Friday, September 10, 2010

Too Far Gone to Come Back

"If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true"

~ Tim Hardin, "Reason to Believe"

When I was about 15 I used my allowance to buy a beautiful hairbrush at Caswell-Massey on Lexington Avenue. In those days the store, now gone, was still an old-fashioned apothecary, its shelves stuffed with pretty boxes and glamorous atomizers. The hairbrush I chose was carved from a substantial block of yellow wood, gently rounded on all sides and sanded to a satiny fare-thee-well. The brushy part was made of boar bristles. I wouldn’t buy a brush like that now because I’d think about the boar, but at the time I felt sophisticated and mature whenever I touched it. I carried it with me everywhere.

This was in the mid-1960s, when down in the Village singer-songwriters had become as bright and ubiquitous as sunflowers in late summer. Many came bearing protest songs and others played rock ’n’ roll. A few, like Tim Hardin, were troubadours who were mastering the art of broken-hearted love ballads. Tim Hardin’s best songs — “Reason to Believe,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and this one, “Misty Roses,” are among them — were tiny miracles of melody and poetry.

After two promising albums on the Verve label, he was just beginning to attract the spotlight when the San Francisco sound acid-blasted in from the West. Just like that, he faded into the background.

Five or six years later I had a job writing client bios and press releases for a rock ‘n’ roll PR firm. One day my boss, Connie, said Tim Hardin and his new manager were coming in. We were doing a favor for Rod Stewart. Rod was then lead singer with Rod Stewart and the Faces, my favorite clients and possibly the most entertaining live band of their day.

Rod had recorded Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” on his 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, and he was a fan. Now Tim had some gigs lined up, Rod wanted to help him make a comeback and I needed to do a bio interview.

We had a few superstar clients in those days, but most were teenage rock bands. You could sum up their entire life experience in two statements: (1) “I joined a band to meet chicks,” and (2) “I dropped out of school when the band got a contract.” Tim Hardin had been around while. I was looking forward to the interview — he might have stories to tell.

The new manager, John Hemminger, turned out to be a skinny, wired-looking guy who made me nervous. Tim was something else. He was shabby. His hair was dirty in that heavy, ash-dark, been-sleeping-under-a-car way. When he walked with me into the windowless conference room where I normally did the interviews, I noticed an acrid smell. I was relieved when he said he’d like to do the interview in a coffee shop instead. 

We stepped out into a bright mid-afternoon on West 57th Street and walked a few steps when Tim announced he wanted flan. Not only that, he wanted flan from El Faro, an old Spanish restaurant on Greenwich Street.

I knew as soon as we walked into the restaurant Tim had some history there. Everybody seemed to know him, or at least nobody but me was surprised when he ordered a double scotch and eight flans. Then more double scotches. The interview was going nowhere. Tim was rambling, unable to hold a thought for more than a moment or two. It was unsettling. A train wreck was coming and I couldn’t stop it. All I could do was get out of the way. I needed to find a way to extract myself without offending him.

That’s when he asked if he could borrow my hairbrush.

As soon as the words left his mouth I felt a door open and a fresh breeze blow in. I took a moment to think about my boar-bristled beauty and how much it had meant to me and then silently said goodbye. Once Tim used it, I would never want it back. It was hard to let it go, but giving it away would allow me to bail out on this sad, self-destructing man while also being kind. Yes, yes, I said. Here, take this, it’s a great brush, you can keep it. I hope it brings you luck. So long.

I’m not sure exactly what happened with the bio, although I probably cobbled something together from clips. The hairbrush didn’t bring Tim luck. He put out a few more albums, but he never really made a comeback. He died of a heroin overdose in 1980. I’ve owned other hairbrushes. While none compare to the original, I have no regrets.

 "I'm the family's unowned boy, golden curls of envied hair
  Pretty girls with faces fair
  See the shine in the Black Sheep Boy"

 ~ Tim Hardin, "Black Sheep Boy"


  1. Enjoyed reading this very much, Michele. Great piece.

  2. Thank you, Walt. He was such a sad guy.

  3. Elegiac and moving. Well done, Michele.

  4. God, this is beautifully written. I love your recollections of the music business, and I love the role you take, a compassionate observer, in the mix but on the outside. It is such a great story about a remarkable time, and the memories you share are so gentle and personal that they make these men and women real in their talents and their flaws. As always, I want more, more, more!

  5. Thank you Bob, and thank you, drmstream. I had a lot of musician friends as a teenager, and maybe that helped me see the humans under the celebrity disguise. But the longer I worked in that business, the more I withdrew from "the scene." The quest for fame can be so destructive, and I saw too many burnouts. I gave it up completely after ten years for a normal job (writing newsletters and speeches for an ad agency).

  6. I couldn't improve on @drmstream's comments. This truly is written beautifully. Thank you, Michelle!

  7. God you're a great writer! so touching, thank you for writing it, i'll be haunted as i go about my errands and actions through the rest of the day, week, maybe life....beautiful, sad.

  8. So exquisitely observed and so hauntingly tragic. I had no idea that all those times I was listening to "Reason to Believe" (which was included on the great "Wonder Boys" soundtrack; another story of a boy wonder gone awry) that Tim Hardin had lost his own reasons to believe. You are an extraordinary wellspring of jaw-dropping stories, extraordinarily told.

  9. sad story, beautifully told, with a sensitivity that says so much about you, too. is it any wonder i like you.

  10. Thank you so much for your kind words, @nextmoon, Marlena, Susan and @ettagirl. I generally hesitate to write about my life because it seems so narcissistic, but you're making me realize I've known some interesting characters, so perhaps I'll tell their stories more often.