How Meeting Muppeteer Jerry Nelson Changed My Life
I have made it very clear on numerous occasions just how much of a hero Jim Henson and all the people associated with the Muppets were. They helped form the imaginations of generations of children. Before the Muppeteers (the key ones being Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson) puppets were pretty much puppets. But when puppets became Muppets, it turned puppeteering into an art. They also helped form the ideals of edu-tainment. Teaching people whilst also entertaining them. As regular readers of this site know, that is pretty much the model I follow. I may not use puppets, but the same ideals are in place. I happen to think a lot of how you know me now has to do with a chance meeting my family had with famous Muppeteer, Jerry Nelson. A meeting that forever changed my life.
I was just a kid at the time. Eight years old. This was years before my parents divorced, and we were all on a sort of day vacation down Cape Cod. At the time, I was a HUGE Muppets and Fraggle Rock fan. I just thought both shows captured so much innocence and imagination and fun. I was such a Fraggle fan, in fact, I was carrying my first issue Fraggle Rock comic book around with me. Yes. I was at the beach with a comic book. I can proudly say I have always been a nerd. I wear that with pride.
My Dad goes for a walk, and we are all hanging out, just looking at the water and enjoying the day. We see my Dad walking back towards us with another man. He has a beard, and looks like a skinnier, hippie version of my Dad. I don’t know who it is, but I can feel a very warm energy coming from him. It was not one of those “who is this weirdo with my Dad” moments. It was more like “this guy seems awesome, who is he?” I asked my Mom and my brother and sister who it was, but they were sort of in the dark about it, too. That is the thing about being a Muppeteer. They were the rock stars who had no face. We knew their best work. We knew Miss Piggy and The Count and Kermit, but how many people actually knew what all the Muppeteers looked like? Not many, and that is just another thing that made them like Gods to me. Muppeteers were the original Daft Punk. Anonymous geniuses. They did not want fame or accolades. They just wanted to do a job they loved and to make people happy.
As the man gets closer, I see he is smiling, and him and my Dad are getting along like old friends. What you need to know about my Dad during those days is he was a rather successful commercial artist, and knew many people in many fields. I just assumed it was someone my Dad knew who he was bringing over to introduce to us. By the time he made it over to us, my pseudo ADHD kicked in and I was kicking sand and looking at my comic book. Then, in the voice of Gobo (from Fraggle Rock) I heard him say “cool comic book”. Let me tell you. That moment will forever be etched into my mind. I looked up in awe, and my Dad told me who he was. Jerry Nelson. Fellow Muppeteer with Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and a key figure in all that Henson did. Being a kid, that to me was like meeting the real life Santa or something similar. I had nothing to say. My mouth was hanging open looking up at him.
Again, to reiterate, the man radiated a warm and genuine energy. Very few people I have ever met in my life gave off the energy that Jerry Nelson gave off. You could feel his altruism. His desire to make people happy, with nothing asked in return. That may sound a bit hippie-esque of me, but that is the truth. It is the thing people always say about Henson, too. That he was just a genuine and warm guy and there were few like him. Well, Jerry Nelson was like him, and there I was, shaking his hand.
Is this the best theme song ever created? Yes. Yes it is.
Like I said, I have always been a nerd. So I knew what voices he did, even back then. There I was, asking him to do impression after impression, and he did them, all. Though I was freaking out about his Count impression, it was when he hollered “Pigssss in SPAAACCEEEE” to me that I think I pee’d a little in my swim trunks. It made me THAT happy. He then leaned in and asked me if I would mind if he signed my comic book. I had forgotten I was even holding it or how ironic it was that I had it with me, and I silently passed it to him. My Dad always carried pens and already handed one to Jerry, who wrote” To Remy, from your Fraggle friend, Gobo aka Jerry Nelson.”. He then passed it back to me. I just looked at it, in awe.
Yup. That wins.
He continued to be very courteous to my family, and eventually, thanked us and went back on his way. From that moment forth, dreams just felt more real to me. Here is a guy, nice as hell, who works with puppets for a living. A guy who got told, along with his co-dreamers, to give it all up. To pursue something normal. But him, and Henson, and Oz, they didn’t listen. They went on to weave a world so fantastic, I still dream about it to this day. I still sing the songs. I still sing all their praises, any chance I get. But I will never forget Jerry Nelson. Never forget the time he took out of his day for us. Never forget him hammering out impression after impression, even though he was obviously on vacation. I will never forget any of that. I know what he did and how amazing it was. I know that without creative minds like him and Jim Henson being brave enough to follow their dreams, I would have never been brave enough to follow mine.
So if you read these words and they impact you in any way, take a moment to thank Jerry Nelson in your mind. Would never have had the balls to do any of this if him and his otherworldly cohorts didn’t pave the way for imaginative dreamers like me first. Jerry Nelson passed away in August of 2012, but will be remembered forever for the contributions he not only made in my life, but millions upon millions of lives, all the world over.
Wow, I am actually getting a little choked up.