Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Songwriting Spank Material - "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday"

Sometimes my influences escape the realm of popular music and dwell in areas that might surprise you. When I was eleven I got a tape for Christmas, The Beatles Greatest Hits, and it changed everything about music for me. I heard the Beatles and other Rock and Roll bands from the 50's, 60's, and 70's a lot on the ride to Kansas City when I had to go for an appointment, but before the age of eleven, and getting that tape for Christmas, I didn't listen to a lot of Rock and Roll or Pop music. There was, however, a music that did dominate my ears from the age of zero until that Christmas when I got that Beatles tape. All my life (and still to this day) I was a tremendous fan of the Muppets, and their music was my music for the first eleven years of my life. I watched the Muppet Show whenever I could. I watched the movies whenever I could. I tried not to miss Fraggle Rock. I even watched Sesame Street past the age that most kids stop watching that show (Sesame Street before Elmo began to monopolize it). I had Muppet toys, Muppet books, Muppet shirts, Muppet bed linens. I idolized Jim Henson. I grieved tremendously when he died. And during all this, I had two tapes of Muppet music that I listened to constantly (until they finally wore out, that is).

When I was a kid I thought Jim Henson wrote the music for the shows and movies. He did everything else, and was a creative genius, why wouldn't he write the songs? It wasn't until later in life that I found out that a bulk of what is considered memorable when it comes to Muppet music were written by two guys. The first was Joe Raposo, who you probably have never heard of, but if you watch Sesame Street then you know his work. The songs he wrote or co-wrote include (among many many others): "Bein' Green," "C Is For Cookie," "Sesame Street Theme Song," "Sing," and most (if not all) of the songs for the film segments (i.e. where they show how they make peanut butter, where they show different people sleeping, etc.). The other guy is Paul Williams. Williams wrote or co-wrote a bulk of the Muppet's movie songs including: "Rainbow Connection," "Moving Right Along," "When The River Meets The Sea," and the song I am going to talk about next (He also wrote a bunch of non-Muppet songs in the 70's for the Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and others, and he's also the president of ASCAP).

"I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" is a brilliant song. For those unfamiliar with it, let me give you some context. This song comes from The Muppet Movie (1979), and comes at a major plot point. The movie begins with Kermit deciding he is going to travel to Hollywood so he can become a movie star, and along the way he meets all his Muppet pals. Chasing them is a restaurant magnate named Doc Hopper who owns a chain of frog leg restaurants and wants Kermit to be his spokesfrog. Kermit doesn't want any part of Hoppers proposal, so Hopper does what any reasonable business man would do - He stalks Kermit, tries to pressure him into signing on, and after Kermit makes it clear he doesn't want to be a part of the Doc Hopper Empire, hires assassins to pursue the frog and his friends and kill them. At the point in the movie where we get to this song, a lot has happened. The gang has just escaped another Doc Hopper trap at county fair that saw Gonzo fly away by holding onto a big bundle of balloons. After they escape, Fozzie's car breaks down on the side of the road and the gang is stranded. Kermit is feels bad for endangering his friends and for bringing them on the trip in the first place. Everyone asks him what they should do, and he snaps at them. Then we get the song.

The song itself can be taken literally. Gonzo is singing it about being up in the sky, flying with his bundle of balloons and how he wants to do it again, but like all good songs it has the ability to meet people on different levels. For me, this song stirs up a lot of different emotions. I think it's because I've known this song my whole life, and it's reached me on different levels at different points. When I was a kid going through chemo, the song had a more literal meaning for me. "going back there" meant my childhood, kindergarten, and my friends. As a teenager, I remember someone playing this song at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. It was my last year as a camper there, and "going back there" meant camp...not just the physical location, mind you...but the metaphysical place that was like a demiplane of normal in a world that otherwise wasn't. Now as an adult, the song means even greater things to me. When I hear it I'm reminded of William Wordsworth own struggle of "going back there," yearning for his childhood at Grasmere. And as such, I am reminded of the artist's journey, of foraging ahead and reinventing but of also trying to rekindle and reconnect with creations past. True, the song is poppy, and sappy, and riddled with hooks, but none of that takes away from its brilliance, and I don't know many people who hate it.


Mlle. Cherry said...

My favorite Gonzo song is "Jamboree" from The Muppet Show's season 3, episode 11.

"Lonely? hey, I get lonely. Sad? whoo! I know sad.
But you do what you can with the things that you see to make life a jamboree!

And I see cows playing cellos with bananas where their horns should be.
And I see flags being waved by ducks in buckets, and pigs drinking lemon tea..."

Ross Gipson said...

you should check out "Wishing Song," another gonzo classic