Friday, July 31, 2009

Tiny Tim, Ukulele Hero


Last weekend and the week before, everyone was all excited because Spongebob had his 10th anniversary. I absolutely love Spongebob, always have. As we were watching an the episode where the anchovies attack the Krusty Krab last Saturday, The Boy told me about how he researched the song they used. That's how I fell in love with Tiny Tim.[Videos in the full post]

Tiny Tim is just my kind of delightfully weird. This is a man with a huge schnoz that plays a ukulele. Need I say more?

Actually, yes, I do. There's a lot to Tiny Tim. Born to a Lebanese father and Jewish mother in 1932, his real name was Herbert Khaury. He loved popular music from the 1890s through the 1930s from a really young age, adapting tunes for his trademark ukulele. He didn't start performing until the early 50s. By the 60s, things really took off for Tiny Tim: he had a cult following in Greenwich Village, was a guest on The Laugh-In plenty of times, and even went on Johnny Carson. And now, the videos!

One of his biggest songs, Tiptoe Through the Tulips:



The most famous "Living in the Sunlight" performance:



Spongebob and Tiny Tim, together at last:

It's hard to tell if Tiny Tim was born too late or at just the right time. His singing style is definitely old, even in the context of the 60s. It references Tin Pan Alley. When he sings in his high voice, he reminds me of this old, crackling recording I heard of one of the last castrati. At the sane time, his hair is long and his clothes are weird: right at home in the 60s. Most importantly, I think, there's no way around the fact that there's something queer about Tiny Tim. Queer in the sense of the nose, the hideous jackets, the bouncing eyebrows but also in the sexual sense. His hair and his high, high voice are very feminine (he didn't always sing that way, but that's what he's most famous for). He used all the gestures of a dandy, though in interviews he wasn't nearly as flamboyant. Small wonder that he reportedly got his start in a lesbian bar. I'd venture to say that his queerness, though, was a sign of the times as well. With gay bars being raided with startling regularity, people had to think about homosexuality. It's interesting to think about Tiny Tim making his way into the mainstream of 1960s American culture. Sadly, Tiny Tim died of a heart attack in 1996 at a ukulele festival.

Honestly, you have to be a little queer--weird, not gay--to do this kind of performance. And he was just the guy to pull it off.

[photo from emol.org]

1 comment:

  1. My father thought that Tiny Tim's act was hilarious. Maybe he seemed queer, but he did marry "Miss Vicki" live on the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was in charge.

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