Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sammy the Snake speaks on Jerry Nelson

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following message has been translated from Sammyspeak into regular English. This has been done to avoid the constant hissing noise ("SSSSSSsay hey! It’s sssweet to sssee you. Ssssorry if I ssscared you. I’m Sssammy the Ssssnake.")

Say hey! It’s sweet to see you. Sorry if I scared you. I’m Sammy the Snake. It seems that a lot of people are scared of me. I can’t say that I blame them. I am kind of funky, you know. But the only reason I leave such an impact with people is the magic of puppetry, and a very talented person named Jerry Nelson.

Jerry Nelson passed away on  August 23, 2012. Yours truly, Sammy the Snake, was only one of the muppet characters he brought to life. A long list of his characters includes Count Von Count, Herry Monster, Herbert Birdsfoot, Sam the Robot, The Amazing Mumford, Simon the Soundman, Sgt. Floyd Pepper and Robin the Frog (Kermit’s nephew). He was the original performer and voice of Snuffleupagus before Martin Robinson took over the role. He also voiced a certain guy unfortunately named "fat blue." That’s really just a nickname for "Mr. Johnson," the customer that Grover the waiter waited on in so many skits. You know, the one who ordered the big hamburger. Poor guy.

As you can hear by my scintillating vocal abilities, Jerry had an awesome voice as well. Besides my theme song (it’s on the "Do the Alphabet" Sesame Street CD, for those of you who want to slither out and buy a copy),  he sang Robin’s classic "Halfway Down the Stairs", Floyd’s version of "New York State of Mind",  and "Something’s Missing," a favorite long-lost track from the Muppet Show.  As the Count, there were several awesome songs, such as "Song of the Count," "Count up to nine" and "Eight little notes."  You can see Jerry’s work on several classic Sesame Street clips. Some are on Youtube and Sesame, others are available on VHS and DVD. Notably, my immortal performance is on the "Alphabet Game" tape and DVD. In fact, Jerry was such a fine singer that he even got to sing as himself on an album called "Truro Daydreams."

My friend Jerry had been sick for some time. In the last few years, he was not physically performing the characters on Sesame Street, but through the magic of technology he was recording their voices. At this point, there’s some question as to if the Count will continue with another person’s voice. I hope so, but time will tell. Regardless of whether the Count’s days are numbered (sorry about that, folks), Jerry’s contributions to Sesame Street have been many and numerable. He certainly was part of the magic behind the early days of the show.

Now Jerry and I didn't work together very often, so I can't claim to be as close to him as some of the other characters around here. (You'll have to talk to the Count or Herry Monster if you want a scoop.) I'm one of the many muppets who spends most of his time curled up in the bottom of a file drawer while the others smile for stage and screen. I knew Elmo before he was a star. But these days, I usually hang out with Herbert Birdsfoot and the Beautiful Day monster at the bar down the street. We do karaoke together once in a while. But I digress.

So I can't tell you any deep secrets about Jerry Nelson. (You must understand that the muppet performers usually prefer not to be seen. Part of their job, you see.) The art needs to speak louder than the artist. The best I can do is say something like this. Jerry, Jim, Caroll, Fran, Richard and Frank (and today many others) set a standard for puppetry that is not easy to live up to. I think if they were re-doing my song today, I'd just be a computer graphic, like Jar Jar Binks or something. The art of puppetry shone in many of those early Sesame Street skits, including the one with yours truly. Jerry's puppetry stands with strong with the other guys' as some of the best in the history of television. And I like to think that my performance is a good example of that. Still freaking out kids after all these years.

So long, Jerry.

ON YOUTUBE: GROVER AND THE BIG HAMBURGER. Let's test out this new blogging technology here (well, new for me) and re-post the classic clip of Grover (performed by Frank Oz) trying to serve "fat blue" (performed by Jerry Nelson) a hamburger. It's a fun example of the silliness and fun of the show.