But is everyone sold on Tiny Tim?


   When Tiny Tim walks on stage he is greeted by laughter, a kind of patronizing, elbow-in-the-ribs attitude, and a few quick verbal gibes. Underneath it all, the audience is prepared to love him and to hurl kisses and applause his way. For Tiny Tim is the ugly duckling, the funny kid who was always kept in after class, the American Past, and the outsider who worked his way, in and up to the top. At the same time, Tiny Tim is a whole "new bag." He makes ugliness count for something more than a "Before" ad. When you first encounter his long beak, his piano key-length teeth, and his wayward forelock (not to mention his underwhelming hairdo) you think that you are in the undiscovered country between B-horror films and Dickensian characters. Not so. Tiny Tim is beautiful! His is the kind of beauty that borders on the grotesque--so different that it must be accepted as a whole new thing--a one of a kind face and personality.
   Dressed in a brown-on-brown short-sleeved shirt, a 1940s brown jacket, a shocking pink, green- scalloped necktie, long gray slacks and black dress shoes, he is the product of an indeterminate past. Onstage, while the audience waits breathlessly, he reaches into his paper shopping bag. He removes his ukulele, wrapped carefully in an old cardigan. On the back of the uke are the words that crystallize his whole message--SOUL. And, one concludes, that is what he is all about--purity and gaiety and innocence. He is exactly what the younger generation wants. Tiny Tim is better than the Beatles because he is utterly himself; he may even become bigger than the Beatles.
   "Hel-loooo, my dear friends," he remarks, blowing kisses in the direction of his fans. His voice sounds like the rounded grooves on a record. Plink-a-plank-a-plink, goes the uke. Then, in a falsetto voice, he begins: "Come tiptoe through the tulips with me. . ." His repertoire is a reincarnation of the America of Vocalian records, of Rudy Vallee, of the young Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys. He is Billy Murray, circa 1913, singing On The Old Front Porch.
   In an interview with a Newsweek reporter, Tiny Tim said: I don't try to imitate anyone, I just try to bring back their voices. Their spirits live within me." He is right. Tiny Tim is above the nostalgia, the rickey-tick, pop culture of our time. He is not doing an impression of something removed. More than the Beatles, the Stones, The Lovin' Spoonful, Tim is directly in touch with the past-it speaks from his mouth with startling authority.
   Even his conversation sounds like it has been replayed from an old tape of a radio talk show. He greets one and all, male and female, with "OOOH, Miss Ada Jones," after the female vocalist who popularized Row, Row, Row. Even more dated-he calls children "blessed events" and looks on the fair sex with an aura of romanticism. "When I'm with girls they are always the essence of purity," he says. This rather "spiritual" attitude is reflected by his insistence on spelling, not saying, the words SEX and KISS.
   In short, Tiny Tim has survived on pure doses of optimism. He believes in living the lyric from one of his favorite songs: "Things that bother you never bother me." As a child, he was excluded by the kids in his neighborhood. After high school he ran the gauntlet of amateur pitch shows, and was the victim of shoe-throwing. He remembers that, in some places, a bouncer would set off the fire alarm to shut him up. "But I always finished the song," he recalls. "I was booed for years and years. I went from dive to dive and bar to bar all over New York and New Jersey."
   When the public wouldn't have any part of him, Tim volunteered his services to the veteran's hospitals and to any passersby who would listen in the slum areas of New York City. He even sang in back alleys and on subway trains just to sing whatever he felt people wanted to hear. He tried to "aid the Army of his country" in a similar manner but was rejected. "I tried to join the Army at least eight different times in World War II, but I couldn't pass the tests. There was a square and you had to choose which other square looked most like it. Well, all the other squares looked like it to me."
   In the late fifties, Tiny was singing in a downstairs Times Square freak show as "Larry Love, The Singing Canary." Then, in 1960, he started playing the small Greenwich Village clubs, like the Fat Black Pussy Cat, Page Three and the Third Side.
   In December, 1965, he got his first big break in a New York discotheque--The Scene. "When I came in, they said 'Out!'" he remembers. "Then, a fellow from the Village yelled, 'Hey, Tiny, do a set,' and they hired me."
   Since then he has been making it on the concert circuit, the best nightclubs in the country, and nationwide TV. For example, on the Johnny Carson Tonight show, he wowed them. He reduced the usually erudite comedian to a straight man with a few childlike remarks. Carson quickly realized that Tiny Tim's vulnerability had made him an untouchable. When asked to do an encore, TT did not even rise from the guest's chair. He perched his uke on his knee, lifted his face in the air, and went into a soprano fantasia on "the birds are coming." Tim sounded like a rare bird indeed, as insulated as the products of a recording studio.
   And his conversation was certainly worthy of being plumed! He told Carson fans how he bathes every day with Packer's Pear Soap; how he brushes his teeth with papaya powder (never rinsing his mouth); how he concocts his magic diet of wheat germ, honey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; how he loves the Dodgers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He neglected to tell them about his daily anointments with Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass Hand Lotion, Faberge and Maja body creams, or how he was ejected from Connie Mack Stadium when he celebrated a Dodger rally against the Phillies with a wildly trilled version of Livin' In The Sunlight. But it isn't necessary for Tiny to reveal all--even a little is just too much!
   About his background, Tiny is silent; it conflicts with his image of timeliness. All that can be garnered is that he was born, about 35 or 40 years ago in New York City, the son of an immigrant Lebanese. Still, he does not forget his roots. When he is in New York he stays with his family. He likes to spend his freetime there listening to old 78s on his wind-up phonograph. He confesses that he wishes he were the RCA victor dog listening to His Master's Voice. In California he lives in an ordinary motel. He takes as many as five showers daily, including "a big shower" which lasts all of 90 minutes. He is noncommittal about his social life. He admits to a religious ecstasy from the music of Eddie Morton, Arthur Fields and Irving Kaufmann (the last is that little old wine-maker). This kind of pietistic sense makes music the panacea of his life.
   "I don't think I'm turning back the clock by doing these old tunes," he says. "I love rock 'n' roll and popular music. It's just that the spirit of the singers whose songs I do are living within me.
   "What do I feel I'm trying to do today in my music? Well, I'm trying to bring back the happiness that was a part of the beautiful tunes that were sung in the days of the past . . . the lovely days. Now as I hear these songs I believe that they can thrill the people of today just as they thrilled the people of yesterday. I don't think that I'm turning back the clock. I'm appealing to something in the hearts of men."
   Tim's true spiritual home is the America of the 1890s. "If I had a time machine, I'd love to be in New York on a hot summer day in 1890-to live month by month with those songs just drummed into me." Perhaps that is the reason why he chooses nondescript fashions. People can identify with him any fond memories of the past that are dear to them.
   As Tim's career blazes ahead it is interesting to wonder what new trends he may set from past materials. He seems to have lifted the sideshow wonder of Barnum and Bailey to new respectability. Tiny Tim is really a holy freak. And no wonder he should be the hit of today's youth. Haven't all the really "in" things been deviations from conventional society? When brought to it's ultimate it is to level it is to be seen in the person of Tiny Tim whose Reprise Album is called God Bless Tiny Tim. There he is, smiling ecstatically, standing stiffly on a mound of Easter grass with his eyes lifted up to a sky filled with sunshine.
   Tim says that there are three main reasons why he sings: "The first is to give thanks to God for the gift he gave me. Number two is to cheer people whether they are young or old, with a song of the past or present. And number three, perhaps above all, is because of all the lovely women who, because of their beauty, cause my heart to overflow with joy."
   While Tiny Tim sounds completely sincere in all this, one wonders if his fans are. I mean, Holy Tulip Seed, isn't somebody putting somebody on?

August 1968
Source: Silver Screen, Aphra Behn
Reproduced according to "Fair Use"

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