Interview with Songwriter Paul Tracey

Published: January 17, 2014


Jarrod Fairclough – Hello everyone. Look, I’m back! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? How’s the family I’m very excited, because today I’m bringing you a rarely heard story of a song from The Muppet Show, specifically “The Wishing Song,” which Gonzo sings in the Season 2 episode with Madeline Kahn.

Now, without getting into it, this song is very important to me, it helped me through some tough times. Recently I was looking it up on YouTube, and I discovered a comment by a guy who claimed to have written it, so I explored, and sure enough, the guy’s name was Paul Tracey. I looked on his site, and got in contact with him, asking if we could interview him. Well, instead of that idea, we decided that Paul would just share his story outright. So, without any further ado, take it away Paul!

By Paul Tracey

It must have been around 1970 when my wife and I were cast as actors in a local New York TV show. It starred Phil Bruns, Sam Waterston and others. We acted out folk stories and every week there was a theme to the show, and all the stories related to that theme.

The producer came to me one day and said, “Paul, you know a lot of folk songs, don’t you? This week’s theme is wishing. Do you have any folk songs about wishing?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “Here’s one. It’s an Irish song called The Shepherd’s Lamb.”

I began to sing it. It’s a very cute song with a great melody and a Gaelic chorus.

I wish I had the shepherd’s lamb,
The shepherd’s lamb, the shepherd’s lamb;
I wish I had the shepherd’s lamb,
And Katie coming after.

Iss O gurrim gurrim hoo,
Iss grmachree gon kellig hoo,
Iss O gurrim gurrim hoo,
Sthoo oattha beg dho wauher.

“Yes, yes,” the producer interrupted, ” I don’t like it. Write another one!”

“Write another one?” I questioned. “You don’t write folk songs!”

“I know,” he said, “write another one.”

I was astonished, but we went home that night and decided to try and write a new folk song about wishing. I had only written a couple of songs at that time. Barbara came up with the opening line, ‘I wish I had a coat of silk, the color of the sky.’ I came up with the next two lines, ‘I wish I had a lady, fair as any butterfly. I wish I had a house of stone that looked down on the sea.’ And Barbara finished off the verse with the most poignant line, ‘But most of all I wish that I was someone else but me.’

I quickly created a melody to the words and put it to a simple guitar accompaniment. The rest of the song pretty much wrote itself. The next day I sang it to the producer and he loved it! We used it in the show and he commissioned me to write others in the series.

Later, in Johannesburg in the recording studios of Gallo Africa, I included the song in my first album called “Something Else.” On returning to New York, I gave copies of my album to various friends, and one of them also happened to be a friend of Jim Henson. Jim was riding in his car one day, and our friend gave him the album, saying, “Here, Jim, you might like some of these songs.”

And he did!

What an honor it was to have my song on The Muppet Show! Surprisingly I never caught the show when it first ran. Years later I finally saw how Gonzo had sung it so movingly to Madeleine Kahn.

They used four of my songs on The Muppet Show: the Wishing Song of course, the Dog Walk, the Ugly Song and Something’s Missing. The unusual thing was that, apart from the wonderful songs that Joe Raposo wrote, the Muppets normally only sang standards; that was one of the reasons, I believe, why they were so funny.

Jim came to my house one morning for breakfast and asked me to write a couple of other songs. I did, but they never got used. But I had the chance to meet this lovely and brilliant man. Wasn’t I fortunate!

THE WISHING SONG (as sung by Gonzo on The Muppet Show)
Words and Music by Paul Tracey, Kunjani Music.

I wish I had a coat of silk, the color of the sky.
I wish I had a lady fair, and then a butterfly,
I wish I had a house of stone that looked down on the sea
But most of all I wish that I was someone else but me.

Now I don’t have a coat of silk, but I still have the sky
Now I don’t have a lady, but there goes a butterfly
Now I don’t have a house of stone, but I can see the sea
Now most of all I know that I am happy to be me.
I’m happy to be me.

When Jim Henson used my song, The Wishing Song, for The Muppet Show, he either misheard the lyric or changed it on purpose, I’m not sure which.

Originally the 2nd line was:
“I wish I had a lady, fair as any butterfly.”

So there we have it!  I want to thank Paul for being so great.  He’s been nothing but kind to me over the last week getting this thing together!

I’ll see you next time!  Because somehow I know we’ll meet again.  Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when.  You’re in my heart, so until then, it’s time for saying goodbye!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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