Thursday, June 19, 2008

What I've Learned from the Muppets: One's on the Way

Season 3 of "The Muppet Show" features some classic bits. It's been a lot of fun slowly working my way through the recent DVD release. One song I had pretty much forgotten about is the closing number from the Loretta Lynn episode, "One's on the Way." This number is a great example of the puppeteers using their surroundings to play off of. As Loretta sings, the babies (in an appearance before becoming Bobby Bensen's Baby Band) pretty much just cause a lot of trouble. As you watch this number you have to figure that probably very little of what the babies do was actually scripted. The puppeteers were simply playing off of their surroundings. Above you see one of the babies gets it's head stuck in the bars of the crib.

Here you see another one trying to eat the table cloth. The puppeteers are simply utilizing the various props around them. In fact, as the song reaches it's end, the props they play off of are the other babies as they begin crawling over and hitting each other. Just having the babies sing backup would've been cute, but it wouldn't have been as funny as this song ended up being.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What I've Learned from the Muppets: Telephone Rock

It's been a while since I did a "What I've Learned from the Muppets" article, but I just couldn't resist after watching some Muppet goodness last night. I received a late Birthday present this week of the Sesame Street Old School Volume 2 DVD, which features the classic "Telephone Rock." Besides being a catchy tune, this little song is a great example of progression in a puppet song and how it doesn't have to be big.

You'll never see this one on "Sesame Street" anymore. Not only does it take place in a telephone booth (what's a telephone booth) but the booth features a rotary phone. In this song, the green-skinned, orange-haired lead vocalist (performed by Jerry Nelson) goes into the booth and calls up the operator to sing the Telephone Rock. On the choruses he's joined by three backup singers who also cram themselves into the phone booth.

There are three choruses and something different happens during each one. For the first chorus the band simply sings while all stuffed into the same phone booth. This is funny enough by itself. For the second chorus, the three backups begin some choreography. They actually twist their bodies back and forth to the beat, which looks pretty funny in the tight space.

The third chorus is the part I remember so vividly from childhood, where the whole phone booth starts rocking back and forth to the music. Now these three things may seem like no big deal, but they each keep something new in front of the audience. Each chorus is funnier than the one that preceded it, even though the music stays the same. I often tell puppet team leaders that it's good to plan something different for each chorus of the song they are performing. Whether it's different props or choreography, keep something new in front of the audience so they'll stay interested. It doesn't have to be big. The Muppets pull it off here with just some subtle changes.

I can't forget to mention the big payoff at the end of the song where the operator (performed by Richard Hunt) tracks down the group and has the police carry them off, telephone booth and all. It's a memorable ending, which is another important element of a puppet performance. Brian Henson has admitted that often the Muppets ended things by either blowing something up or throwing penguins in the air. Strange yes, but memorable for sure.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


In the world of fast food, Chik-Fil-A has the greatest chicken sandwich. They're slogan says, "We didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich." I don't know if that's true, but if not it might as well be.

In most parts of the nation Chick-Fil-A's are primarily in mall food courts. In Georgia, their home base, you can find stand-alone stores all over the place. One of the first markets they launched stand-alone Chick-Fil-A's in outside of the south was right here in Denver. Many of the folks at my office are somewhat fanatical about Chick-Fil-A. We buy the cow calendars every year and some of us even took a pilgrimage to the first Chick-Fil-A (known as the Dwarf House) in Atlanta, where you can actually buy a hamburger.

So have you seen what McDonalds has just launched in their stores? They are calling it the "Southern Style Chicken Sandwich." When I saw a picture of it I thought, "it's a Chick-Fil-A sandwich!" OK, there is a difference, Chick-Fil-A puts the pickles on the bottom, McDonalds has them on top. I take the pickles off so who cares.

A coupon for a free one made it's way to me today, so I decided to give it a try. As I suspected, the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich is a rip-off of the Chick-Fil-A Sandwich.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


A few weeks ago my wife declared that we were going on vacation. Originally she had wanted to head up to Yellowstone, but that didn't work out, so instead we settled on heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota. At first, the idea of going on vacation seemed somewhat stressful, but I'm so glad we went. I feel like I had a chance to connect with my kids, my wife, God and part of this great country.

I had wanted to blog about the trip as we went, but alas, the internet service at our hotel went caput after the first day. So here is a report and some of my pictures. I'm posting a lot more pictures over at my Facebook account. So if you're not my friend, be my big woop.

Of course, Mt. Rushmore is the main attraction in the area. The above picture was taken on our second visit to the memorial. The first visit looked like what you see below

It actually snowed our first morning of summer vacation. We took in the museum and movie at the visitors center but decided we would come back on a clearer day for a good look at the mountain. We then headed down the hill to the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD. Now there's always some degree of cheese factor to attraction like this, but I actually found the wax museum to be quite intriguing.

They had wax representations of every US President, not to mention many other historical figures. They claimed that the detail was as accurate as possible, many of the figures having been created off of life casts of the presidents. They were very lifelike. However, the Ronald Reagan one just didn't look quite right to me. Of course, I'm not going to know if James K. Polk looked right or not, but I could tell Reagan looked strange. We finished off the day at Putz N Glo. It's mini golf in blacklight...way cool! Good choices for a cold rainy day in the black hills.

My wife and I actually got to visit this area briefly about 12 years ago for a puppet festival. We didn't do much tourist stuff because we were working. The one place we visited, other than Mt. Rushmore, was Reptile Gardens. Here we saw snakes, lizards, and, of course, alligators and crocs. Not exactly natives of the Dakotas but fun to visit anyway. The kids loved this place. My son was especially excited to see an Anaconda, since he had just done a project for school on Anacondas. Reptile Gardens in part indoors, part outdoors. It was still a bit chilly that day, but we still had fun.

The evening we visited the Circle B Ranch for the chuck wagon super and show. We've been to the Flying W in Colorado Springs many times, but this was our first visit to another chuck wagon. This one seems to be run by one family who are also the band. With it being a cold first week of the tourist season, it wasn't very crowded but still fun.

The next day things turned sunny. We spent the morning back at Mt. Rushmore. I took so many cool photos from every possible angle. That afternoon we headed up to the old west town of Deadwood. There are a few interesting historical sights there. The Adams Museum was pretty interesting, but shame on them they don't allow you to take pictures inside. Many of the buildings have been restored to reflect the time in which they were built and there are even performers who do gunfights on the street from time to time. Unfortunately, much of the interior of these classic buildings has been taken over by casinos. On our way out of town we stopped by the cemetery to see the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane.

We headed over to Rushmore Cave the next day. My wife loves caves, I think they're cool too, but I'm always a bit nervous. I never can seem to shake the thought of getting trapped in there, but I enjoy seeing the creativity of God, even underground.

The formations were pretty incredible, and for the first time in my life I saw cave bacon (mmmm bacon).

That afternoon we headed over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This huge rock carving of Crazy Horse on his horse is far from done and they've been working on it for 60 years! It's an amazing example of the power of one man's dream. The sculptor who started the project has been dead for over 20 years, yet his family continues the work. It's probably fair to say that many of them will not see the completion of the mountain either. Yet the dream continues.

The face of Crazy Horse is pretty much sculpted and work is focus on the head of the horse right now. The museum at the visitors center contains all sorts of native American items, which thrilled my daughter since she just did a project on native Americans at school. I do wish that there was a bit more about who Crazy Horse was at the museum, but it was still very intriguing. It was also very cool that the kids got to take home their own rocks that had been blasted off of the Crazy Horse memorial.

We also got to see some native American dancing at the visitors center. Honest to God, it started raining right after this picture was taken. I don't think it was supposed to be a rain dance.

It was a great trip, I'm so glad we went. The kids had fun. My wife and I had fun. We look forward to going back to the black hills again someday.