Monday, May 5, 2008

Hand-Puppet Traces: A Secret History of Muppet Music

The song "Rainbow Connection" is sometimes considered to be the iconic Muppets song, the way that "When You Wish Upon A Star" is so for the Disney corporate universe.

Guess who wrote it? Paul Williams, who among other things, also wrote all the songs and starred as the villain in Brian de Palma's pre-Rocky Horror pulpy sci-fi musical thriller "Phantom of the Paradise."

Here's the greatest (aka most satisfyingly nerdy) scene from the film, an extended trip into a fantastical analog-synth recording studio. Williams is the Svengali sound engineer, titular Phantom the singer.

The wall-to-wall synthesizer surrounding the Phantom is TONTO, the same unit used all over Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. There's a sick, sick clip of Stevie recording with TONTO on Youtube which we've posted before, so feel free to enjoy the archival glee of looking it up for yourself.

The POTP clip above makes us yearn for more images of futuristic/fantastic recording studios. Obviously alot can be done from an allegorical point of view with glorious space-console design in general, from the death star, 2001, etc, but digging up explicitly audio-centered sci-fictive studios remains an unfinished task. There must be some related Daft Punk imagery somewhere.

In lieu of that, we give you another image of cosmic disco demigod Daniele Baldelli throwing down in his DJ console, a glittery multi-limbed Mr. Potato-head from the future.

...Now if the reader came of tv-watching age in the 80s in the US, then the following clip is most likely very familiar, in the way that a certain sugar cookie was familiar to Marcel Proust. The difference being that, although this song is inscribed in your cultural DNA, so insidious is it you will most regret now being reminded of its hypnotically moronic tones.

Now, we're assuming the reader was not aware of the song's original context, which if you think about it sort of radically alters the implicit content of the muppet skit. The song "Mah Na Mah Na", written by Piero Umiliani, first appeared in a 1968 mondo film called Sweden: Heaven and Hell that has bosoms in it. Also supposedly it was once covered by a pre-electro disco Giorgio Moroder.

Clips from "Sweden: Heaven and Hell"

Now go back to the Muppet clip. Doesn't it seem a lot more implicitly sexual? I mean, not to join on the severally annoying bandwagon of retroactively pointing out how all the media monuments of childhood innocence are actually overcoded with all manner of vulgar gutter-business, but come on.


Not making this up, were you aware that German Sesame Street ("Sesamstrasse") doesn't even have Big Bird?? They replaced him (her?) with "Samson", a bear character that looks like someone threw diarrhea all over a sofa that's been left on the curb for a week. What the fuck, Germans? It makes sense though, because what are two things that Germans love? Bears and shit. Plus so the kids will love him more they died his hair pink, aka the exact same hairstyle as all German moms.

Samson the shit-bear


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seandonson said...

I know Paul Williams mostly from the TV movie frog with him, Elliott Gould and Shelley Duvall. I know, I know, dream cast. right? Weird flick that I used to rent all the time as a young lad. I wonder if I can find that one somewhere..

So, was Willie Nelson's version of Rainbow Connection before or after the Muppets?