Thursday, July 14, 2011

iRead "The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch)"

About two years ago, I saw Caroll Spinney and a slew of other Sesame Street stars as part of a panel discussion to celebrate their 40th season. An audience member asked him to do the voices of both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the characters he had been playing since the pilot episode of the program. On the spot, he transitioned from one Muppet into the other. It was astounding! I remember being shocked at how different each character voice was, yet you could hear Spinney in both of them.

I finally had a chance to read The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch. In the book, Spinney reflects on both characters and how they have impacted his career and personal life. The book reads like a fast and fun autobiography. Spinney's life truly does run parellel to the program he has been with for so many years. He shares stories about his wife (who he met while working on the "Street"), working with Jim Henson, and the experiences that he has been afforded because of his roles on television.

Each chapter begins with some words of wisdom from either Big Bird or Oscar the Grouch. My favorite was a Big Bird quote, "Don't be afraid to lay an egg." I think that is really about transition and the fear of change when you choose to do or create something. I can't leave Oscar out, though. In his ultimate wisdom, Oscar shares, "Always start the day with a smile-that way you get it over with." Hilarious. I can just hear him saying that. It's a beautiful example of good writing and brilliant character portrayal.

I enjoyed reading about Spinney's puppeteering experience, how he met Jim Henson, his reluctance to join the cast of Sesame Street at first and the ultimate decision to do so, which changed the course of life. It was refreshing to hear about the moments in his career before and during Sesame Street that didn't go so well. The book is a testament to sticking it out and taking the job you love over the job that pays better.

What I found interesting and unique about Spinney is his mostly singular Muppeteer role. He's pretty much a Sesame Street guy, rarely working on other Henson projects. Big Bird's popularity must have made it really difficult to do much other work. What a wonderful burden to have had! Spinney's "About the Author" says it all, "He has traveled the world as Big Bird, won Grammys and Emmys, and has been named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress."

This the perfect short and fun read for creatives and lovers of Sesame Street or The Muppets. The book is no longer in print, but you can snag an inexpensive, used copy here. I got mine for $.01 plus shipping!

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