Image from: "Tiny Tims Christmas Album".
.I was writing about fidelity, about the sole real art there is, about what one must be true to, come hell or high water; what must be done to the point of collapse, even if it be a very minor art, the object of condescending sneers
. -Josef Skvorecky
Tiny Tim is dead!
He died of a heart attack November 30 1996, 64 years old. One year ago I didnęt even know who he was. Six months ago I joined his fan club. It all started when I visited my friend Johan in New York in the summer of 1996. He gave me a copy of an CD album called Songs of an Impotent Troubadour. On the cover there was a photo of a man of indefinable age with long hair, playing the ukulele in a Mickey Mouse-patterned suite. Somewhat bewildered. I opened the CD booklet, and read
: An impotent troubadour
A Valentineęs message from Tiny Tim
Why do I call myself by that name? Because it is true. However, I still yearn and love to sing love songs to young, beautiful girls.
My private parts may not function too well, but my heart for love and romance is on fire.
May this message give encouragement to those who are impotent
- To keep on singing
Even if your bell stops ringing
Postscript: Since I wrote the above I have found, as the song says, "There may be life in the old boy yet". Certain fluctuations have occured since I have been with Miss Sue. However, at this writing, things remain fairly the same.
A few days later, Johan took me to a club where Tiny Tim performed with his All Star Band. I really donęt know what I had expected to see
- a male Mrs Miller perhaps, or a Liberace for the ironic generation. But no - on stage entered an enormously polite and courteous 60 year old man, who sang old songs from the 20s and 30s, a gentleman of a kind I had thought disappeared with the plus-fours. Tiny Tim proved to be a genuine, if somewhat odd, crooner. His whole being was doubly anachronistic: he looked like an old hippie, but talked like something out of an old movie. "He thanked for the applause as if he didn´nt expect any", I said after the show. "That´s not very surprising", Johan told me, "considering how ridiculed and laughed at he has been all these years." Who ever he was - Tiny Tim had made a great impression on me.
Is that the phone ringing? Yeah, hallo? What hospital? What hospital? Ięm a comic strip man! You canęt take me away! Get away from me! Ięm a comic strip man! Wait, whereęs my Captain America shield? ...Somewhere up there in space, you too may be a comic strip man. Never give up! Because in this world, anything is possible. Nerlino/Scarpelli
("Comic strip man", recorded by Tiny Tim)
Back in Sweden, I played Tiny Tim for everyone I met, but I soon discovered
that no one shared my enthusiasm. "What is this? Turn it off?" were the
most common reactions. I donęt recall having met such massive opposition
against my musical taste since I listened to the German free jazz musicians
Brötzmann & Bennink in my teens - both of whom I can´t stand
On the Impotent album Tim sings and tells stories about all the women he has fallen in love with since the forties. These are mostly songs of unrequited love and he tells his stories very openly, like in the song "I used to love Jessica Hahn, but now I love Stephanie Bohn" where Tim straightforwardly informs the world that he has transfered his amorous feelings from one girl to another (I knew who Jessica Hahn was - she was the one who accused the TV evangelist Jim Bakker of having drugged and abused her. On the album, Tiny Tim relates the story of how he met her at a party for Howard Stern. But who was Stephanie Bohn?).
From Tim´s stories I gathered he had moved around in underground circles, but his way of speaking still gave me the impression of the perfect gentleman. He spoke with utmost elegance, making frequent use of euphemisms, and he seemed to have an enviable capacity of seeing even the bleakest reality in a romantic light - in his presentation, shabby music clubs turned into "The Palace of Beauty" or "the starving amateur artistęs Copacabana". On the whole, there was a lot of talk about Love and Romance, Beauty and Dreams on the album. Tim appeared to live in a fantasy world of beauty and glamour. Homosexual men with the same approach are called "queens" - to me, Tiny Tim seemed to be a heterosexual queen. I found the address to Tiny Tim´s fan club on the cover, and I immediately decided to join, determined to find out everything about this remarkable artist.
(Tiny Tim in conversation with David Greenberger)
Tiny Tim was born as Herbert Butros Khaury on April 12, 1932. His parents soon noticed that their son was different from other children. He preferred to stay in his room, listening to music, reading comics, and dreaming of romance and glamour. His friends thought he was silly and girlish, and they often teased him. This worried his parents more than their son. "Don´tt worry", he comforted his mother when he was eight years old, "everybody´s good". In school, he spent most of his time serenading beautiful girls, and the end of it was that he had to leave school. Little Herbert was not brought down by this, however - he continued collecting old 78s, film mags and comics, and he showed no signs of wanting to grow up. His idols were Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee, the girls of his dreams were Elizabeth Taylor and Gene Tierney. His parents tried to commit him to an asylum a couple of times, mostly because he was in the habit of conversing with The Virgin Mary. In 1947, something happened that would change Timęs life. One September afternoon at three oęclock - Tim was always very particular with exact chronology - he spotted Elizabeth Taylor outside a hotel in New York. He waved to her, and she blew him a kiss, "at least I think she did". This encounter with Elizabeth Taylor inspired him to try to become a star himself. He sent her a poem and received a kind letter of thanks. One of Timęs earliest songs is a tribute to the fifteen year old Elizabeth Taylor, "You´re the Only One". All through the 50s, Tim tried to make it as a singer. He learned to play the ukulele, and tried to make a success under many different names - Vern Castle, Larry Love, and Darry Dover. He painted his face white (a symbol of innocence), and grew his hair long, something un-heard of at that time. As you might have guessed, he wasn´t very successful. He entered numerous amateur contests, without ever winning. He also tried to sell his songs to all the big music companies: "I must have visited every office in the music business at least ten times. I´d knock on the door, enter with a big smile on my face and say, ęHelloo, my dear friends. I have a song here that´s going to make you all millionaires! Itęs the biggest hit of the decade.ę They´d usually take one look at me and say, ęGet out, kid.ę But that didn´t stop me; after a few months I´d work my way back to them again." Sometimes around 1964 he began to use Tiny Tim as his regular stage name. This was at the suggestion of his manager who had wanted to introduce him as "The British gentleman Timothy Tims". After having asked God for guidance Tim had a revelation one morning: he would become a falsetto singer. Suddenly, things started to go Tim´s way, people laughed at and applauded his new singing style, and - best of all - he won one amateur contest after the other. His parents still were skeptical, though. "You´ll never get anywhere singing in that sissy voice", his father told him, and his mother added: "I´m sorry to say it, but in all fairness, you´ll never be anything". Tim, always the optimist, told them that he knew success was just around the corner. He had been saying that for many years, but remarkably enough he proved to be right this time. The early 60s, with the hippie movement on its way, was a time that welcomed everything odd and eccentric. Tim performed at small clubs in New York, he attracted more and more attention, and eventually he signed a contract with Reprise, Frank Sinatra´s label. His first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, sold more than 200 000 copies, and the single "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" made the charts. Tim got the opportunity to perform on national television, on The Merv Griffin Show at first, later on Laugh-In. The height of his career was without doubt his many appearences on Johnny Carsonęs Tonight Show. Watching these shows today, you realize that Tim stayed very much the same over the years, he was the same humble gentleman that I saw in New York in 1996, he moved in the same feminine way, and he had the same inimitable falsetto voice. Whatever one might think, have you ever heard Tiny Tim sing "Tip Toe Through The Tulips", youęll never forget it. Whenever Tim was interviewed on The Johnny Carson Show, he kept the whole nation in tenterhooks. No one had ever seen anything like it, he was always sure to say something totally unexpected, and his world view was completely alien. NBC drowned in letters from viewers who wanted more of this strange creature. America seemed to have been struck by Tiny Tim-fever almost overnight. You could buy fan mags with headlines such as "His secret love", "Wild exclusive pix", "The Tiny-boppers: Girls who say ęTiny turns me on!ę. There were ties, T-shirts, bags and badges with Tiny Timęs image. Female fans waited for him outside stage entrances and hotels, he received fan mail from thousands of admirers, mostly young girls. The innocent Tiny couldnęt handle his success at all. He obligingly signed every contract that was put in front of him without reading them, he accepted every engagement that was offered to him, even if he didnęt get a nickel out of it. Pretty soon his affairs were in a bad state. People appeared from everywhere claiming a percentage of Timęs income, and when someone sued him for breach of contract he was so willing to declare himself guilty that his lawyers had to hold him back. In 1969, Tim announced to the world that he was going to marry 17 year old miss Vicki (Victoria May Budinger). He had spotted her on Tuesday June 3 at ten minutes past twelve while signing his collection of aphorisms, Beautiful Thoughts. Tim was completely taken in by her beauty, and at a party later that evening he couldnęt speak of anything else. Timęs obsession soon became a news item, and having read about herself, miss Vicki got in touch with Tim. Shortly after, she accepted his proposal. Johnny Carson invited the couple to get married on his show, and in December 17 1969 Tim and Miss Vicki made TV history when 45 million (!) viewers saw their wedding on live television. Only the moonlanding had more viewers that year. On this night crime went down all over America, everyone stayed at home to see Tiny Tim. The couple had a daughter, Tulip, named after Timęs hit song. Two years later the marriage was over. Timęs popularity in the radical 60s may seem a little strange considering that he was deeply religious and very conservative. He never grew tired of talking about God, Family, and Nation. Extramarital sex was an abomination to him. He didnęt even want to utter words with sexual connotations; he always spelled them: "s-e-x", "b-e-d", "b-o-d-y". In a time of youth rebellion he performed songs about the importance of obeying your parents. His views on women was also very conservative, not to say reactionary. That was one of the main reasons for his break up with Miss Vicki: "Naturally I ordered her to give up her career. I believe a woman is just there to please the man and to have blessed events. A woman should say ęYes, dearę anytime the man calls." Nevertheless, Tim was very broad-minded: "We are all sinners... But it wasnęt for me to preach to them.. I just had to be humble and pray for myself as well as them." The years 1968-69 were Timęs days of glory. From then on his career went downhill. He was fired from the record company, and he wasnęt invited on television anymore. Tiny Tim, who had conquered the world - at least that is what he must have felt like - had already become a has-been, a relic from the 60s. People were tired of the joke - the sad thing was that it never had been a joke for Tim, he had always been totally sincere and honest. Tim wasnęt one to give up, however. He went on singing in the way he always had, even though no one would listen. He started his own record label, called "Toilets Records, "because thatęs where my career went". For the new label, Tim produced another artist, equally eccentric. His name was Isador Fertel, and he had a jiddisch version of "Rock around the Clock" on his repertoire. Fertel was obsessed with winter and he wanted to stay wherever the snow was, at one time he even gave up his job just to be able to be where it was snowing. Fertel was the only male member of an organization called Radical Feminists, and his greatest wish was to have a sex operation. As a feminist, Fertel found it hard to accept Timęs views on women, but they managed to remain good friends. (As Tiny biographer Harry Stein pointed out: this was a time when both of them desperately needed friends). But Tim wasnęt able to make a star of Fertel, no more than he could make a go of his own career. He was back where he started. In the 70s, he recorded lots of singles, and a few albums. On records like Tip Toe Disco (1977) and Tip Toe To The Gas Pumps (1979) he tried to remind his audience of his old hit song, but to no avail. From now on, he had to perform for small audiences again, but he was nevertheless as enthusiastic as ever. Unlike most other artists, he never got tired of singing his only hit song. "The huge smile that it brought to peopleęs faces was the thing he coveted most", one of his producers said. "He loved that song!" When the audience stayed away from his concerts, he had to comfort his managers, as he had once comforted his parents: "Weęre playing to my old friends, the empty chairs." Gradually he abandoned the falsetto, that had become his trademark, in favour of his natural baritone. Tiny Tim could actually sing, even if you have to admit that his singing voice was... well, personal. The increasing interest in "incredibly strange music" and old popular music gave Tim a new audience in his last years He made several CDs in the 90s. They may not have sold well but there was a definite change from the indifference he had met with in the 70s. A fan club was organized, and pretty soon he even had his own web sites. He also had a cocktail named after him, called "Impotent Troubadour". He never made a come back, although he enjoyed a cult following, his fans were few, but dedicated.
Tiny Tim sings for love
for a show in New York in 1964
Tiny Tim lived for love and romance. This should be taken literally: in an interview he gave a few months before his death, Tim said he had fallen in love at least once a year since 1942. He could give detailed accounts of his meetings with all these women, they all had a place in his heart, and to each and everyone he had composed a love song. For many years, he had to be satisfied with worshipping women from a distance. It wasnęt until May 8, 1966, at twenty minutes past one, he even got to kiss a girl. The historic event took place at the house of his first girl friend at 152nd Street and Broadway. After his breakthrough he was suddenly given lots of opportunities to sin. For a man with Timęs high moral standards life could be pretty complicated: "Of all the womanizers, believe me, the worst one is right here... But the Lord says no, fornicators and adulterers will not get into heaven. If Ięm weak I say it was wrong, I pray to the Lord, and I pick myself up." Tim could have a bad conscience for just having been with a beautiful girl. When he became famous he hired a life guard whose duty it was to protect Tim from a life in sin. If it looked like Tim was going to give in to temptation the guard would interfere. Of course, Tim did everything he could to escape, and he sometimes succeeded. There are many stories about Timęs struggle with the devil. He has told most of them himself, since he saw it as his Christian duty to make public confessions. Remorsefully, he told the story of how he at various times had spread honey over young girls bodies, or how he had taken a table-knife and put peanut butter all over them ("Then, I must say, I did things with the lips"). The honey was - like the face powder - a symbol of purity. What the peanut butter was supposed to symbolize is anybodyęs guess. Having confessed all this, he pointed out: "Sinful as these experiences may have been, I can at least say that I didnęt have s-e-x per se with either of these girls. The devil couldnęt drag me down that far." Mostly, he approached women in other ways. For a long period of time, he collected things that had been touched by beautiful women - it could be cookies or plastic spoons - and put labels on them with names and dates. Ever since he was a teenager, Tim had searched for his ideal woman, The Eternal Princess. He wanted her to be like something out of The Wizard of Oz, a fairy tale princess with a natural beauty. Needless to say, he had some difficulties in finding that perfect creature. In the 60s, he started giving out trophies to the ones who came closest to his ideal. Eventually, Tim actually found his Eternal Princess. He met her in 1988, May 19 to be precise (and Tim was always precise). Her name was Stephane Bohn ("I used to love Jessica Hahn, but now I love Stephanie Bohn"), a friend of record producer James "Big Bucks" Burnett. Tim fell in love, but he soon discovered that she didnęt love him. Tim was devastated. How could God be so cruel? For almost fifty years he had searched for the ideal woman, and when at last he found her, she turned him down. However, on the album Girl, Tim and Stephanie sing a duet, one of the most beautiful moments in the history of popular music. "She opens the door to everyone but me", Tim once said. "But she is my eternal love. When I die I want to have on my tombstone: Here Lies Tiny Tim ęGod Grant Me in Death the Love You Denied Me in Life: Miss Stephanieę".
|The man had enormous talent, and no
one ever found out about it.
Roy Silver (former manager)
I love rock´ n´ roll
so put another dime in the juke box, baby
("I loverock´ n´ roll", recorded byv Tiny Tim)
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
"Memory", recorded by Tiny Tim)
What impressed people most when they met Tiny Tim was his encyclopedic
knowledge of American popular music. He had a great number of old songs
on his repertoire, the oldest ones from the middle of the 19th century.
He used to sit in the New York Public Library, listening to old 78s and
Edison cylinders, reading sheet music and song books as well as biographies
and books on popular music history. On his records, he often included
songs by forgotten song writers, or unknown songs by great composers,
like Irving Berlin. "You know, everyone talks of black man´s soul,
rhythm and blues", Tim once said. "No one talks about the white man´s
soul. The white man´s soul, in music, was songs like ęIn the Shade
of the Old Apple Treeę and ęGive My Regards to Broadwayę." But Tim´s
taste in music was not exclusively nostalgic. He loved all popular music.
He recorded an album with country music, and he even made a rock album
with songs like "Highway to Hell", "Hound Dog", "Great Balls of Fire",
and a 23 minutes long version of Barry McGuireęs "Eve of Destruction".
The happy and romantic world of poular songs appealed to Tiny Tim, whether
it was "Star Dust" or "Do You Think I´s Sexy?". Tim´s last
recording was made over the phone, September 13, 1996. Tim sang "My Inspiration
Is You" from 1926, as a wedding present to the British musician and producer
David Tibet and his wife-to-be Andria Anette: "Just like the sun flower/Lives
for the sun shower/My inspiration is you". The song was later released
on record - a fitting exit for the romantic troubadour.
You gotta have heart All you really need is heart Oh, itęs fine to be a genius, of course but keep that old horse before the cart First you gotta have heart.
The inevitable question will of course be: do we laugh at or with Tiny Tim? Obviously, many people came to Tim´s concerts just to heckle him. Those who saw him in the Tonight Show probably reacted in the same way I did when I saw him: is it a put-on, or is he for real? Johnny Carson gave Tim a chance to speak his mind on every subject under the sun, and Timęs strange outlook on life made him an easy target for ridicule. Johnny Carson was very fond of Tiny Tim, however, and was apparently deeply disturbed by the critics who thought he was exploiting him.
I put the album Girl from 1996 on my CD, and listen to Timęs emotional rendering of the song "I believe in tomorrow"
|I believe in tomorrow,
the day that all wars will cease
The day all nations will know,
they can all live in peace (...)
I believe in tomorrow,
the day that all crime will end
The day all drugs disappear
All the world will be friends.
With his songs, Tiny Tim wanted to communicate feelings of love, romance, and a good will. He played the role of Prince Myshkin who - in spite of everything - believes in the goodness of all mankind. "He is compulsively considerate", Harry Stein wrote in his unauthorized biography Tiny Tim. Some may laugh at Timęs naivety but it makes me happy. Many people think that Evil is more aesthetically useful than Goodness, but I have never shared the idea that evil is fascinating and alluring while Goodness is colourless and dull. It may be easier to portray Evil, and to many it serves as an artistic short-cut, but the assertion that Goodness necessarily have to be dull and tedious has been effectively refuted by people like Chaplin, Dostoyevsky, and the Beatles. And say what you will about Tiny Tim - he sure wasn´t colourless and dull.
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
(A Christmas Carol)
Tiny Tim died like a true romantic. It was just like an old Hollywood melodrama. He had just ended a concert with "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" when he collapsed on his way back to his table. "I don´t think he had time to feel pain", his wife said afterwards. "The last thing he heard was the applause, and the last thing he saw was me." He was buried with his ukulele and six tulips. About 400 people came to say their last goodbye. He only got a few years in the limelight, but he never gave up hope of a come-back: "Every one who said "he´ll never make it again", are the same ones who before ´68 said "he´lll never make it" period."
One must imagine Tiny Tim happy.
Tiny Tim, Harry Stein Chicago, Playboy Press
1976 Tim after time James Burnett Detour Magazine, August 1996,
pp 116-119 Thanks to Johan Kugelberg and Agneta Kristenson