“Broken and Beautiful”

Lyrics

(sung by Oscar the Grouch)

Broken umbrellas are treasure
Busted-up autos are bliss
Tin cans on the street make my heart skip a beat
But I’ve never seen junk half as lovely as this

Broken and beautiful
Fractured and rare
Missing pieces that used to be there

Busted and heavenly
Trash from afar
To me, you look complete
Hey, who needs hands and feet
When you’re beautiful
Beautiful
Just as you are

[Musical interlude where Oscar da-dums along. On a close-up of a statue with a broken nose:]
[spoken] 
Oh, look at that nose. [laughs] I wonder what the other guy looks like.

Broken and beautiful
Cracked but okay
Can’t imagine who’d throw you away

Busted and heavenly
Of trash, you’re the star
Your arms have gone astray
Your nose is far away
And you’re beautiful
Beautiful
Just as you are

[spoken] Man, I can’t wait ’til they throw this stuff away!

 

Music by Stephen Lawrence, lyrics by Tony Geiss


“Broken and Beautiful” from Don’t Eat the Pictures

Don’t Eat the Pictures is another of those supposedly lesser-known projects that, for me, was a staple of childhood. Thanks to our painter-photographer-doctor father who loves classical music, our multi-media artist mother, and of course PBS, my siblings and I grew up exposed to a wide variety of artistic expression. It didn’t seem particularly notable or odd to me, therefore, that Big Bird and the gang from Sesame Street were hanging out in a museum and letting us vicariously experience the art.

The film follows the story of Big Bird going off on his own to find Snuffy in the museum (who the grownups still believe is imaginary), and the two of them end up meeting ancient Egyptian Prince Sahu. Sahu is cursed to remain in the museum until he can correctly answer a riddle, and then Osiris will weigh his heart against a feather and allow him to become a star and join his parents in the sky. Meanwhile, the other Sesame Street folks split up and spend all night looking for Big Bird, along the way having funny, moving, and honest interactions with the art. Olivia reads the placard of a gigantic bodhisattva statue. David and two kids mimic the pose of a smaller figurine. Any time a clock is shown, to indicate the passing of time, it’s an antique from the museum. There are also no qualms about showing statues of naked figures. OK, so maybe at the time, someone had qualms about it, but it made it into the film. I feel like PBS would never have gotten away with this today, but I’m glad at the time they were able to; art is art, and the human (or monster, or whatever) form is beautiful and shameless.

Three of the songs in this film—Oscar with “Broken and Beautiful,” Grover with “I Want the Be Your Friend,” and Cookie with “Don’t Eat the Pictures”—show an extended version of the characters having honest interactions with the art and revealing their own natures in the process.

Oscar finds a plaque that reads, “These statues are from ancient Greece and Rome. Some are as much as 2,600 years old. Because some of them fell off buildings, or were buried during earthquakes, or worn out by the sea, they are broken.”

Since the 1970 debut of “I Love Trash,” 13 years prior to this film, we’ve known that Oscar finds beauty where others see only broken and useless. This song takes this concept to a lovely and lilting new level.* “I Love Trash” is comical, but “Broken and Beautiful” is personal. Oscar isn’t singing about objects, he’s saying “you.” You are beautiful.

This is a song for the injured, sick, and in pain. For the heartbroken, the abused, the neglected. For the disabled and mentally ill—and I say this as someone who identifies as both. “Broken” is one of those words that I feel like people can use for themselves (I can call myself broken when I’m in pain and mourning the things I used to be able to do), but when it’s used negatively against someone else, that’s when it becomes hurtful. A common sentiment from disability rights advocates is “We’re not broken; stop trying to fix us.”

But at its core, this song is for anyone who ever feels unlovable—which, let’s be honest, is all of us. The ideals of the world may label us “broken,” and then the stigma and fear of being incomplete, less than, and useless starts creeping in. But sometimes it just takes one weird soul to say, “Yes! Broken! Awesome!” and help us see our inherent worth. And sometimes that person is Oscar the Grouch.

To me, you look complete
Hey, who needs hands and feet
When you’re beautiful
Beautiful
Just as you are

 


*Yes, I did just make a very subtle reference to another obscure Sesame Street song while writing about a Sesame Street song. I think I may have just out-nerded myself.

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