your own thing, there’s always tomorrow, you’ll find your way. Even if it’s with a pack of misfits (which is exactly how I would describe most of my life).
And Rolf is there too, with his piano, howlin the blues, letting us know we’re not alone.