Make the rainbow connection
The Dead Hensons revive the days of Kermit and kindergarten
School’s done for the day, and you’re way too young to have homework. You toss your backpack in your room and change into jeans and a faded Cookie Monster T-shirt. You stop in the kitchen for a juice box before settling, cross-legged, in front of the television.
As you turn the TV knob to Channel 6, you see Mister Rogers bidding you goodbye. Before you know it, the Sesame Street gang is calling to you: “Sunny day! Everything’s A-OK!” You sway back and forth with the bouncy tune, laughing at Big Bird and Barkley.
Wait—what’s this? A silver ball rolls through a rainbow-covered, psychedelic pinball machine as the Pointer Sisters count, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve!” over a complex, funky rhythm that forces you to put down the juice box and dance.
Fast-forward a few decades to this Saturday night. You’ve long since pushed aside the happiness of your Sesame Street days in pursuit of love, money and the perfect indie-rock hairstyle. You’re standing in the crowd at Old Ironsides with a beer in your hand, checking out your peers and their haircuts, when the Dead Hensons start jamming a familiar tune: “One, two, three, four, five …”
You’re not sure why, but you feel compelled to put down your beer and dance. “Why don’t I do this more often?” you wonder. “And whatever happened to my Cookie Monster T-shirt?”
Such childhood regressions are common when the Dead Hensons come to town. The eight-piece Bay Area band travels Northern California performing music from Jim Henson projects—specifically Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie and a few specials like Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. (Sorry, Red fans, the band has unanimously dismissed the music of Fraggle Rock.)
The Hensons owe their origins to musician Ryan Beebe—Dr. Teeth to the band’s Electric Mayhem—who put an ad on Craigslist two years ago seeking Muppet-music enthusiasts. Not just a novelty act, the Hensons are skilled musicians, as evidenced by all the instrument trading that happens during a set. The band’s first album, a four-song 7-inch record, has sold out, though MP3s are still available at www.deadhensons.com.
“I have been collecting records since I was 5, so I have almost all the Sesame Street LPs and over 40 hours of video of the original show,” said Erica Johnson, who sings and plays bass, spoons and percussion. “We all learn by ear, matching notes and tones. None of us really reads music or charts stuff very well.”
“We try to stay true to the originals,” added Karianne Jones, who sings, drums and tap dances, “but the songs that are 45 seconds long, we embellish to make them a more reasonable one minute and 37 seconds.”
According to the Jim Henson Co. mission statement, Henson dedicated his life to “making the world a better place by inspiring people to celebrate life.” It stands to reason that any artists channeling his raison d’être would leave a festive atmosphere in their wake.
But really? Hipsters breaking out of their cool veneers to dance? “Dancing with the reckless abandon of kids!” confirmed bassist and accordion player John Dumont. When the band played the Independent in San Francisco last summer, the 200-plus crowd went crazy with nostalgia. “It almost felt like we were the friggin’ Beatles or something,” said Johnson.
Of course, sometimes fans take the quest to recapture childhood memories a little too far. “A bunch of weirdoes showed up wearing huge pseudo-Muppets costumes at one of our shows,” Johnson recalled. “They proceeded to block the crowd’s view and knock everyone over inadvertently because they were so big and awkward.”
So, Saturday night, when you’re jamming to the music of your school days—“Movin’ Right Along,” “Rainbow Connection,” “Mah Na Mah Na,” etc.—remember your classroom etiquette. No pushing and no shoving, and bring enough juice boxes for everyone.