Sesame Street is 50.

The Washington Post celebrates its Kennedy honours here.

While us Boomers weren’t the target market (by 20, I knew my alphabet), our kids were – and every generation thereafter.  But Sesame Street did teach me a lot about a particular version of New York – a working class street of brownstones, stoops, a mix of shops and homes, a mix of people.  This was not the suburbia of my neighbourhood or the rest of sit-com TV.

And while this version of New York was, well, nice, it was also edgier than even today’s version of the show, and it prepared me for a New York in the late 1970s and 80s that was anything but nice.  As the Post writer recollects:

On a recent afternoon’s binge, I watched one “Sesame” musical number from 1975 called “The Subway!” several times in a row. It’s funny and impressively clever — edgy, even, when compared with the show’s present-day tone. “You could lose your purse; or you might lose something worse, on the subway,” sang an old-lady Muppet, squeezed into a subway car with a trenchcoated Kermit the Frog, a testy Bert and too many others.

Sesame Street taught me the ABCs of an urbanity of which I had no experience.  And so, when I had the chance to experience it, I saw the city not just as some dangerous, undesirable, perverse world but as a place to which I had been given an introduction by a green frog and his friends  – even the underground world of The Subway.

*Here are the lyrics to The Subway:

[Intro: Old Lady (Beatnik)]
Excuse me!
(Watch it, lady!)
Pardon me, sonny!

[Beatnik (Chorus)]
Down below the street
Can you dig the steady beat?
It’s the subway!
(Subway!)

[Bert (Chorus)]
Moving right along
Hear the rhythm loud and strong
It’s the subway!
(Subway!)

[Middle-Age Man]
‘Cause there isn’t any room in this town

[Betty Lou]
They put all the trains down under the ground!

[Policeman (Chorus)]
Buy a token now
For a ride that’s super-wow
On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Bert]
Excuse me!

[Young-ish Woman]
You should say you’re sorry!

[Bert]
Hi, Kermit

[Middle-Age Man]
Squeezed inside the door

[Boy]
There’s no room for any more!

[Both (Chorus)]
On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Beatnik]
Hang onto the strap

[Young-ish Woman]
Wonder where they hid the map?

On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Betty Lou]
If you’re in a hurry, take the express

[Kermit the Frog]
It will go right by your local address

[Redhead (Chorus)]
Swaying to and fro
It’s the only way to go
On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Kermit the Frog (Chorus)]
(Ohhhhhh)
My stop just went by!

[Betty Lou (Chorus)]
(Ohhhhhh)
Say, your thumb is in my eye!

[Beatnik (Chorus)]
(Ohhhhhh)
It’s so hot I could die!

Any way, every way, everywhere!

[Bert (Chorus)]
Packed inside a train
It’s too crowded to complain
On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Old Lady (Chorus)]
You could lose your purse
Or you might lose something worse
On the subway!
(Subway!)

[Beatnik]
It’s the biggest travel bargain in town

[Young-ish Woman]
The longest-running show underground!

[Middle-Age Man]
Come on, step inside
You’ll get taken for a ride
On the subway!

[Kermit the Frog]
Where’s that?

[Chorus]
On the subway!

[Bridge: For some reason, some of them start dancing in pairs]

[Betty Lou]
If you’re in a hurry, take the express

[Kermit the Frog]
It will go right by your local address

[Chorus]
Buy a token now
For a ride that’s super-wow
On the subway!
On the subway! (On the subway!)
On the subway! (On the subway!)
Whooooaaa!

[The subway stops and everyone exits, except for Bert and the Policeman]

 

 

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