Posts Tagged ‘RIP’

Big Bird

December 9, 2019

Obviously, I am a huge Muppets fan and I wholeheartedly love everything they have ever done pre-Disney and post-Disney. The Muppets will always be a part of myself and definitely part of the font of creativity in my soul. I have spoken at length about how Jim Henson was a personal hero of mine. I know his personal life was not perfect but his creativity and willingness to collaborate have definitely carried me through difficult parts of my creative, personal, and professional lives. One of the early things that Henson created while he was struggling creatively and financially was Sesame Street. While I was more of a fan of The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, when I was little I definitely watched some Sesame Street. It, along with Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, definitely encouraged my little imagination.

I think my favorite back in the day was actually Bert. As an introvert, I definitely felt a kinship with a guy who wanted things just right and was always trying to counter his introvert roommate’s energy. He was intelligent and underappreciated. However, through my teen and college years, I identified most with was Oscar the Grouch. I definitely went through a cynical period where I struggled with my anger and I have only recently begun to come out from under that cloud. Still, even during those darker days, I had a lot of love for those who I was loyal to. Of course, Oscar the Grouch was voiced by the most iconic character of Sesame Street. Of course, I am talking about Big Bird, the one character who never really had a name of his own. He was a shining symbol of childlike wonder and often seemed to embody that awkwardness we all feel in our own bodies.

Most of you must know that I am talking about this because the man behind Oscar and Big Bird (and others), Carroll Spinney, has died. It is indeed very sad but we had so many years and three generations got to enjoy Big Bird and all of his friends. I have been thinking back to some of his best moments. One that was not very televised was Carroll’s appearance at Jim Henson’s funeral in character as Big Bird. It was a beautiful moment that felt more beautiful to me since Henson had parted ways with Sesame Street long before. They were still all friends. I remember when Big Bird finally proved the existence of Mr. Snuffleupagus. It was a moment that showed kids that they should be believed when they are telling adults the truth. The moment was intended to give power to kids suffering from sexual and physical abuse.

In a moment from the year of my birth (and in fact 37 years and two days ago) Mr. Hooper died and Sesame Street used that to teach kids about death through Big Bird. It was such an interesting and meaningful moment that they could have explained away or covered for but they wanted to use it to teach. They confronted the hard truth. That moment makes me wonder how they are going to proceed with Sesame Street. Will they mention or acknowledge Carroll’s death on screen. I think it is obvious that Big Bird will not die. Jim Henson died and Kermit did not follow suit. Muppets cannot die. Humans can and do. Mr. Hooper was a different case but I wonder if they might do something subtle or outside of the show to honor Spinney.

The beauty of all creative endeavors is that the show will go on because it must go on. Carroll’s spirit will not be forgotten just as everybody who ever contributed will not be forgotten. Big Bird will continue to be that childlike influence on the kids (and their parents). Oscar will still grumble and gripe from his trash can. They have been so good at casting in the past years that you can barely tell when a new performer takes over. All of the Muppets feel like living characters and, honestly, I feel that they really are in their own way. The muppeteers have often said as much. I am interested to see where the story goes next. I wish that Sesame Street could break free from the corporate paywall it is now behind but if people are still benefitting from it, it is what it is. Hopefully, they can continue to make Jim and Carroll and everyone proud and make us learn and laugh.

RIP Stan Lee

November 17, 2018

I was rocked when I heard that Stan Lee died four days ago on November 12, 2018. I had to spend a bit of time getting my thoughts together so that I could do this right. I could not let a great man pass without saying a little something. So here are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the past few days.

I was a huge fan of comic books growing up. I loved them so much that I walked three miles to a comic book store and blew my allowance on a small stack of them. I bought both Marvel and DC (while some of my friends preferred Image). However, when I read them, I did not often think about who was making them. All I thought about was who was selling them and how I could get them. So I really did not know who Stan Lee was. I would have been impressed had I known his name because he created a lot of the characters I liked and was one of the godfathers of the modern age of comics that I enjoyed so much. Little did I know but he was a fixture on the letters page at the back of most comics but I usually skipped that while I grabbed another story to absorb. When I got a bit older, I started to read those pages and learned about Stan’s infamous No-Prize. It was the prize he (and the Marvel editors) gave out to fans who spotted continuity errors in Marvel comic book fans. A little fun smartassery pointed toward the nitpickier side of fandom. It was also a reminder that comics are just supposed to be fun and not taken so seriously.

However, the first time I really started to become aware of Stan Lee was watching a little VHS called Pryde of the X-Men. It was an animated television pilot released in 1989 (a magic year for me) for an X-Men cartoon show that never materialized. I thought it was awesome but it only spawned the one double episode pilot and the famous X-Men arcade game. (Fun Fact: Wolverine was given an Australian accent in the pilot which is a bit eerie now). I remember well how Stan narrated that first episode. That was the first time that I heard him use the phrase “true believer” and it really resonated with me. As somebody with a vivid imagination and a strong suspension of disbelief, that was a great description of what I am. He brought me right into the story and his voice could barely contain the excitement he had for the story that was about to unfold. Of course, 1989 Stan Lee probably had no idea how many shows and movies would feature he and his friends’ creations. He had to have been excited to see the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in animated form.

So, years after Pryde of the X-Men, in the 1990s, I started to become more aware of authorship as I started to create my own worlds in my head and on the page. I became more curious about behind the scenes of comic books. I bought books to try and learn how to draw them but I just never took to visual art as much as the written word. I ended up collaborating with my friends on comic books since one of my best friends could draw and loved to do so. As I said, I started to look at the letters page. I also started to look at who was drawing the comics I liked and who was writing them. I started to look for them at the stores like I looked for directors and movie stars at the Blockbuster Video. As I got older, I became better at picking comics that I really liked, not just what was hot at the moment. As a result, I became a bigger fan of comics creators. When I saw interviews with a lot of these creators, they mentioned Stan Lee as their inspiration. He was the grandfather. He was one of the sources on high. He and Jack Kirby practically created Marvel with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Now, the first time I saw Stan Lee was when I watched the movie Mallrats made by Kevin Smith. In the movie, he has his first live-action cameo, giving advice to a lovelorn and desperate comic book fan. In that cameo, he describes the characters he created being a reflection of what he felt inside at the time, a mirror to his emotions. Of course, later he did cameos in live action movies of his properties. One of the first cameos was actually my favorite since it was so pure. He appeared in Spider-Man (2002) as a man in the crowd. In a scene where Spider-Man is fighting against Green Goblin, he saves a little girl from being crushed by debris. The man who became famous for writing heroes finally got to act out being a hero. It was such a great moment to see a writer get to actually be in his own work. This sparked a chain of cameos in live-action movies leading more casual fans to lean over in theaters and ask “who is that?” which allowed fans to explain and spread his legend.

Of course, getting to be a hero in the movie was probably a thrill but Stan did not just write heroes, he was a hero. It is obvious from the outpouring of grief and respect following his death that he touched so many lives. He was one of many who inspired me at a young age to not only read but to write as well. His affable nature made comic books more accessible and fun, knowing that the people who made them did not take themselves too seriously. His legacy will continue and it is as unlikely that he will be forgotten as Shakespeare, Stephen King, or Jim Henson will be forgotten. He left an indelible mark on history and fiction that will stand as a monument to him. He also left marks on the psyches of those who consumed his stories and carried them in their hearts. Count me among them. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 so I will not see Stan Lee cameos and feel sad. I will smile and remember what he gave me and what he gave the world.

Rhymes with Cabinets

May 14, 2018

In 2010, I had arrived back in Baltimore after living in New Jersey for 9 years. I was a little at a loss for what to do with my life and I felt like I was adrift. I had worked professionally in theater for five straight years but I had lost my passion for it. I also wanted my nights and weekends back. At the time, my mother had started dating a man who is now my stepfather and, through him, I was introduced to a good friend of mine who I quickly began to call my cousin. It was suggested that I join him in working on a political campaign, something I had never really done before. In fact, I was 27 years old and I had never really voted with any regularity. However, I needed something to do and I was told that working on the campaign might lead to a job. And so I spent the entire summer of 2010 putting up 4X8 political signs and I spent the fall knocking on doors and cold calling people. It was probably one of the hardest jobs I have ever had but it taught me a lot.

As I am writing this, it is Friday, May 11, 2018. Yesterday, the candidate I worked for, Kevin Kamenetz, suddenly died of a heart attack. It was quite a shock. I know for a fact that Kevin was quite wealthy and took care of himself physically so I was surprised to hear he had been taken so suddenly. While I have not talked to him in eight years, his name has never escaped my mind and it never will. I used to put up gigantic 4X8 signs with his name emblazoned on them, I wore a shirt with his name on it, and I said his name so often that it became second nature. I will also remember his name because of the friendships that formed in the trenches of that campaign that I value to this day. Finally, I will remember his name because Kevin made sure that people remembered him by being an impressive politician.

More than impressive, I saw Kevin as a force of nature. I was rarely at campaign headquarters because I was often out on the road but when I know that Kevin was also rarely there. He was the leader of the Baltimore County Council but he was also always out campaigning. He was shaking hands, making appearances, and attending meetings all while sincerely working for the people of Baltimore County. I had very few run-ins with him while all of this was happening (at least not until late in the campaign) but every single one was memorable. I attended a meeting as his assistant once and I got to witness him talk. He must have been a great attorney before politics because he spoke with conviction and passion and he was impossible to ignore. As we drove to and from the event, we talked one on one and he made me feel like he was listening to what I had to say.

Obviously, I was not the only person impressed with Kevin. He gained a huge following and, in the last few days, plenty of people have had kind words for him. Even people I thought of as his enemies, like Larry Hogan, had great things to say about him. The thing that I always pointed to when asked during the campaign was the thing that I continued to be impressed by in his career. He was a champion of schools and education which was why he was originally endorsed by the teacher’s union. He was involved in trying to make sure that all Baltimore County schools had air conditioning so that we did not have to choose between baking our children or sending them home early in the early and late parts of the school year. As somebody who spent a lot of time sweating in 100-degree weather for his benefit, I appreciated the focus on good air conditioning.

It took me a while to sort through and figure out what Kevin had given me. At the end of the campaign, he did give me a chance for a job. In the end, it was not something I was passionate about and I should have used it as a stepping stone instead of a missed opportunity. Beyond that educational experience, working for Kevin taught me a bit about the inner workings of politics as I talked shop with the people around me. I started to read the news more and pay attention to the world around me. I really started to decide what kind of person I was going to be when it came to my politics. In the end, the person I became did not agree all the time with Kevin’s policies. However, it was clear that he and the people who worked for him were dedicated to serving the community as best they could. If he had lived, I definitely would have considered voting for him for governor (especially against Hogan).

I am proud to say that I worked for Kevin Kamenetz. He was not always the easiest person to work for because whatever you accomplished he always demanded more. While this was frustrating at the time, maybe it was way more positive than it first appeared. Always striving to do better is how you succeed in life and in my last few jobs, it has been a personal goal of mine. In the end, Maryland has suffered a loss and it will take a while for the political system to recover. My heart goes out to his family and friends who must be way more devastated than I am.


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