1 The Muppet Mindset: Punk Rock Merit Badges: The Muppets and Alt-Rock

Jul 10, 2014

Punk Rock Merit Badges: The Muppets and Alt-Rock

Dan V. - The Muppets and alternative music are two of my greatest passions. What I admire most about both is how adventurous they are. Think about it; the Muppets can pull off surrealism and sadness equally well. Meanwhile, “alternative” can mean anything from synthesizers to sitars. All caution about being “too weird” is thrown to the wind. Their unique styles speak more to me (and millions of other fans) than more traditional art ever could. And it’s also way cooler. You can’t forget that.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the Muppets and alternative collide quite often. Below are five of my favorite examples.

Debbie Harry on The Muppet Show
The dance-punk queen herself hosted a classic season 5 episode! She’s absolutely electric during her performances of Blondie hits “Call Me” and “One Way or Another”. However, it’s when she croons “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit that this episode shines. Debbie trades in her typical smirk for a charmingly sincere smile.

In my favorite scene, she teaches the Frog Scouts how to pogo and attain their “punk merit badges”. The Frog Scouts are so eager to become “punk” that it’s oddly heartwarming.  Their enthusiasm perfectly captures the thrill of discovering a new passion. When art connects with you (Muppets/Punk/etc.), it shapes your personality and views. I see a little of my own fandom in how excitedly they thrash on electric guitar. It’s the power of art encapsulated in just one scene! Besides, hearing Jerry Nelson shout “we think she’s real PUNK!” is pretty hilarious.

Debbie Harry as guest star was an inspired choice, but it wasn’t Jim Henson’s idea. It was actually his son Brian’s! As recounted in Brian Jay Jones’ “Jim Henson: The Biography”, Jim would ask his kids “Who excites you?” when looking for potential guest stars. 16-year-old Brian suggested the alt-rock pioneer and a classic episode was born!

Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) in Labyrinth
No list of Alt-Muppet moments could be complete without this iconic Labyrinth performance. Bowie’s had as many styles as the Muppet Wiki has articles, but his look here is amazing. That hair! Those high-waist pants! So beautifully 80s! Although Bowie’s songs here veer towards standard dance-pop, they’re still pretty fun. Not much else to say beyond that. As much as I love Bowie, Jareth has already been written about to death. Next!

“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads on Muppets Tonight
Here’s something a little more obscure! “Once in a Lifetime” is already one of my favorite songs, so a Muppet rendition was a match made in nerd heaven. I’m just surprised this crossover didn’t happen earlier. Talking Heads blended existential lyrics with irresistibly catchy melodies. In other words, it’s perfect Muppet music!

Kermit struts his stuff to this new-wave classic while wearing David Byrne’s iconic “big suit.” More Talking Heads homages abound; everything from the lighting to Kermit’s movements references the classic concert film “Stop Making Sense.” You know how cool tMuppets Tonight’s existence, that’s how cool it is.
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“Keep Fishin” with Weezer and the Muppets
The early 2000s weren’t a great time for either Alt Rock (Linkin Park?) or the Muppets (The Muppets' Wizard of Oz?). The “Keep Fishin” video bucked the trend; it’s still hilarious today! It takes place during a typical Muppet Show episode, with all the hijinks that that entails. Miss Piggy totally steals the show when she kidnaps drummer Patrick Wilson. At least Weezer has Animal to fill in while Pat’s tied up (literally). The video plays like a classic episode but with a modern spirit; I would so watch a new Muppet Show that looked like this.

Anyway, it’s undeniably fun to watch the Muppets head-bang to this track. “Keep Fishin” is fun, upbeat, and loud; sounds like the Muppets to me! I also buy Kermit as a Weezer fan (both are as far from “hip” as you can get).

“Do It Anyway” Ben Folds Five with the Fraggles
This video serves as a perfect intro to either the band or the Fraggles in general. The song’s message of plucky perseverance would fit perfectly in a Fraggle Rock episode. It’s also upbeat enough to “dance your cares away” to. In the video, Gobo and the gang travel through a Fraggle hole and ambush a Ben Folds Five recording session. The band’s oddly eager to let them jam out; not exactly a typical response to breaking-and-entering. Like in the Weezer video, it’s so much fun to see these characters interact with the band.

Appearances by other famous Muppet fans (Chris Hardwick! Anna Kendrick! Rob Corddry!) make this a must-see. Hearing Dave Goelz reprise his role as Uncle Travelling Matt is just icing on the cake.

There are way more alt moments in Muppets history (R.E.M. on Sesame Street, Creature Shop work in music videos), but these are just my personal favorites. You can add more in the comments – unless you’re not as PUNK as Debbie Harry.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com


  1. Nice job! This might be my favorite article on the mindset to date! Perfect choices and your comments on each were spot on. I might also would have thrown in Gonzo's "Dancing with Myself"

  2. Oh and how could we forget The Muppets performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - as a BARBERSHOP QUARTET! Priceless!