Tiny Tim - my idol ...
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.
What is this? I thought. Is this a put-on, or is the guy serious?
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 didnęt expect any", I said after the show. "Thatęs 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. 2. 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 canęt stand anymore. 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 Timęs 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 Timęs fan club on the cover, and I immediately decided to join, determined to find out everything about this remarkable artist. 3. Itęs our responsiblity to find out all we can about the things we love. (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. "Donęt worry", he comforted his mother when he was eight years old, "everybodyęs 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, "Youęre 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 wasnęt 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. Ięd knock on the door, enter with a big smile on my face and say, ęHelloo, my dear friends. I have a song here thatęs going to make you all millionaires! Itęs the biggest hit of the decade.ę Theyęd usually take one look at me and say, ęGet out, kid.ę But that didnęt stop me; after a few months Ięd 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 Timęs 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. "Youęll never get anywhere singing in that sissy voice", his father told him, and his mother added: "Ięm sorry to say it, but in all fairness, youęll 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 Sinatraęs 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. 4. Lenny Bruce talks for money Tiny Tim sings for love -Ad for a show in New York in 1964 From as early as I can remember I have worshipped beautiful women. Donęt misunderstand me, I donęt mean anything dirty by that. My fantasy has always been to be alone with hundreds of lovely angels in a lush, tropical paradise - like the Garden of Eden, maybe - and then not even touch them. To touch them would ruin it. The important thing is just to have them near me. -Tiny Tim 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". 5. I mean, heęs a psychedelic nightmare, and heęs Mom and apple pie at the same time. Tiny Tim may be the most unexplainable person on the planet. -James "Big Bucks" Burnett Tim never ceased to surprise people around him. He was noted for his fixation on cleanliness and his interest in make up. He took 4 - 5 showers a day: "I havenęt missed a shower since December 20, 1989", he proudly declared. He spoke at length about the advantages of adult diapers to anyone who cared to listen. He used make up in order to feel closer to beautiful women, and at the height of his career, he spent a fortune on cosmetics; he bought more than he ever could use. His managers complained that he spent his money like a thoughtless child. At one time he ordered the entire menu up to his hotel room and arranged every piece of meat, all the vegetables and fruit in a decorative pattern. Satisfied with this work of art he placed himself in the centre of it, but he didnęt eat anything. He never ate when there were other people present. Not even his wife was allowed to see him eat, but he enjoyed pretending to be at a dinner party playing the parts of all the other guests himself. In the 50s, he tried to enlist in the army, but he was not accepted. It probably had something to do with his honest response when they asked him why he wanted to be a soldier: "Itęs because I want to go to the moon! Tim was right-handed, but he always wrote with his left hand, because he wanted to use both sides of his brain. In this way, he hoped he would learn to play the piano with both hands, which in turn would make it easier for him to meet beautiful girls. (This explains the unbelievable sloppy hand writing on the signed album Ięm the happy owner of). He was convinced that Earth would be invaded by aliens in the beginning of the 21st century. He believed that there is "some sort of life" on the moon. He liked to speculate on the consequences the existence of alien life forms would have on different religions - do aliens have the same God, the same heaven, the same hell? Have they also been expelled from Paradise? "If my wife passed away and a beautiful alien woman came from space then I would definitely marry her. The only question is if the embarrassment of the Garden of Eden applies to the universe." You have to admire Tim for his endurance. "Donęt worry, Mr DeBlasio, theyęre only laughing", Tim told his poor manager who had to see his client heckled, booed and laughed at. "People have laughed at me my whole life." He never gave up his excentric life style or his odd artistry. Even when people were indifferent or scornful, he never tried to adjust, or change his image. "In your heart, if you know what youęre doing is right and you have a good concept you should not change your idea for the public. I was walking around New York with my white make up and long hair in the age of Eisenhower before any of the 60s happened. It wasnęt just for show. I had to feel I was original." 6. The man had enormous talent, and no one ever found out about it. -Roy Silver (former manager) I love rockęnęroll so put another dime in the juke box, baby -Hookert/Mervill ("I love rockęnęroll", recorded by Tiny Tim) When the dawn comes Tonight will be a memory too And a new day will begin -Webber/Eliot/Nunn ("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 manęs soul, rhythm and blues", Tim once said. "No one talks about the white manęs soul. The white manęs soul, in music, was songs like ęIn the Shade of the Old Apple Treeę and ęGive My Regards to Broadwayę." But Timęs 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 Ięm Sexy?". Timęs 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. 7. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1 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. Adler/Ross ("Heart") The inevitable question will of course be: do we laugh at or with Tiny Tim? Obviously, many people came to Timęs 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. I would be lying if I told you that Tim makes me believe in the lyrics. But he makes me convinced that he believes in it, and thatęs pretty good too. When Pat Boone did a cover of "Stairway to heaven", he was asked if he had heard Tiny Timęs version of the same song. -Yes, I have, Boone said, and it was sickening. I hope that people donęt lump him in with me. Jimmy Page, who co-wrote the song with Robert Plant, was quick to react. "Pat Boone shouldnęt worry about comparisons of himself to Tiny Tim", he said. "No one will compare the two, because Tiny Tim was someone of considerable stature and talent, unlike Pat Boone." What do we want from an artist? Professionalism? You can have too much of that sometimes. If something is too perfect, it most probably will not serve what should be the purpose of all true art: to make our hearts beat a little faster. "Small defects are more pleasing", as Swedish author Jacob Wallenberg wrote: a perfect form is often quite boring, "like a flower without a scent, or rather, like a beautiful painting which pleases the eyes, but fail to move your heart." If an artist has the ability to arouse feelings, itęs easy to forgive formal short-comings. The opposite is harder to endure. Sometimes, a really lousy artist can be more interesting than a professional, no matter how good he is. Then you have to ask yourself: isnęt the "lousy" artist actually a good one, and the "good" artist actually a lousy one? I donęt know. All I know is that Tiny Tim fascinates me, in a way Pat Boone never has. 8. 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 wasnęt colourless and dull. 9. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One! -Charles Dickens (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 donęt 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 ęheęll never make it againę, are the same ones who before ę68 said ęheęll never make itę period." One must imagine Tiny Tim happy. Literature: 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