Every time Miles gets in the car, some form of the following conversation happens between us:
Me: “Do you want to listen to some music?”
Miles: (clicks tongue, nods)
Me: “How about some Barenaked Ladies?”
Me: “The Beatles?”
Me: “Weird Al?”
Me: “The Stones? How about the Stones?”
Inevitably, this ends the same way every time — with me playing Elmo songs and Miles growing restless within 20 seconds and clarifying that it is in fact Big Bird songs that he wants to hear. Whichever beloved Muppet we end up listening to, the songs are guaranteed to be be light, peppy, and at least slightly grating for an adult man who really only wants to listen to All Things Considered in peace.
But some songs…well, you know how adults are always praising movies like Shrek and The Emoji Movie* for having “jokes that go over the kids’ heads (like that’s a good thing)” peppered throughout? Maybe I’m just a jaded adult, but there is some dubious, to put it mildly, content in some of these songs.
Case in point, “The Snuffle Lullaby.” The premise seems innocent enough — Big Bird can’t fall asleep, and he asks his friend Snuffleupagus to sing him a lullaby. What someone failed to tell Jim Henson or the Children’s Television Workshop or whoever is in charge of these things is that Snuffy — on a good day — is a little creepy, with his heavy eyelids and a voice that sounds like it’s coming from inside of a tin can. From the moment he shows up in this song, saying, “It’s always nice to see you, Bird…” in a slow, somnambulistic tone, I found myself on edge. “Run Big Bird,” I thought. “Run NOW.”
It only gets worse when Snuffy adds, “I’ll say goodnight now, Bird, because you’ll be asleep when I finish the song.” Coming across more as a threat than a tender promise, one can only wonder what dark fate Snuffy has in store for his unsuspecting victim. Does Big Bird survive? I’ll never know — the the song itself, aided in no small degree once again by Snuffy’s natural singing voice, is so spine tingling that I haven’t made it through the damn thing.
If it seems like I might be reading too much into that one, you cannot deny that this next one is absolutely disquieting. “Tu Me Gustas,” featuring Elmo (the Muppet) and Luis (not a Muppet), seems like it might be a simple song about friendship. And yet once again from the outset, something is…off. “Hola, Elmo!” Luis says warmly as the song begins. Elmo concedes that he doesn’t know what Luis means. Buckle up, because there’s going to be a LOT happening in this song that Elmo doesn’t seem to fully grasp.
Luis goes on to teach Elmo Spanish, but not to necessarily help the young Muppet communicate with other Latinos. No, Luis does it because “there’s something I’d like you to know.” That thing? Luis likes him. He really likes him. As the song continues, Luis catalogs all of the mostly physical characteristics he finds charming about Elmo, from his face to his fur, then caps it off by saying that he hopes Elmo feels the same way about him.
Look, there aren’t many ways to read this one aside from the obvious. Luis teaches Elmo a “special language” for them to talk about their love for one another, goading the hapless young fool into confessing mutual feelings.
I never thought I’d say this, but it’s a relief when the next song that pops up after this one is the Sesame Street version of “Macarena.”