Listen to this track from tragic-yet-gifted singer-songwriter Tim Hardin with his own version of a song oft-recorded by a proverbial galaxy of stars. It’s his “If I Were A Carpenter”, as taken from his most critically-acclaimed 1967 album, and his second, Tim Hardin 2. It is a straight-ahead love song, from a guy who struggled against his own self-destruction.
At the time, Hardin was on the precipice of starting a family as well as a career in music during a time when singer-songwriters like him were a hot commodity. He was perfectly positioned, given his ability to deliver the kind of folk-rock with bluesy undertones that was lyrical, romantic, and in line with the earlier Greenwich Village folk scene out of which many had emerged, including Bob Dylan.
But, Hardin had other forces pulling him down, including long-term drug addiction that was a mirror image to the pristine beauty of this song and that which inspired it; a love for home and family.
In a short period of time, Hardin would enjoy a certain level of success. He’d have hits from the get-go off of his first album, including the original version of “Reason To Believe”, and the ballad “Misty Roses”. “If I Were A Carpenter” would be recorded famously by Bobby Darin and taken into the charts as a top 10 hit in both North America and the UK. The song would become a popular one to cover, and many did, from contemporary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, to Burl Ives (!), to Robert Plant.
Rod Stewart would record Hardin’s “Reason To Believe”, a song very much associated with Stewart, and one he’d continue to perform for many years. Tim Hardin sang “If I Were A Carpenter” at Woodstock, perhaps a performance which isn’t as celebrated as Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner”, yet still very much an achievement recorded for posterity.
“If I Were A Carpenter” frames the warring forces in Hardin’s life, it seems to me. He’d met his wife the year before, with whom he would have a son, and to whom he would dedicate his 1969 album Suite for Susan Moore and Damion: We Are One, One, All in One. Yet, this song could be interpreted as a towering love song to that union in equal measure besides, and the hope that is expressed in this song about a bright future is intermingled with a certain sense of doom, or at very least of insecurity. His desire for a solid family with a future is certainly to be found in this song, and on the cover of the album, too, depicting Hardin framed in a window with his pregnant wife. Yet, as this song depicts, the knowledge of weakness, or of being flawed is the cause of much anxiety when being in love. And Hardin was certainly flawed.
Hardin was a tremendous talent haunted by a serious drug problem, specifically heroin which is believed to have started not during years of backstage debauchery, but in fact serving a stint in Vietnam with the military as a marine. His talent, love of performing, and the love for his wife and young son would soon give way to his habit, and the decline of his output.
Yet, this song, full of lyricism and poignancy, with its dance of hope and doubt laying at its core, would be his legacy. Of course, Hardin would also be associated with the idea that great talent does not equal great success with a mainstream audience, one of many tragedies lived out by one who seemed to yearn for the safety of a family and the freedom of artistic expression, yet was bound for darkness instead.