“Family Song”

Lyrics

[Leroy]

A mother, a father, a daughter, a son
A family together, the four of them one
They gather at evening to laugh and to pray
The light of their love can turn night into day

They meet us, they greet us, they share what they own
By sharing and caring, we’ll not be alone
A family together, the four of them one
A mother, a father, a daughter, a son

Reprise
[Leroy] A mother
[T.R.] A father
[Rover Joe] A daughter
[Catgut] A son
[all] A family together, the four of them one
They gather at evening to laugh and to pray
The light of their love can turn night into day

[T.R.] The daddy is bold and determined and wise
[Catgut] While mommy is gentle with love in her eyes
[Rover Joe] And brother’s an imp with a cute little face
[Leroy] And sister’s an angel in ribbon and lace
[all] A mother, a father, a daughter, a son
A family together, the four of them one

 

Music by Jack Elliott, lyrics by Jerry Juhl


“Family Song” from The Muppet Musicians of Bremen

The traveling musicians are settling in a swamp for the night but long for somewhere safer, when they see a farmhouse. Catgut and T.R. warn of alligators and robbers, but Leroy is optimistic that it’s a nice family. One by one, they go and check, but they see what’s going on inside only in silhouette. In reality, the four villains are dividing up their spoils, counting their shares, and fighting amongst themselves. But because the musicians so badly want to see a happy family, that’s exactly what they see: a family of four gathering together to eat dinner, say grace, then dance and sing and hug.

The robbers’ judgment is just as clouded, and they project their fears onto the musicians and see them as swamp demons. One could say that the lesson here is something like: those of virtuous heart will assume the best in people and end up all right for believing in and perpetuating goodness, while those with wicked hearts will assume the worst in people and get their comeuppance in the end.

But I think there’s more to it than that.

Seeing four people together in a farmhouse and assuming they’re a family may be a relatively safe bet. But seeing the silhouettes of four grown men and assuming “a mother, a father, a daughter, a son”? That’s a stretch at best. The musicians describe each family member in details they couldn’t possibly know, in the most cis-heteronormative terms. Where did four farm animals get such notions?

It shows how pervasive is the ideal of the nuclear family and its gender roles. Even the most disenfranchised—with no stable home, income, respect, or family of their own—somehow all have these ingrained ideas about what a “normal” family is. I understand the musicians’ yearning to be part of that; it’s what I thought I wanted when I was young.

But as I grew up, I learned that families come in all shapes and sizes through blood, marriage, adoption, and friendship; each one a unique constellation of in-jokes, disfunction, traditions, eye-rolling, obligation, food, love, and aggravation. The perfect family that the musicians imagine—that they have been conditioned to believe in and strive for—simply does not exist.

It’s a little disappointing that the story ends with this illusion intact. The musicians agree to stay and look after the farmhouse until the family returns, then a joyful reprise of “Travelin’ Musicians” plays over the credits. But I am left to wonder: How long do they stay there? What happens when the food runs out? Do they ever give up hope of the family returning, or realize that the family never existed? Do they save the seeds of the vegetables they eat and start a home garden? Or do they take up their instruments again, dust off their old dream, and get back on the road to Bremmen?

It’s only after they agree to stay for a while that Catgut observes, “We make a pretty nice family ourselves,” and this is the ultimate message of The Muppet Musicians of Bremmen. Leroy, T.R., Rover Joe, and Catgut found each other when they were at their lowest, offered a hoof/wing/paw in support and friendship, and helped each other find new purpose in their lives.

So here’s to the families we choose for ourselves, the ones patched together from lost and discarded souls, who come together to create something new and imperfectly beautiful.

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