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