Friday, July 24, 2009
When you're a child, you accept things at face value. There's no insatiable need to make sense of things; instead, you assume that everything makes perfect sense as it is. Once you're an adult, of course, you can see that much of what you so thoughtlessly accepted was completely and totally absurd. Really, just all sorts of insane.
Thus is the case with most children's entertainers, particularly those who are musically inclined. These people, though physically adults, seem to have tapped into some unique inherent skill to retain a childlike outlook on the world. To children, the world is a fanciful place full of possibilities. Though as cynical adults we're pretty sure that's not true and can outwardly express bitter resentment at everyone who encouraged us to believe so while growing up, professional children's entertainers seem able to block out this negativity altogether. While this quality is admirable and their output certainly speaks to and entertains children, looking back at the people who entertained us as kids we may have to think twice about our unquestioning devotion to their work.
Sharon, Lois, and Bram managed not only to retain this sense of wonder, but also to package and market it in a highly lucrative if admittedly elephant-heavy way. They forged for themselves a highly successful decades-spanning career, boasting innumerable albums, television shows, and live performances. Sharon, Lois, and Bram were generally received with rave reviews, though this snippet from the Toronto Star makes me question the city's sense of perspective: "Simply the best musicians in North America, and probably the world."
Wow. Well there you have it. Forget all of those Julliard-trained classical musicians and ground-breaking musical trailblazers--all along, our best and brightest have been 3 middle-aged folks singing around a giant anthropomorphic elephant. Of course.
Children ate this stuff up. They loved it. The trio began touring together in 1979 and spent a good portion of the 80s and 90s cashing in with their fun and silly set list. The really got that kids required no background information whatsoever, particularly in their zany television exploits. They certainly utitlized this principle to their favor in The Elephant Show, their Canadian children's variety show that later re-ran on American television.
Sharon, Lois, and Bram's Elephant Show was children's programming at its finest. For no good reason, Sharon, Lois, and Bram lived together in a house with a giant mute elephant whose presence was represented only by punctuated tuba notes. No one ever discussed their living arrangement or relationship to one another, nor did anyone question the fact that they were constantly hanging out with a random group of children. Maybe I'm off base here, but to me this behavior seems mildly suspect. As a kid, however, I just assumed that my neighborhood gang's respective trio of adults and a giant elephant had yet to move in next door and take an interest in our daily activities. It was coming, I just knew it.
Regardless of the questionable premise, this jazzy intro with corresponding wacky animation sequence was enough to quiet anyone's inquiries:
I love the three different kids that get to shout out our stars' names. "Sharon!" "Lois!" "And Braaaam!" What kind of a name is Bram, anyway? Is this some sort of traditional Canadian thing? Either way, our pals Sharon, Lois, Bram, and Elephant were a fun group who spent all of their time on adventures, breaking spontaneously into song, and inviting unsuspecting little children to come and hang out in their wacky home. They were all super over-actors, except Elephant who managed to keep things booming-notedly subdued, as seen here:
They usually included some sort of live-performance segment, highlighting both their stage presence and awesomely 80s and early 90s outfits. These segments were usually taped in a theater in front of a full audience, with all sorts of fun audience participation. Oh, how I yearned to be one of those kids nodding and clapping along. Nodding and clapping along at home just wasn't the same, though in retrospect it was probably less publicly embarrassing.
And of course, no show would be complete without their signature jam, "Skinnamarink." No, I have no idea what a skinnamarink was, but I know that it was my favorite song to which I had memorized all key choreography. It went a little something like this:
Bear in mind this show ran 1984-1988 and then reran on Nick Jr. until 1995, so there was a seriously extensive spread of children who grew up with this show and skinnamarinky-dinky-dinked their little hearts out. As if that weren't enough, in 1998 the group starred in another show on TLC appropriately entitled Skinnamarink TV:
Please take note of the changes in music and characters, updated for the short attention spans of the new generation. These kids couldn't even put up with a few tuba notes, as their elephant had both a name (Ella Acapella) and functioning vocal cords. Back in our day, we didn't need fancy gimmicks. We didn't even need basic explanations. Those were simpler times, when a somewhat effeminate man and two flamboyantly enthusiastic women could just live with their mute elephant and their mysterious gang of drop-in children in peace.