"I've lived a life that's full, I've traveled each and every highway, but more, much more than this, I did it my way." Tiny Tim's rendition of Paul Anka's "My Way," included on the 1980 album Chameleon, never threatened to displace the versions by Sinatra or Elvis, but no singer can lay greater claim to having done things his own way than Herbert Khaury, who at about age 30 came to be known as Tiny Tim.
Those of us who were around in the 1960s know how famous Tiny Tim once was, but most never saw past his Laugh In image — the effeminate, not-so-tiny guy with the ukulele who sang silly songs in a high voice. Millions tuned in to his televised wedding to Miss Vicki in December 1969, but then, curiosity satisfied, they turned off their TVs and tuned Tiny Tim out of their lives. They didn't stick around to see the performer who had been honing his craft for more than 20 years, the artist who had absorbed and could bring forth the essence of Rudy Vallee, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and other great performers of the century, creating something new through the filter of his unique stage persona — a persona that was not much different from his off-stage personality.
But as the reception faded, Tiny Tim was still going strong, or at least trying to — recording, touring, appearing on TV and radio, even joining a circus in the 1980s. But, really, who knew?
Actually, enough people did know — enough so that Tiny Tim was able to maintain his career until his death in 1996, nearly 30 years after his heyday. In his final years he had become a popular guest on Howard Stern's radio show and was still releasing albums of new material. Not merely a nostalgia act, he was creative and musically active until the end.
Justin Martell was not around in the '60s, but in a sense, he has been able to walk through that era, as well as the several years before and after, side-by-side with Tiny Tim through the fortunate circumstance of having been given access to Tiny's diaries. Based on a decade of research that included about 100 interviews, Martell and Alanna Wray McDonald present the full spectrum of Tiny Tim's life and career in Eternal Troubadour, providing insight into everything from Tiny's relationship with his parents and his early days in show business with his appearances at amateur nights in the early 1950s through moderate success in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Eternal Troubadour covers his higher level of success a couple of years later at the nightclub the Scene, his massive fame at the end of the decade, and everything that came after, including his second and third marriages. The authors discuss Tiny's connections to Bob Dylan, the Band, the Beatles, and other musical giants, some of his film appearances, his important friendship with the Australian artist Martin Sharp, and much more.
Other books have been written about Tiny Tim, two of which have been very good indeed, but none have the breadth or detail of the new book by Martell and McDonald. As such, Eternal Troubadour is long overdue.
Although nicely designed, the book, as acknowledged by the publisher on its website, includes "a number of small text errors," which are to be corrected in future printings. To Jawbone's credit, they offer a complimentary updated ebook version to those purchasing the initial printing. However, the errors, while noticeable, do not detract from the book's value. Yet if changes are to be made, the authors might consider adding a discography and list of Tiny Tim's film and television appearances.
Tiny Tim, as made clear in Eternal Troubadour, was a very complex person and artist. Perhaps this book will be the springboard for a new evaluation of his work. A boxed set of recordings showcasing the wide variety of his musical styles, as well as a documentary focusing more on his music than his eccentricities, would be the ideal next steps.
Gregory Frohnsdorff is a librarian at the Charleston County Public Library.