Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TINY TIM - Santa Claus Has Got THE AIDS

"Tiny Tim" was the crippled child in Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." The name was later used by an emotional cripple named Herbert who transformed himself from misfit to novelty singing superstar. For a golden year, he was big on TV and a hit on radio with his gender-bending version of "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips," which somehow suited a time when 20's and 30's music was aped on the radio ("Winchester Cathedral") and "Bonnie and Clyde" was a hit movie. The flip side of the psychedelic era and gloomy progrock was a simultaneous fascination with nostalgia (W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy) and any survivors of that era (like Mae West to sing Beatles and Doors numbers). The edge of anti-war protests and drug use was blunted by a goofy show called "Laugh-In," and on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show' the nerdish Tiny Tim married his love Miss Vicki to huge ratings.

Then John Lennon said, "OK, so flower power didn't work. We'll try something else." Flower-child and novelty performer Tiny Tim tried…but ended up as a nostalgic act spiraling down from top nightclubs to the seedy traveling "Vaudeville Revue" run by shady (and eventually murdered) Roy Radin. Tiny Tim became one of the menagerie of ex-stars who, in the phrase of Tennessee Williams, often lived off the "kindness of strangers." He was a nice guy, and open and friendly to anyone who might get him work or invite him out for a free meal.

I met Tiny Tim socially once, but didn't exchange phone numbers. I didn't think there was anything I could do for the guy, having met more than enough one-hit-wonders and former stars of cult films or a lone TV series. For some reason I wasn't all that interested in spending evenings discussing any mutual fondness for old music with him, maybe because he just seemed as sad as any of the geeks pawing through the 78's at memorabilia shows and record stores. That he was once "a contender," or that he was far more erudite than the average vinyl-hoarding cretin just wasn't enough. I did let him know that I was a fan of his work, and proved it by naming "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days" as my favorite record of his…not "Tulips," and let it go at that.

Over the years, as he scrounged for gigs in small clubs, he tried for another big novelty hit. Too bad for Tiny, radio was slowly narrowing its playlists to exclude such items as "Tiptoe To the Gas Pumps." So when he did manage to get somebody to press a sold only a few hundred copies. Like many a down and out folkie he had lots of unrecorded songs which he might perform, with some wistfulness (if not bitterness) to a half-filled audience or some halfwit hanger-on with a tape recorder. Thus we have: "Santa Claus Got the AIDS This Year," a calamitous meeting of the original Christmas "Tiny Tim" and the heavy set has-been.

Just what the hell Tiny was trying to do here, as he ran through this song in some room somewhere, I have no idea. He seemed to think AIDS was curable, and no worse than the clap: "The nurses all look sad, 'cause Santa's got it bad. 12 months to wait and then, he'll soon be round again." Around the time he came up with this ditty, AIDS was wiping people out very quickly. A few friends of mine perished within months of diagnosis, while a few others trembled and hoped that their ARC (as HIV was known at the time) would not become AIDS, and that if it did, somebody would have a vaccine for it. Today, AIDS is still fatal, but those with HIV can live fairly normal lives for decades thanks to new medications.

Well, as long as Tiny Tim was thinking of AIDS as no worse than the clap, then it's possible to avoid cringing at this song. Besides, the main source of humor here, is in making fun of Santa Claus, and this time of year, most anyone over the age of 12 has a deep disgust for the fat old bastard. We're all tired of TV commercials trading in on St. Nick, and those stupid Coca Cola signs with his jolly face on it asking that we all become obese diabetics. 'Tis the time of year we should pay careful attention to the question Professor Irwin Corey posed about this obnoxious Yuletide creature: "Santa comes but once a year? Down a chimney? In MY sock?"

Tiny Tim sez... Santa Claus Has got The AIDS This Year


Anonymous said...

You are quite prejudicial about this song! You don't seem to understand Mr Tim's music anyway, therefore you have this conservative approach! Mr Tim loved to perform to anyone anywhere, he was very stoic and free spirited!You have to remember this was written in 1980,before you and me and anyone else got educated about the AIDS on telly! Tim was in New York when the first outbreaks were kept hidden.It was top secret!There was a lot of misunderstanding!He never took pride in hurting people, he was going through some difficult times and he understood the song was provocative, but not mean spirited!This is one of my favorite songs by Tim, mad and provocative but very interesting.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks for the I wrote, I had no idea exactly when the song was written (or when it was recorded).

I do remember the year a few friends and acquaintances died of AIDS, which was 1987. At that time, the early stage was called ARC, not HIV, and there was quite a lot of rampant misinformation about the disease.

I do appreciate Tiny's music...actually moreso his "normal" voice (singing "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days") over the "novelty" falsetto on "Tiptoe."

I did mention that I met the guy...and complimented him on "Baby Days..." you're right, he was both stoic and free-spirited, oddly enough...accepting that he was well known for the past, but still living his unusual dreams. Which reminds me of Shatner's lyric, "Has Been implies failure. Not so. Has Been WAS...Has Been MIGHT AGAIN!" Mighty Tiny never gave up.

JimK said...

1980? Tim was engaged in lying. In 1980, a few West Coast doctors were begining to connect the dots regarding a growing number of inexplicable, and horrible, deaths. When the syndrome was named, in 1981, it was initially G.R.I.D.S. The acronym A.I.D.S. came later. So, unless he was a psychic AND an epidemiologist, this song was NOT written in 1980. And, please, in 1985 EVERYONE knew what AIDS was. Don't give him a free pass by accepting his statement that it was only coming to the forefront in 85.