SoTW 13: Tim Hardin, ‘Black Sheep Boy’

Tim Hardin, ‘Black Sheep Boy’

My son is about to go away for a long time, and I’m trying hard to be philosophical about it. He’s gone away before for long periods, and has always come back, and I sure wish him Godspeed. And I have this one song running through my mind.

My son, his son

Remember how in high school a big part of dating was having an ‘Our Song’? Paul Anka probably holds the record for having welded and melded and subsequently consoled more couples than anyone else. Perhaps the Platters are in second place. Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” is no slouch, either.

Well, I’m not talking about ‘Our Song’ in that sense. My relationship with my son is far too long, deep, complex, rich to be crystallized in one song.

But there is this one song that somehow typifies in my mind a certain special facet of his biography. Or perhaps we should call it a refrain, or a recurrent theme. Well, he’s not in that place anymore. He’s a different person, leading a different life, traveling now to different places for different reasons. But the song still sticks with me. It’s a bittersweet coming home song, not a going away one, but I suppose somehow there’s a mirror imagery at work here.

Tim Hardin has perhaps the finest career I know of based on the fewest accomplishments. Two significant LPs in his mid-20s, a drug-ruined mess by 30, dead at 39, far fewer than a dozen great songs. But there is that handful of great songs that are so incontestably fine, beautiful gems, that he earned himself a place in the rock pantheon way before he started burning himself out. Misty Roses, If I Were A Carpenter, Reason To Believe, How Can We Hang On to a Dream?, and our SoTW, ‘Black Sheep Boy‘. His songs are AM-length, barely two minutes long. But he managed to do more in two minutes than many others did in decades of writing and recording.

In addition to creating this handful of precious songs, Tim Hardin also occupies a niche of honor in the history of rock. He was in fact one of the real germinal innovators of the folk-rock sound, a sound palette on which artists are still recording today. We always think of Simon and Garfunkle’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ and The Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, but listen to how much more successfully integrated the drums and bass and piano and even modest string section are in Hardin’s two significant albums, circa 1966. So thanks for that contribution, Tim. It may seem modest, but I sure give you your share of the credit. But of course, that’s not why we remember him. It’s the songs.

Each song is a paragon of honesty and restraint. Beautiful and precious, but without a millitrace of the maudlin. I guess it was hard to be so honest.

Our song, ‘Black Sheep Boy’, is only two brief verses long. It starts like this:

Here I am back home again, I’m here to rest.
All they ask is where I’ve been, knowing I’ve been West.

Well, son, go knock ’em dead, and come back when the time is right. No questions asked.

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