An Ode to Strange Birds: Why the Originals are Needed.

They’re needed, the odd strange birds that dares to fly higher than others — closer to the sun, but also closer to heaven. 2020 marked the year of the release of Johan Von Sydow’s documentary Tiny Tim: King for a Day, which tells the strange, somewhat dark and sad, but also hopeful tale of Herbert Khaury, known to the world as Tiny Tim. An ukulele playing, androgynous romantic — stuck in a world that loved him, but also considered him as a freak. He flew, and he crashed, but kept going always hoping to get his big comeback once again. His life was cut short of a heart attack during a gig in 1996, and fell into the arms of his wife Susan. He died in front of an audience, frail and sick, but to the sound of applause and love. Like British comedian and illusionist Tommy Cooper he died for his fans, a bittersweet ending to a rollercoaster life.

Tiny Tim: King for a Day differs from many other artist documentaries. It stays away from glorifying and goes into less sympathetic things — but never tries to dehumanize. Tim was neither a typical good or bad guy; he lived his life, struggled to stay afloat, and was pretty honest about it without victimising himself too much, at least outwards. His diary notes, on the other hand, reveal a man who balanced on the fine edge of making his dreams come true and fear of the hell that awaited him because of his sins: fame, money and women. The guilt is evident in his work, through those eyes that got more tired the longer he lived. The smile kept on smiling, even if it got stiffer along the way. There’s no reason to romanticize heroes, as romanticising makes them less human and more like robots, there to satisfy the audience’s need to live a life in boring, shallow comfort of glittering, saturated dreams.

Nobody’s perfect. Absolutely no one. Inside all your heroes a darkness is hidden. It might be greed, an inflated ego, anger, bitterness, drama, unhappy love — but hear me out, it’s all about being human beings. I’m sure the Dalai Lama is an asshole somewhere behind his pious smile. Mother Theresa was a dangerous bitch, that’s for certain. Some go even further and former affable saints like Jimmy Saville, Bill Cosby and many others were exposed like psychopaths. Just because someone is laughing and uses his or her charm doesn’t mean they’re there for you. It’s all about them, with extreme egos and the belief they’re gods inside their own sphere of admiration.

No matter what you think of these figures, it makes them human. Once again, no one is perfect and some are even worse than you can imagine. Tiny Tim was a frail bird, someone who was looking for love from both the audience and somehow along the way lost his way, when the attention became an addiction. The sun burnt his colorful wings and sent him down a spiral of destructive behaviour, always looking for the next kick. For in the end he was Herbert, a jewish working class boy who just didn’t fit into the world around him.

We need people like Herbert to see ourselves in. They dare to go further than what we ever would do. They mirror our own insecurities and manifest our wildest — and sometimes darkest — dreams. To be honest, most of us would love to let go and not give a damn anymore and just do what we feel is the best for us in the moment without taking the result into consideration. It’s a form of freedom few are given, and we’re all jealous of them. We need them, but they also need our love. Without it they wouldn’t survive in this harsh, brutal world. When a person only gives sooner or later the energy will run out. Tiny Tim truly loved his fans, I think we can be sure of that, but when your audience turns into an unaware and unwilling psychic vampire it’s time to step back and contemplate on what you’re doing. Looking at it with a pair of cynical eyes: they have sacrificed themselves for us — they’ve done the things we never would do, they took their own unique humanity and made us rip it apart, sometimes with love, sometimes with hate. They’re the jokers, the freaks. They’re everything at once and they need our respect and comfort. A world less diverse is a world less worth saving. Imagine if someone was there for Tim to teach him to say no? He wouldn’t have turned into the legend he is today, but maybe he would have lived a happier life? No matter what he’s here to stay, in one way or another.

“Remember, it’s better to be a has-been than a never-been”

Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Author, thinker, television freelancer, mystery aficionado and cat lover.

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Fred Andersson

Fred Andersson

Author, thinker, television freelancer, mystery aficionado and cat lover.

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