“The Grouch Anthem”

[spoken interlude]
[male voiceover] “Ladies and gentlemen, would you please rise for ‘The Grouch Anthem.’”
[Oscar] “No no no, with ‘The Grouch Anthem,’ you stay sitting down. Down in front, there! Now brace yourself, I’m gonna sing.”

[sung by Oscar]
Grouches of the world unite
Stand up for your grouchly rights
Don’t let the sunshine spoil your rain
Just stand up and complain

Let this be the grouch’s cause
Point out everybody’s flaws
Something is wrong with everything
Except the way I sing

[A chorus of five Grouches pops up in the foreground and starts singing “Oooo.” Oscar, spoken:] “You know what’s right with this world? Nothin’. You know what really makes me hot under the collar? You name it! And the next time some goody-two-shoes smiles and tells you to ‘Have a nice day,’ you just remember:”

[all Grouches] Don’t let the sunshine spoil your rain
Just stand up and complain
Just stand up and complain

Written by Jeff Pennig, Jeff Harrington, and Steve Pippin

“The Grouch Anthem” from Follow That Bird

For no discernible reason, “The Grouch Anthem” precedes the rest of Follow That Bird and I couldn’t love it more. 

Oscar has a few nice little moments in the film. In the background of the opening scene on Sesame Street, Oscar can be heard saying to his Grouchketeers (a group of real kids dressed in matching-color grungy T-shirts over their own shirts, smudged faces, trash can lid hats), “Today we’re playing trash-in-the-barrel. Bring me all the trash you can carry.” What a friggin’ weird children’s show, man.

Later, when the neighborhood organizes to look for Big Bird, Oscar dons a jaunty cap and says “I love wild goose chases! Let’s go get lost,” which is just a great outlook on life. He’s got an ongoing  antagonistic relationship with Maria, who’s riding with him in the Sloppy Jalopy.

But Oscar’s best scene is when he drags Maria and the others to the Don’t Drop Inn, a Grouch diner.

Sandra Bernhard is perfect as the waitress: “Hey, I need a glass.” “Broken or dirty?” (relatable to anyone who’s had to make do on a shoestring budget) “Hey, gimme that syrup back!” “Get lost!” (relatable to anyone who’s worked any service job).

The menu includes:

  • Oatmeal (Cold Lumpy, Cod Liver, or Moldy)
  • Soup (with fly)
  • Cooked Jell-O
  • Spaghetti with maple syrup
  • Meatloaf with marshmallow sauce
  • Candied clams with French dressing
  • Cream of garlic soup with maraschino cherries
  • Roast beef with butterscotch and anchovies
  • Ham with donuts and oatmeal sauce
  • Tossed salad (conveyed to diners through a small catapult)

I would 100% go to this restaurant.

Oscar the Grouch has always existed within the world’s sunniest neighborhood to show kids the value of “negative” emotions, that it’s okay to feel grouchy, angry, irritable, and sulky. We don’t want to be Oscar all the time, but he is us at our worst: deliberately and delightedly misanthropic, snide, and insulting. And we need to see how he still has a home where he belongs and a community that supports him.

It’s serendipitously appropriate that I started working on transcribing the songs of Follow That Bird just as the 4th of July was approaching in the U.S. “The Grouch Anthem” is sung in front of an American flag, and a snare drum gives the song a patriotic-feeling marching beat.

You may have heard that my home state of Oregon had a record-shattering heat wave last week. Shortly afterward, as the 4th of July loomed just around the corner, the sale and use of fireworks was temporarily banned, for which I heaved a sigh of relief. We had a terrifying surge of wildfires last summer, and no one wants a sequel. But, sure enough, there’s nothing Americans do better than cost other people’s lives through choosing to ignore simple requests (not setting off fireworks, wearing masks, etc.).

I’ve needed the wisdom of Oscar a lot this past week. Overall, life was going great, and then a Very Bad Thing happened, right at the start of the heat wave. And so, having just seen Follow That Bird, I muttered this song to myself as I sat with my grief, anxiety, and rage. Lying awake at 2 A.M. hearing fireworks go off somewhere in the neighborhood—too far away to find and report the inconsiderate jerks, but too close for comfort. Dripping sweat, constantly lightheaded from the heat and lack of sleep, no appetite, surviving on water, iced coffee, smoothies, and Otter Pops. Walking in circles around my neighborhood from sunset to sunrise in a daze of excruciating hope.

We have to be able to grouch about what’s bothering us, big and small. Toxic positivity culture is toxic for a reason. We get catharsis from complaining about a bad day at work and can then move on. We can’t heal without giving ourselves space to grieve. And we can’t begin to make real change on the things that matter without first acknowledging that something is wrong.

Thank you, Oscar.


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