(Editor’s warning: clicking on links might lead you to some insanely funny shit. Or just to some informative shit. Depends on the link)
You ever just sit around and think about Mr. Rogers? I did recently when someone passed me a link to PBS Digital Studio’s autotuned video of Mr. Rogers singing “Garden of Your Mind.” Have you seen this thing? If not, put down whatever you’re doing and check it out. It’s an almost supernatural trip down memory lane, featuring some of Mr. Roger’s greatest moments, set to a tripped-out, synthed-up dance beat. I actually thought I must have downed a couple ‘ludes when I first saw it. Mr. Rogers, meet Bourbon and Xanax; Bourbon and Xanax, meet Mr. Rogers. Hot damn!
Remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood from when you were a damn rugrat? You probably remember him much the same way I do: walking into his little house, putting on his sneakers, slipping into a red cardigan, talking so slow and earnest you felt compelled to throw the bottle of moonshine your uncle Remus gave you for your tenth birthday at the TV, watching it shatter the screen, realizing you weren’t at all sober, then getting chased around the barnyard by your uncle who was getting chased around by your dad who was wielding a stick and screaming, “Remus, if you give my boy just one more bottle of ‘shine, so help me God I’m gonna hog-clip your nuts.” Man, it brings a tear to my eye.
Fred McFeely Rogers was born on March 20th, 1928, in Latrobe PA, just in time for the Great Depression and just a tad late to get his rocks off with some flapper hussy. Might account for why he never in all his years took a drink of liquor or had a smoke – don’t worry about it, Fred-o…nobody’s perfect.
Anyway, over the 75 years he was alive, he put on just about every kind of cardigan you can think of: he was an educator, a Presbyterian minister, a songwriter, and an author. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he was also a television host. He also testified before those fat assholes in Congress on behalf of funding for children’s television and public television in general (he actually pretty much saved both), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor available in the US, and pretty much equivalent to getting a cozy BJ from the Commander in Chief), a Peabody Award, and he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Hot damn! Fuck you, Mr. Rogers! You’re making us all look bad! I’m sorry. I’m not! I am!
I’m sure you’ve heard all that before, but here’s some stuff about the most-eerily-calm-man-not-on-life-support you may not have known:
- Koko the gorilla loved him so much that when he showed up at her place she’d hug him and take his shoes off. Rumor has it that after the cameras were off she may have taken off a lot more.
- Even fucking criminals loved Mr. Rogers. Once, when his old Impala was stolen from the street near the TV station where he worked, he filed a police report that got picked up by every newspaper and radio show for a million miles. Less than two days later, his car popped up in the exact spot from where it had been taken, with a note taped to the dashboard, reading: “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it. Also, we heard you were a tattooed navy sniper. If this is true, please don’t maim, torture, and kill us. We want to be your neighbors. Won’t you please, for the love of all that is holy, pretty-please be our neighbor?”
- He composed all the songs on the show himself. All of them. He could play a mean jazz piano, whiskey or no whiskey. He wrote over 200 songs, including “Garden of Your Mind”, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, and “No, I’m Not Gay. I Just Speak Slowly.”
- He was color-blind. He couldn’t see the color blue – so when his wife, Sara, would give him blue balls, she was able to convince him that it was just his imagination. He was also color-blind when it came to folks in general. When he was a kid, his family adopted a black foster child. I have no idea how to make fun of that.
- His dear old momma hand-knit every one of the cardigans he wore on his how. I have no idea how to make fun of that.
Mr. Rogers gets autotuned in “Garden of Your Mind”
What I found especially cool and interesting about Fred, apart from all the stuff just mentioned, is that he hated TV. He plain old hated it, but thought it might make a hell of a good medium for educating children, if handled properly, so he got involved in TV to make sure the job got done right. And just about right was how the old boy did just about everything. He took home over 40 honorary degrees in his life. Congress grew a big fat chubby in the presence of his divine good-heartedness. Presidents fawned over him.
But I think, as do folks who knew him well, that it wasn’t the big stuff that meant the most to Fred Rogers. It was the intelligence, kindness, and awareness he was able to bring to the lives of his many, many fans across several generations, kids and adults alike. And I think he was right about the potential for TV, and video in general, to reach out across time and space and touch our hearts and minds. My own son, just a year and a half old, already loves watching old Fred, and, unlike with so much other hog-shit that’s on TV, I’ve got no problems with my boy doing so whenever he damn well pleases.
Fred McFeely Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003, at the age of 75, in Pittsburgh, PA. But, thanks to the communicative medium to which he brought so much integrity, his presence is still very much with us through the immortal power of memory as brought to life on a screen of any size. In “Garden of Your Mind” he asks a potent question, and provides an even more forceful answer: “Did you ever grown anything, in the garden of your mind? …all you have to do is think.”
I’m thinking, Fred. I’m thinking you were a hell of a fine human being. You made the collective mind-garden of humankind a more fertile soil for the development of all that is good, kind, and intelligent in our race. You were one of a damn kind. You sure will be missed.
I raise my glass of milk to you, Sir. I truly do.