The Fraggle, The Count, And The Very Sad Day

You can learn to sing/ You can learn the special words that live in everything/ Teach your ear to hear the stones/ Listen to the trees/ Magic is as magic does/ It lives in you and me. ~ Fraggle Rock episode “Wembley’s Wonderful Whoopie Water”

I hadn’t really planned to post today. Life, the universe, and everything sort of tumbled down around my head this week, and the idea of posting — even the idea of catching up on reading blogs — has been overwhelming.
But then I saw a news article. A horribly sad one, one which took some of the light and joy and whimsy out of the world.

Jerry Nelson died.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Jerry Nelson is the Muppeteer who is responsible for performing more characters in the worlds created by Jim Henson than I could possibly list; most people would know him as Herry Monster, Count Von Count, and (most importantly, at least to my mind) Gobo Fraggle.

I rediscovered Fraggle Rock several years ago, when I found a copy of the first season on DVD for half price, and I just couldn’t resist reconnecting with my childhood. I expected to have a few laughs with it and then move on.

What surprised me in watching the show again was how complex it was, how it dealt with the very adult problems of responsibility, the importance of friendship, and cooperation between people who share a world but can’t see eye-to-eye. It was a show that was intended to change the world.

And it did, at least for some of us who were the right age, and in the right place at the right time. The idealism of the early 1980’s may lie deeply buried in many of my generation, but it’s there, and we learned it from Fraggle Rock.

That’s right. I’m a Fraggle Rock mega-fan.

Part of what made that show so successful, what made it have such an impact on my young and impressionable mind, was its characters. They weren’t just Muppets, doing silly things and singing silly songs — they were people, they had depth, and it was their performers who gave them that depth.

That’s why I’m so sad to hear of Jerry Nelson’s passing. His distinctively sharp voice may be more recognizable for his work on Sesame Street, but his was the voice of Marjorie, the wise Trash Heap, which taught me that Gorgs are people too; his was the voice of Pa Gorg, who taught me that even pompous blow-hards are capable of love; and his was the voice of Gobo Fraggle, who taught me that it’s easy to be brave and good and strong, so long as you have friends who love you.

So now I’ll just let the man speak for himself. Thanks for all the good times, Mr. Nelson. You will be missed.

38 responses to “The Fraggle, The Count, And The Very Sad Day

  1. I hope things lighten up for you. My ex boyfriend from 102 years ago was in love with Fraggle Rock. I hope you can enjoy your weekend.

  2. I never watched Fraggle Rock as a kid, but boy did I love me some Sesame Street. Oh, and I had that exact same phone case on my last phone.

  3. How sad to hear that news. It has been years since I have listened and followed the Muppets. A real treasure……gone but never forgotten.

  4. Oh, we love Fraggle Rock! Everything about it. We’ll have to pop in one of our DVDs tomorrow for The Kidling in his honor.

    • I knew I liked you! Fraggle Rock is a perfect family activity!

      • It makes our whole family happy. Alice adores it and The Dada and I get a kick out of watching her watch the show we loved as kids. And that song! Is there a better theme song anywhere?

      • There really isn’t. I love how whimsical it is, and yet how it still sometimes surprises me by being so deep. I just hope that Sausage grows to love it as much as I do, otherwise there could be problems. “It’s Fraggle Rock time, Sausage!” “MooooOOOOOooooom! I hate that show! I want to watch Dora!” “No! It’s Fraggles or nothing, mister! Now go get your Boober hat and get ready to sing!”

      • Each episode is a true morality tale, isn’t it? It is such a beautiful way for kids to observe and learn about empathy and basic human decency. And, it makes me laugh.

        Let the music play and save your worries for another day. Dance your cares away, Kathy.

    • I knew I liked you! Fraggle Rock is a perfect family activity! But you don’t have to tell her that Gobo is dead. That could be depressing.

  5. i have the song stuck in my head now…

  6. Kathy,
    As a French Canadian, I have missed a great deal when it comes to Sesame Street/The Muppets/Fraggle Rock. I just recently started watching some of The Muppets thanks to my wife, and yesterday I watched a pretty decent documentary about Kurt Clash, which was quite revealing about the amount of work of a puppeteer. This being said, my sympathies, Kathy.
    Le Clown

    • Le Clown,

      Being Canadian is no excuse for missing Fraggle Rock, since it was produced in Canada. Gobo Fraggle had a pronounced Canadian accent. And do you mean Kevin Clash, the man behind (or under, as it were) Elmo? I just watched a rather wonderful documentary about him. He is from Baltimore! See? The muppets are bringing our two great nations closer together! NOW GIVE US ALL YOUR HEALTHCARE!


      • And I see you watched the same documentary. Responding to comments on my phone sucks, I can’t see what you wrote as I’m writing.

      • Kathy,
        You don’t understand: Canadian culture and Quebec culture are completely distinct. My wife and I are learning a great deal about these differences since we’ve been together. All these muppet shows were not translated and as kids, in French Quebec, we were given uber dramatic Japanese animations, translated in French. No wonder we’re super dramatic beings. If the Ringmistress reads this, she’ll have more to say on this. Now that I know the Muppets, I am showing them to my kids with perhaps too much fervour.

        And yes, Kevin Clash, the guy behind Elmo. From the documentary, Baltimore looks beautiful. I really want to book a ticket and visit these beaches.
        Le Clown

      • Le Clown,

        I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. I thought there was more overlap between the two Canadas. But since I’ve never been to Canada, what do I know?

        Baltimore isn’t what I would call a “beautiful” city. It’s too historically working-class for that. It is fun, and kitschy, and gritty, and exuberant. There are beautiful beaches nearby, and the area around the harbor has a lot to see and do. But “beautiful”? Meh.


      • Kathy,
        Sounds like my kind of city. Funny enough, one of my favourite trips was to Cleveland…
        Le Clown

      • Le Clown,

        I hear that Detroit is lovely this time of year.


      • Kathy,
        You’re my kind of blogger, la Fraggle Kathy.
        Le Clown

  7. I was a youngster in the 60s. By the time Sesame Street hit the broadcast airwaves I was 10 so it did not interest me in the least. Until I read your post I was familiar with the name Fraggle Rock but if I was asked what it was on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” — animal, mineral or TV show, I’d need a lifeline. What this proves is that when I was coming of age my steady TV-watching diet was “The Three Stooges” and yes, my elders were right, absorbing all those hours of pure idiocy did rot my brain. My Sesame Street-loving 24-year-old colleague, was very upset that Jerry Nelson died. Together today we watched The Count on Sesame Street teach us how to count to seven. It’s never too late to learn something useful.

  8. Kathy, I learned of this yesterday about J. Nelson’s passing. I loved the Count and I loved Fraggle Rock as well. So much of this — Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Show were all about what you’re described. And you’ve described it beautifully. I think that’s why it resonates with so many, young and old. Great post!!

  9. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    A beautiful bittersweet posting. Thanks for expressing what many of us are feeling.

  10. The trash heap died? I am so sad. Thanks for posting, it’s nice to know there’s other fraggle fans out there.

    • Yes, the Trash Heap has moved to the great landfill in the sky. People are talking a lot about Nelson in terms of his performance as the Count, which was wonderful and all, but I really feel like he did better, more interesting, work on Fraggle Rock.

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