Bucks Burnett's Namedropper: How I Met Tiny Tim
Bucks Burnett isn't a journalist. He's a namedropper. He may not have met every one of his music idols, but he's met 90 percent of them. And he's here to tell you all about it, however he sees fit, in his monthly music column, Namedropper.
There is no way to bring it back to life, that magic twist of night; the night I met Tiny Tim.
It was 1982, September, I think. A Tiny Tim concert was advertised for a now defunct nightclub, Confetti, once located about where Krispy Kreme stands today at Lovers and Greenville. I hadn’t thought of him since his heyday in the late '60s, and curiosity got the best of me.
I decided that I must meet him and interview him for BARK, a music magazine I was publishing at the time. I had already interviewed Chris Frantz of Talking Heads, and had met a few rock stars by that point, but the idea of meeting Tiny Tim went beyond rock star to extraterrestrial. I could not resist.
I did not schedule an interview through a publicist, I just walked into his dressing room after his set and introduced myself.
On that night, I was two people. I was the person who had not met Tiny Tim, and then I was. Once you are, you can't go back. You can't remove his influence, or his laugh, or the wave of his hand as he talks. He plays forever in your mind, like a flickering old movie that somehow has life. You can't divorce a memory.
He insisted I show up at the hotel lobby at precisely 3 a.m. "I will be returning from a party," he informed me. "I am to be the guest in the home of some very important people. If I do not see you in the lobby upon my entry, I shall proceed upstairs, and go to bed, for Mr. Randy is taking me to the airport at 7 a.m."
I protested. "But Tiny, I have to work the next day. If we do the interview at 3 a.m., I won't get any sleep. Is there any way we can do it any earlier?"
He snapped. My commanding officer had some very important news for me. "Now listen. You asked me for this interview, and I've said yes. You say you want this interview. My schedule is very busy this evening and there is no room for error. I have it planned to the minute. If I walk in at 3 and you're there, great. I'll give you the interview of a lifetime! If you're not, fine, I'll go to bed.
"But ask yourself, Mr. Burnett, ask yourself something," he continued. "You say you want to publish this in a magazine. Your own magazine, as I understand it. Do you want this magazine to be a success? Do you want to be a famous publisher? Because if you do, let me tell you something. In this business, you gotta hustle. So what's your answer?"
"I'll see you at 3, Tiny."
"Aaahh! Fantastic!" Then came another caveat: "Bring a six pack of beer if you would. They make a beer called King's. They have a two X version and a three X version. I like the three X. Look for the three X's. I'll see you at 3!"
I was in the lobby at 2:30, with the three X beer, in case he was early. I was exhausted, and ready for sleep, already dreading the next day at work. He walked in through the hotel doorway at 3 a.m. precisely. He was beaming, carrying a bag with a ukulele in it and some flowers. Festive from the party, he smiled and said, "Mr. Burnett, you made it! I knew you were a winner. Tell me, did you get the beer?"
I lifted up the six pack.
"Fantastic! Let's go up to my room and relax, and we'll do this fabulous interview."
We got into an elevator, but it might as well have been a spaceship to the moon or a trampoline in a backwards infinity. Because Tiny Tim was taking me from my world, the one I knew, and into his. When Alice walked through the looking glass, at least she was aware of the looking glass. I thought I was in an elevator. It went up to a floor, and we stepped into a room, but what really happened is this; we time traveled. We crossed dimensions. We talked until 5 a.m. The details don't count, it is the result that I have always lived with. The world he took me into, is one I can never fully leave. Part of me will always live in Tinyland. And Tiny's stories will always live in me.
I'm always reminded of Tiny Tim come early July, because it was then — on July 7, 1984, 32 years ago today to be precise — that he came to be one of the headliners at my bizarre Edstock festival, held at the Bronco Bowl. Edstock was my warped, Mr. Ed-themed tribute to the Woodstock festival, featuring Tiny Tim, Joe Ely, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and even Alan Young who played Wilbur Post on the Mr. Ed TV series. We also had an EdWards ceremony at which rock critic Ed Ward accepted his trophy on behalf of his father, Ed Ward.
I was to know him for 14 years, until his death in 1996. I promoted his Dallas appearances, produced some of his recordings, and became his manager. But none of what came after can really ever compare to that night.
Sitting in his hotel room with a cassette recorder going, as he talked away the night as if it were a child needing a bedtime story. I can still feel like I'm still there when I think about it. It was like actually being in a cartoon.
I managed to think of questions and follow the conversation, but I was also in an extreme state of awe and wonder. The real Tiny Tim was much different than the one I had seen on TV. As he talked, the one I had seen on TV was starting to make a lot of sense. The one in front of me was performing a magic act. He was making my old life disappear, right before my very eyes.
I made it to work on time the next day with no sleep. I was dragging, I didn't shave or brush my hair. People would ask how I was doing, they knew I was distracted. "I met Tiny Tim last night." They all said variations of the same thing and I wasn't listening. They didn't really care that I met Tiny Tim, and I really didn't care that they didn't care. I walked through my fuzzy day, praying to a god called 5 o'clock.
I was having my first destiny hangover.
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