By Christina Whipsnade & Max Dropout
How the fuck do you people not know who Tiny Tim is? Am I dealing with a bunch of cultural morlocks here? Seriously, after we published that Darkness dissertation comparing that twitter throated dip shit singer of theirs to Tiny Tim, we made the disturbing discovery that a lot of you assholes were totally fucking clueless about who this guys was. Generally, after you assail somebody with a few bars of “Tiptoe Thru The Tulips,” most people manage to excavate some vague image of this unlikely sex symbols.
From ‘68 on through ‘70, Tim was probably the most talked about celebrity around; and while the appeal of a sexually ambiguous falsetto voiced pop star with the 23 skidoo entertainment ethic seems a mystery to most today, Tim embodied the very spirit of the underdog. There was nobody quite like Tim, and while his persona verged on downright spooky at times, there was a certain charisma about him that you just don’t find in even the most conventionally attractive mega-star. It is perhaps the dull celebrity aesthetic which strives for a physical perfection which is to blame for all the affected assholes you see grinning at you from the checkout line. These people bore the shit out of me. I don’t really care about that potato-nosed Anniston, or the high school politics of her losing that vapid cunt Brad Pitt to that bitch with the bee-sting mouth. Ordinary people have become increasingly more fascinating than your most overpaid star these days, which perhaps explains the rise in popularity of reality television. I miss the days of Errol Flynn and his queer-friendly teenage orgies. That was back when I could walk into a diner and get me two eggs, a stack of hot cakes, some bacon, a hash brown, and a slice of baked ham for a nickle. Faces and change went a long way back in the old days. And while Tim might not have been the bastion of good looks and sparkling grins, he was at the very least a fascination to behold through his odd-ball flower-power friendly image and his downright eccentric behavior. Pretty only goes so far when you’re a bore, and Tim was definitely not boring. Reflecting back on Tim only evokes a bitter nostalgia that laments how truly shallow and humorless modern audiences have grown.
At the height of his stardom, Tim was inescapable, appearing in almost every periodical of worth regularly while constantly selling out Vegas; The man even had his own board game! It’s a sure sign that you’ve arrived when your face is on the shelves of most American dens. But this fame was hard sought. Tiny spent years honing his craft. His appearance, bordering on grotesque and the screeching vocal stylings were often scoffed at early on. Luckily, he was blessed with an abundance of kind heartedness, determination and complete optimism. The fame was a sweet reward, but vanished just as quickly as it appeared. Tiny, who was well accustomed to indifference, continued pursuing what he loved to do until the very end.
Tiny Tim, whose real name was Herbert Ghaury was born in the Washington Heights, New York City on April 12, 1932. The son of immigrant parents, his dad was a Catholic of Lebanese descent and his mother, a Polish Jew. His parents took him to both church and synagogue and encouraged Tiny to choose and explore his own religion. He wholeheartedly embraced the teachings of the bible. Usually excluded from his peers, Tiny spent most of his time alone in his bedroom listening to old records from the 20′s on the phonograph, singing along to the radio and fantasizing about his own fame. He eventually learned to play guitar and strummed along to songs from old vaudevillian singers. Arthur Fields, Eddie Morton were among is favorites, as well as crooners like Rudy Vallee, Irving Kaufman and the older works of Bing Crosby.
He considered music to be as much of a passion to him as Jesus. He prayed to the lord and was delivered the idea of singing in his now trademark falsetto. After high school, he appeared at every amateur event he could find. Tiny was ridiculed for his appearance, strange singing style and was often the target of thrown shoes. A terminal romantic, he always leaned toward old fashioned values, and would even ply the songs that he would use to woo the ladies with. He didn’t want to imitate these old singers, but merely evoke the same joy they brought to his life. Tiny had taught himself to play the ukulele after purchasing Arthur Godfrey’s book, You Too Can Learn to Play the Ukulele. Tiny Tim and the ukulele were a faithful match, as the instrument is endearingly romantic while also comically small and relatively edgy.
Always being quite the participator and eager to help, Tiny even tried to join the army in WWII, but even after trying eight times, failed the written test. He settled to raise spirits instead, and continued to record and play at as many bars and clubs as he could. He even entered and actually started winning many talent competitions, all in high hopes of being discovered. He started recording scads of 45s back then at George Sander’s New York studio, where anyone could record for a mere 4 dollars a pop. Under the influence of many managers, Tiny sand under a number of stage names, mainly Larry Love and Gary Dover. Following the advice of one manager, Tiny cut his famous mop of hair. This reduced him to tears, and he vowed never to attempt to do it again. The 6-foot-plus troubadour was ironically christened with the name with which he eventually found his success, Tiny Tim. This being the work of later manager, George King.
By the early 60’s, Tiny had gained a small cult following, playing Greenwich Village clubs with fellow counter culture performers such as Lenny Bruce, with whom Tiny was very close with. In 1966, he was flown down to Hollywood to do a month of shows with hippie comedian, Wavy Gravy. While staying at Wavy’s Northern California commune, Tiny visited his friend Lenny Bruce at his Los Angeles home to offer his support during the time of Bruce’s ongoing court battles. He provided solace by reading from the Bible and sang and old Irving Kaufman tune, “When Will the Sun Shine for Me?” Bruce died a year later.
Back in New York, 1967, Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary, caught Tiny’s act and awarded him a part in the hippie documentary You Are What You Eat. A group called the Hawks (later known as the Band) backed him. Since the Band was also playing for Bob Dylan at this time, Dylan asked to meet with Tiny. Bob invited Tiny to his home in Woodstock, where he was still recouping from a motorcycle accident. Tiny was driven by limousine to Bob’s house at midnight, bringing with him his shopping bags, since he’d be staying the night. The first thing that the pair discussed, and which was rather thrilling for Tiny, was the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here was none other than Bob Dylan, suggesting that the two go see a game at Madison Square Garden! Tiny presented his analogy of Bob Dylan being to folk, what Rudy Vallee was to romantic music, Tiny then sang him some songs, and a special rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” in Rudy Vallee style. Bob, in turn, sang “Cool Water” to him. And thus the two of them because rather close with The Band, with which they would record the widely circulated bootleg, Down In The Basement. But Bob Dylan wasn’t the only big name who was a fan of Tiny Tim. Even John Lennon praised his talents in a 1968 Kenny Everett television interview. After a meeting with George Harrison, Tiny’s impromptu, hotel room recorded version of “Nowhere Man” was included on the Beatles’ 1968 Christmas record.
His appearance in You Are What You Eat led to a guest spot on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. This turned out to be his big break and he started getting booked like crazy to appear on all the popular variety shows, Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason, which built onto his reputation as a novelty performer. In that turbulent time of emerging drugged-out counter-culture rock Hendrix and Joplin, Tiny was embraced by the masses for his old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy, family values. He excelled at being the complete opposite, the outsider. Tiny offered himself as comic foil, with his odd look, long curly hair, large nose and teeth, and a dusting of white pancake make-up and some loud fashions. He was one of the first men to pursue wearing his hair long. Always in tow was his trusty ukulele, wrapped carefully in an old sweater and placed in one of the many shopping bags that never left his grip.
In 1968, Tiny Tim finally released his debut record, God Bless Tiny Tim which became an instant success. The record contained his version of “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” a sweet tune that became a huge hit for him and was known as the signature song for the rest of his career. God Bless Tiny Tim showcased his knowledge of the early century American songbook and his unique musical gift. He’s shown us a great understanding of American music and musicianship, from songs dating back to the 1800’s to present day ditties. The public wanted to know everything the unlikely star, his every move would appear in all the gossip magazines of the day. Eschewing the 60’s reputation for drug use, Tiny had never touched drugs but is known for some eccentric health and cleansing regimes. Tim only indulged in a strict health food diet of wheat germ, honey, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which he rarely deviated from. His fastidious grooming included having as many as four showers a day, preferring paper towels to germy terry cloth, brushing his teeth six times a day and endlessly applying various creams and lotions to maintain his agelessness. He was always secretive about his age, preferring to say that he “felt nineteen”.
He released two more records in 1969, Tiny Tim’s Second Album and For All My Little Friends, a children’s album. Seemingly a misunderstood oddity, Tiny’s records sold copies by the thousands.
On one of Tiny Tim’s many Tonight Show appearances, he announced his engagement to his “first real girlfriend”, seventeen year old Victoria Budlinger. The two met in a department store, Tiny was signing copies of his 1967 book, Beautiful Thoughts. After getting her idol’s autograph, the pixie-ish Miss Vicki followed Tiny to the next tour stop. Tiny accepted Johnny Carson’s invitation to wed on his show, and the pair tied the knot on December 17th, 1969 in front of 20 million viewers – the second highest rated television events in the 60’s, second only to the moon landing. It was one of those quintessential television moments where everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. Even crime was reportedly non-existent during their brief ten minute nuptials. The couple exchanged vows dressed in Victorian attire and knee-deep in tulips; they set off for a honeymoon in the Bahamas. In accordance with the Old Testament, they would require separate rooms, spending the first three days of marriage in prayer. Tiny and Miss Vicki had one daughter together, Tulip Victoria, before divorcing eight years later. The Marriage soured when Tiny opposed Miss Vicki’s modeling aspirations and her patience was tested with Tiny’s excessive spending, oblivious to the fact that he was rapidly growing broke. His strange idiosyncrasies probably didn’t help matters either. During these eight years, the couple lived together, but dined separately, and had separate bed and bathrooms.
Things more or less came to an end in 1971, with the dying down of the intense short-lived media attention. It was that Tiny Tim ceased to matter anymore. Considered a has-been, Reprise didn’t hesitate to drop him from their label. He continued recording and releasing singles and albums every so often, from his own label, Toilet Records, a self deprecating name referring to the depths of his career had plummeted to. Tiny remarried in 1984 to Jan Elweiss – Miss Jan, but the marriage was brief, lasting a mere 27 days. Officially divorced in 1995, Tiny then remarried for a third time, Susan Gardener – Miss Sue. In 1985, Tiny spent 36 weeks as a part of a circus and appeared in the horror movie Blood Harvest as Marvelous Mervo, with the clown face make-up and dyed red locks. His bizarre habits now extended to living in hotels and wearing Depends adult diapers, mainly to a void the germs found in public washrooms.
Tiny Tim had an underground resurgence of fame in the 1990’s. He released a heavy metal cover album called Tiny Rock, which had songs such as AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and a jaw-dropping 23 minute rendition of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”. In 1995, Tiny released I Love Me and collaborated with the industrial bands Current 93 and Nurse with Wound on the 1995 album, Songs From An Impotent Troubadour. That release featured Tiny running through a number of his own songs with some spoken word monologues about their inception in between. The last track, a wild collaboration with the two afore mentioned artists, has Tiny ranting about the devil over the telephone. Strange stuff! 1996’s Girl, backed by the Texas rock/polka outfit, Brave Combo received favorable reviews. And after acquiring a new generation of fandom, Tiny appeared on the Conan O’ Brien show and was a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show.
But towards the late nineties, everyone’s favorite ukulele player’s health started to relapse. Suffering from diabetes and with a congestive heart disease to boot, Tiny Tim experienced his first heart attack on stage at a 1996 ukulele festival. He spent two weary weeks in the hospital and with amid warnings that he wouldn’t live much longer, Tiny contemplated retiring, but his love for performing and singing proved too strong to fulfill this contemplation. On just his third appearance upon leaving the hospital, he was performing the song Tiptoe Thru The Tulips, for the Women’s Club of Minneapolis. When he cut the song short, Miss Sue helped him back to his table where he collapsed from his second and fatal heart attack. The legendary 60’s persona died on November 30th, 1996 – he was 64 and is remembered for his charisma and good-nature. He was buried in his new hometown of Minnesota, with his beloved ukulele and a single mauve tulip.