August 20, 2012 § 8 Comments
How was I going to live without the singer who saved me? Having truly taken the last train from Tom Jonesville into Realityworld was like going into foreign territory. It might as well been Mars. Cold turkey – letting go of The Voice, the voice of the singer who saved me from self-destruction and slowly led me to maturity was not easy. Tom Jones is essential to my story, and I had to use everything in my power to help myself let go: prayer, positive thinking, psychology, distraction, distance, and even exploring other music, from the Doobie Brothers, to Steely Dan, Stevie Nicks, Nicolette Sheridan, Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson.
As I said goodbye to Tom in 1979 and hello to a new decade – the 80s with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads – the men who were available to me were still not so desirable. Why couldn’t I like the guys who liked me? Why couldn’t I go for the church guy who was “a catch and looking for someone to marry,” according to Mommio. Or the co-worker who already owned his own home, (a plus in Daddio’s eyes), and kept asking for a date despite being turned down?
Life continued on without Tom. I took a trip to France and was a standout due to the naturally genetically smaller stature of the French. One street performer was so impressed with my height that he ran over and said something like, “Je vous mange du feu.” (loose translation: I eat the fire for you) and plunged a stick with a ball of fire down his throat! I sat with Roudin’s “The Thinker” and pondered if true love would ever find me.
Shortly after returning from France, I attended a friend’s wedding with the knowledge that her mother told my mother that she was going to sit me at a table with a “really tall” guy friend. First, involving the mothers is generally not a good idea. Second, it was a speed-dating version of a blind date, except speed dating hadn’t been invented yet. Since the bride had never mentioned this uber-tall gentleman, I questioned the validity of a love connection, but would be polite for the sake of our friendship.
When Mommio, Daddio, and I arrived at the wedding, a tall, dark, and handsome man took my mother’s arm in his and ushered us to our seats. The voice inside my head was screaming, “Lord, have mercy! Is this the man I’m supposed to meet?” Mommio was almost in a trance and tried to ever so indelicately nudge my sides with her elbow and give me The Look, as in, “He is so tall, dark, and handsome.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down ladies! Mommio and I had to shake it off, refocus, and delight in the bride and groom.
After the lovely wedding we drove to a country club for the wedding reception. As I excitedly found my way to the assigned luncheon table, I saw the man the bride set me up with at her wedding. He was tall. Maybe 6-foot-six. But hold on Bridezilla! This is not the tall, dark, and handsome stranger who ushered us into the church. And long before the cake was cut it was very clear that the very tall man at my table was more in love with himself than I could ever be.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was at the bridal table, and not intended for me. And Joe Schmoe was at my table fully infatuated with himself. The bride’s matchmaking was a colossal failure, and I went home feeling dejected. Okay, so maybe I went home and played Tom Jones’ “Without Love” (song by Clyde McPhatter) and felt a little lovesick. It was just a glimpse, but there was something. There was something.
When I told my spiritual mentor at the time about my wedding blind-lunch date who turned out to not be Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome, she flippantly said, “You should call that young man and ask him to a concert. My boys love it when girls invite them to something special.” Interestingly enough, I had purchased two tickets to a George Benson concert that I was going to go to with Rose.
Would Rosie be willing to give up her ticket so I could invite the tall, dark, and handsome stranger to the concert? Did Rosie think I was crazy? Probably. But, of course, being the incredible friend she was, she did the typical girlfriend self-sacrificing give-up-whatever-for-the-guy thing and gave up her ticket for Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome. (“Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.” Jean de La Fontaine) She helped me pick the perfect outfit, get ready for the date, and it altered the course of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had chased my Tom Jones hopes, dreams, and goals, but those were during non-thriving circumstances. I had been an achingly sensitive, bullied, withdrawn young girl living in Tomjonesville. How does a more outgoing and mature young woman in Realityworld invite a total stranger to a concert? I used my “Tom Jones skills” and reverted back to what I did when I was younger and called Mr. G. in order to see Mr. Jones. I wrote down what I wanted to say as if it were a script. That way my anxiously quivering voice might not be so noticeably awkward. I had a plan and a script, and all I needed was the man’s name and a telephone number. Good grief, I didn’t even know his name.
Since the bride was on a long honeymoon, I tested the waters, so to speak, with her mother. Fortunately, the mother of the bride knew his name; unfortunately she didn’t have a telephone number. I had to wait several agonizing weeks before I could call the bride and ask for Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome’s digits. We had commiserated over life, love, and men many times, so she was more than delighted to give me the 411.
I recently uncovered a very old memory box during Garage Hog’s Day 2012 (The nine torturous days it took to clean out our garage from top to bottom, and in which every day seemed like we were living the same day over and over and over again, until one day the work, the purge, and the donating were done and we were completely renewed.) In the memory box I found the hand-written script I used to invite Mr. Tall-Dark-And Handsome to the concert. He later told me that he said “Yes” long before I gave him a variety of “outs” in case he didn’t want to go out with a total stranger. He said I sounded somewhat nervous and that I “just kept talking” (i.e., read the whole script without a pause or a breath).
A funny thing happened on the way to finding another naughty boy… I found a nice one. Part and parcel of low self-esteem is a belief in not feeling worthy of being valued, but once you begin to value yourself, it shifts how others perceive you. As I look back, I can’t help but think that a common denominator in the men I was attracted to might have been that they thought they could turn the innocence of one who was absolute in her determination to stay that way. It was always a dance we played, the innocent and the naughty – three steps forward, two steps back, one-two cha-cha-cha. And we never really got anywhere.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was nice, kind, thoughtful, funny, intelligent, and treated me with respect. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me.” (“Respect” lyrics by Otis Redding) Oh, Aretha, you know of what you sing! And I was finally ready. I had worked through the ugly and bad parts of my life, had developed and matured slowly, and was finally ready for the good. Key word here is work. Whether we like it or not, we all have to work on something. There are a myriad of paths and tools to help us on our journey in life. We have to reach out and try them and identify what works for us as individuals.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was such a gentleman that he called to suggest we go on a date several weeks prior to the concert, “Just to get to know each other.” He showed up driving a black and gold GM Firebird with the popular T-tops of the 80s, and we have been together ever since. For years we’ve laughed about what might have happened if he drove up in the pea-green Ventura he originally came out to California in instead of that sexy black beauty. I still like to tease him and say our story might not have turned out the same way, but truth be known, I would have fallen madly in love if he had hitchhiked all the way from the Midwest to LA.
Snow White and Long Tall Sally gave way to Toots, Popsicle Toes, and Bebe. And now, several decades of anniversary years later, Bebe is the nickname that stuck (a silly reference from a funny Greek mythology movie which, I think, starred a very young Harry Hamlin). Love, real, genuine love was in the air and it encompassed more than the sun, the moon and the stars. It was grounded on earth and was felt through the core of my being. There were fireworks beyond what I could imagine. “I had a vision, it was real to me/ Like a new song and my heart sings/ Just like the striking of a lightning ball/ I feel the power of a miracle/ I can see the fireworks/ I can see the fireworks/ I can see the fireworks.” (Lyrics by R. Kelly)
I found that I became more my real self. My experience of genuine love is that it made me a better person. His hopes, dreams, and goals became as important as my own; sometimes they superseded mine. My hopes, dreams, and goals became as important as his; sometimes they superseded his. Together we discovered our life’s rhythm.
This is not to say that life has always been perfect, as a young couple in love or now as an older married couple. Oh, no. Life is not perfect. With or without love, life is fraught with challenges. But love can make the burdens lighter. Love can comfort us when we feel lost or inconsolable. Love can help repair damaged parts that seemed irreparable. Love can help us laugh when we’ve lost our sense of humor. And love can make the heart sing, sing, sing even when we don’t have the “gift of the golden voice” of the singer who saved me (“Tower of Song” lyrics by Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones’ CD, Spirit in the Room, released in Great Britain).
My husband introduced me to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Leo Kotke, and Leon Redbone, Lyle Lovett, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer, Michael Franks, Santana, and other artists. Together we explored classical music. However, I was truly not prepared when my two worlds, Tomjonesville and Realityworld, collided one summer night as I found myself at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, watching my new husband watching Tom Jones perform, and watching my new husband watching me watch the singer who saved me.
How the heck did this happen? I remember being a newlywed, feeling madly, crazy, ga-ga-in-love with my husband. And one night, shortly after our honeymoon, he came home from work, proudly smiled, handed me two tickets and beamed while saying, “I got us tickets to see Tom Jones.” WHAT? I was shocked.
In retrospect, I see it as a loving gesture. However, at the time it just seemed… awkward. True Love is taking me to see my unique version of First Love? I thanked my new husband and told him how wonderful and generous he was, and basically held my breath until the whole thing was over. Whew… The memory of the concert is the only Tom Jones concert that is a bit of a blur. I remember where we sat and the intensity of emotions I felt for my husband – true love. And seeing Tom for the first time in concert in more than a few years, (remember, I had to go cold turkey), was like seeing a familiar old boyfriend – except he wasn’t. Tom Jones was the singer who saved me.
I really wanted my husband to have an appreciation for the vocal talent of The Voice, but it was years down the line before he had an appreciation for the power of a transitional object and how I survived my youth through my personal brand of Singersavedme Therapy. As I have shared my story and my more enlightened understanding of my trip to Tomjonesville with my husband, friends, and colleagues, they have encouraged me to share my long, circuitous coming of age story from an anxious, insecure teen to a mature young woman and how the singer factored into this transformation.
I discovered, later in life, that I have an ability to sit with others and hear their life stories. My own struggles have enabled me to be present for those who need a listening ear and a receptive heart; someone who is fearless in the presence of their sad, difficult, often traumatic stories. Ironically, I have worked with bullies and victims of bullies; those who lack self-esteem and those who have an over-riding excess of confidence; those who struggle because reality is too difficult; and those who struggle just trying to find reality.
What we all have in common is our humanity and how we survive the challenges that arise from the human condition. How we deal with the human spirit is what tests and proves our mettle. As a teenager I dreamed that singer Tom Jones would fall madly in love with me and save me from the bullies of the world and subsequently, myself. His accessibility fueled the fire that motivated me to do both mundane and exciting things I didn’t believe or imagine I had the courage to do. What happened along the way was that I slowly matured into a young woman who found self-confidence, peace of mind, love, and joy. Would I have found peace, love, and joy without singer Tom Jones? I will never know, because he is and always will be… the singer who saved me.
“I was listening to everybody, everybody/Sayin’ be like everybody else/Oh, you’ll see/I gotta be me/And there ain’t nobody just like this/I got to be me/Oh baby, hit or miss…You’ve got to believe/Baby hit or miss/You’ve got to believe, in yourself/Don’t listen/Nobody else/You’ve got to believe, in yourself/You’ve got to believe/You’ve got to believe/ You’ve got to believe in yourself…”
“Hit or Miss” (Lyrics by Odetta, sung by Tom Jones in Spirit in the Room)
Post Script: Thank you to my precious family, without whose support I would not have written my story. And an extra thank you to my husband for his technological expertise, without which this memoir blog would not exist.
Any and all photographs and images which are reproduced must be credited with Singer Saved Me. Thank you to the many TJ fans whose photographs made the blog so, so seventies in Tomjonesville!
March 26, 2012 § 4 Comments
As time went on and the more I got out into the world, the more I wanted to be loved by a man. A real man. A man I could see every day. A man with whom I could develop a genuine, reciprocal relationship. The desire was there, but it wasn’t so easy to let go of youthful dreams. I was torn between wanting more Tom Jones and wanting more of a real life. So I kept one foot in Tomjonesville and one foot in the real world. Backstage calls were juxtaposed against guys who just liked to hang out.
I had begun to bring appropriately aged, single men into my life, but I have to admit, it was always awkward when a young man unexpectedly found himself at my place and I hadn’t eradicated the one or two framed photographs of me and Mr. Jones from the premises. ” Are you kidding me?” was not an uncommon comment. Tom Jones always proved to be a mood buster, a date buzz kill. And, if I was drawn to the singer, was it intuitively obvious that I would be attracted to the tall, dark, and bad? Too many a girls with low self esteem have “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Bad boys, bad boys” running through their lives like the theme song from Cops. Was I going to be one of those girls? (“Bad Boys” song by James Alex, Larry Summerville, Jr., Melvin Watson, Lauren Evens, and Mike Busbee & Ian Lewis.)
Despite the fact that being at the Bel Air Hotel was the first true reality check that smacked me in the face and verified my slow but sure developing maturity, I wasn’t quite ready to give up the pursuit of the dreams and goals that led me, step-by-step, to singer Tom Jones. While I was able to get out of my agoraphobic comfort zone of my parents home, live on my own, work, and grow emotionally in many ways, part of my comfort zone became Tomjonesville. Part reality and part fantasyland strangely became my next safe place.
Despite the fact that I met and was around many different and interesting people – Mr. G., whom I will never forget as the first gatekeeper to Tomjonesville, God bless him, as he is no longer with us, Tom’s son, Mark Woodward, bodyguard Dave Perry, Big Jim Sullivan and other musicians, a disc jockey from KVCR, and a multitude of fun, serious, and generous Tom Jones fans, a groupie or two, as well as Engelbert Humperdink fans, and Elvis fans – this wild and funky world became my little microcosm, and I was hesitant to leave it. I mean, really, who wants to walk away from a handsome, sexy, superlative-voiced superstar?
I had given up the idea of me and Mr. Jones falling madly in love with each other, but the possibilities that lurked after these meetings still made me dance toward, and back away, toward and away, toward and away. My time in Tomjonesville felt like a long version of Baby’s time at the Catskills in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” It was my very own coming of age story, in which I went from being an awkward, giggly teenage girl to a fully developed, grown-up woman. Pardon the expression, but “I had the time of my life,” and the problem was, I couldn’t leave the Catskills – I mean, Tomjonesville.
So, I checked with my partner-in-TJ-crime, Rose, and we decided we would go to Vegas together. Vegas, baby!!! Rosie had never seen Jones perform in such an intimate setting, and I was excited to share the experience with her. However, Rosie had no clue what my real plan was. In fact, she will be reading it here for the first time. This was going to be the Final Hurrah: Rose and I would go to Caesar’s Palace, and while there, I would avail myself of all of the opportunities that were available to me the last two times I was in Vegas, sans Elvis, because everybody knows, (now I can’t use the phrase ‘everybody knows’ without hearing “Atlanta Housewife” Phaedra Park’s voice), when Elvis is in town there is no other game in town. And instead of running like the Arctic wind across the Nevada desert, my final goal was to become that long, tall drink of water to quench the thirst of the singer. I vowed to myself that I would not run like a six-foot-two Chicken Little. This Vegas trip was going to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G because I had matured, and reconsidered what I wanted.
Then the first domino fell. Rosie canceled because she couldn’t afford our trip, even though she was working two jobs. But it was cool. It was okay. I could go to Vegas by myself. In fact, it would be better to go alone. I knew what I wanted and how to make it happen. Oddly, I no longer heard Snow White’s voice singing, “Some day my prince will come.” I no longer heard the little birdies that used to chirp in my head, gently driving me forward to my goal.
In fact, as the date got closer, I began to have a few panic moments. Uh oh. I thought I had all of those panic feelings in check. Then I heard from an older TJ fan, who was very close to a card-carrying TJ groupie. In all her wisdom, she set the second domino in motion, by writing, “Don’t go to Vegas. You’re too young and have too much going for you to get caught up in that kind of thing.” She actually had the nerve to tell me, “Get on with your life.” It was like a bucket of ice-cold water in my face. It was completely sobering.
Then the third domino fell. I knew she was right. And the rows of dominos in the Last Hurrah fell like the sound of a hammer in my sensitive young heart – bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! I realize the only reason my mother didn’t freak out when I told her I was going to Vegas by myself was the fact that that she knew me so well that she trusted I would not go. Mommio was insightful. She just patiently waited it out, knowing that any real connection to the real man in Tomjonesville fought with my true self, my values system, and my ultimate goal of finding true love and creating a family.
There I was in my twenties, belatedly facing the death of my teenage fantasies, so I did what any teenage girl might do. I got out all of my Tom Jones paraphernalia and revisited the goodies one last time. I lovingly looked through all of the photographs, newspaper clippings, programs and hotel menus I had collected over the years. I held his tie, which for at least a year smelled like Tom, and listened to Jones’ LPs on my 1970’s stereo as I went through years of memorabilia. It felt like a break-up. Or a wake, because I distinctly remember some tears intermingled with Stoffer’s mac and cheese and chocolate ice cream during this mourning phase.
Jones plaintiff version of the song, “Tired of Being Alone,” (song by Al Green) danced in my head like the black swan. It was my party and I cried because I wanted to. So I cried. And cried. I put all of my Tom Jones things in a big brown packing box and ceremoniously carried it to a corner in the garage. I was going to have to learn to live TJ-free.
And then I got a call saying, “You have to go to Knottsberry Farm. Tom is taping a special there for a couple nights.” Maybe it wasn’t over… with the singer who saved me.
November 26, 2011 § 3 Comments
It was the mid-70s, and my best friend, Rose, and I were heading west on Sunset Boulevard into Tom Jonesville – for real. Ah, youth! I blush when I write about some of the wild and crazy things I did in my efforts to see if I could get Tom Jones to fall in love with me so that I could feel like a beautiful, lovable, valuable person. Yes, in my restless and youthful yearnings to find acceptance in my early 20s, my friend Rose and I were literally chasing Tom Jones’ limousine.
As mentioned in The Tom Jones Limo Chase – Part I, it truly was a different time and place. LA was much less crowded and easier to zip around in a car in the 70s. Rosie was driving our little orange Porsche like Johnny Rutherford at the Indianapolis 500, and I was helping to navigate our way through the tailwind of the big, black limousine that carried singer Tom Jones. Vroom… vroom… vroom.
We followed at a decent distance, by LA standards, into “home territory” for the singer. It was well known that Bel Air, a beautiful, non-gated community of luxurious mansions, was Jones legal residence. The taxes in the good old USA are far more livable than those of Jolly Olde England, which is why many British gazillionaires choose to make their homes here. In today’s day and age, it would be unthinkable that anyone of Tom Jones’ stature would ever live in a non-gated community at the prime of their career, yet it indicates just how easygoing and more “normal” life was in LA in the 70s. It wasn’t necessary for these superstars to hide behind golden gates; there were no big TV shows and magazines making money off of photos or videos of celebrities like there are today. The Welsh singer lived in a beautiful English Tudor home surrounded by an acre of lush greenery at a fork in the road. (Pop culture note: The home was formerly owned by Dean Martin, and then purchased from Jones by Nicholas Cage, who seems to have lost it when he fell into hard times in recent years.)
As Rose and I followed the behemoth limo, winding our way along Stone Canyon Road, it was clear that we were heading toward the Hotel Bel Air. It is a beautiful drive during the day, but rather dark at night. Rosie had her eye on the road and I had my eye on the target all the way to the driveway of Hotel Bel Air. The limo completely disappeared, but we stopped at the valet, as if we had actually planned our evening in advance and hadn’t followed Jones all the way from the Greek Theatre. I think Rosie grabbed my arm, and sort of half laughed and half whispered, “I can’t believe we’re here,” and in my effort to maintain a false pretense of cool and not reveal my nervousness and shaking body, I was speechless, nodded, and simply started walking with her toward the elegant hotel. (The Hotel Bel Air, which is set on 12 acres of gorgeous gardens, complete with a swan-filled lake, has been closed and under major renovation for the past two years, and much to the excitement of locals and travelers alike, reopened this past October.)
We surmised the most likely place Jones might show up would be the hotel bar, so we wandered into the masculine location as if we knew what we were doing, settling into a small table at the far side of the entrance. It wasn’t a packed house, as it was late and also a weeknight. The atmosphere was cozy, with a fire burning in the fireplace, even though it was summer. There we sat, sipping our Perriers with limes. Rosie and I, although of age, didn’t drink, but we gave it our all to look as though we were sophisticated, independent, young women who felt at home in bars without dates.
We made small talk and whispered about “He-Who-Is-Not-Here,” wondering if maybe he went elsewhere in the hotel. Rose and I had many ideas where he might be and discussed that, worst-case scenario, we spent a few dollars on unnecessary nonalcoholic drinks. Then, out of the corners of our eyes, we saw him. Honestly, I think my brain heard the first few bars of his TV show’s musical intro with the words of the television announcer saying, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is… Tom Jones,” and “He-Who-Was-There” walked in cocooned by a predominantly male entourage. They slowly sauntered in and settled down to a large table in the center of bar, as if they were no strangers to this calm, easy venue.
The Jones’ table was right next to our table. It is remarkable how much you can observe with peripheral vision. Along with Tom was his son, Mark Woodward, bodyguard Dave Perry, Mr. G., several other key employees, and another person I didn’t know. It was a jovial, upbeat crew, but I could only peripherally hone in on… the singer who saved me. He sat there quietly, rarely speaking, smoking a cigar – this preceded the current, very strict no-smoking laws in California. It was interesting to notice the entertainer sitting quietly, being entertained by all of the others at his table. All my hyper-focused, “Save me Tom Jones!” twenty-something, not fully developed brain could think of was that if I could somehow put out a completely irresistible vibe, “He-Who-Is-Here” might, maybe, could possibly, be suddenly, undeniably, “electrifiably” attracted to me, and with merely a look, fall madly in love with me. My prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that monitors emotions and judgment was, as Regis might say, out of control. Let’s just say scientists believe that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, and that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
So, I put out my most alluring early-20s vibe. Long legs crossed, back up straight, lean forward toward table, long blond hair half in front of shoulders and half down the back; slight smile when speaking and when not speaking, head down ever so slightly, eyes demurely looking down listening attentively to my table mate, Rosie, and never, ever looking directly at Jones or anyone at his table. There will be absolutely no ogling over or looking at or making any effort to talk to the singer who saved me. And do all of this seemingly naturally and effortlessly. Simply being in his presence and sending out the flirtation vibe was my delayed development fantasy of how I might be able to achieve my goal of getting him to fall in love with me, which, in my hypersensitive world of rejection and still an occasional bout of self-loathing, would validate me as lovable. Even though I don’t think I was very good at flirting, I kept hoping that there would be some kind of irresistible, magnetic force that would inexplicably impel Mr. Jones to believe that he cannot live without Snow White, er – scratch that image – Long Tall Sally. Remember, Tom’s nickname of Snow White was predicated on the fact that, standing up, I made him “feel like a dwarf,” and as cute as the word “dwarf” sounds with a Welsh accent, Prince Charming kind of ruined it for me.
While what I always heard from Tom Jones was “Baby, here I am/ I’m a man that’s on the scene/I can give you what you want/ But you got to go home with me (“Hard to Handle” lyrics by Alvertis Isbell, Allen Jones & Otis Redding), the time was tick, tick, tick-tocking away into the wee, small hours. And the raw sexuality of “Hard to Handle” was giving way to Diana Ross’ candid “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and my heart was whispering, “I need love, love, love/ To ease my mind/ I need to find, find someone to call mine/ But mama said/ You can’t hurry love/ No, you just have to wait/ You’ve got to trust, give it time/ No matter how long it takes” (lyrics by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Edward Holland Jr.). Just wait?
Many years later, in his autobiographical song, “The Road,” Jones sings “I have wandered a million miles…/Felt weakness when I was strong/Held sweetness when it was wrong.” Well, there was certainly sweetness here, there, and everywhere throughout the bar; there was sweetness at Jones’ table; sweetness at my table, but maybe my sweetness was more like a sweet mess, because I was carrying on a conversation in my head, begging Tom to “Pick me! Pick me!” And that internal conversation far pre-dated Meredith’s “Pick me!” to McDreamy on “Gray’s Anatomy,” and Lorelai’s “Pick me!” to Luke on “Gilmore Girls.” While I was trying to carry on a superficial conversation with Rosie about her work, my work, the weather, and weekend activities, I was simultaneously carrying on a conversation in my head, which made me begin to realize the depths of my fanatical, yet saving attachment to the singer.
In the handsome bar of the Bel Air hotel, with the handsome singer just a few feet away from me, I sensed the first bit of truth in the situation before the Situation was even a twinkle in his mother’s eyes. “KA-CHINK, KA-CHINK, CLUNK, Clunk, clunk…ping!” That was the sound of the brakes in my brain at the bar of the Bel Air. There was Tom Jones, the man; the married man with the son nearly my age; the man with women falling all over him, from the famous and the infamous, to fans, and groupies. And there was, well, just me, inside of six-foot-two inches.
While Rosie was there enjoying herself and just having fun, I was for a while, in Tom Jonesville fantasyland in which, within a little over an hour, turned into a full blown emotional reality-check that only I knew about. What was I pursuing in secret? I remember feeling a tremendous high at the Bel Air, and then feeling foolish, with an internalized embarrassment that made me feel sick to my stomach. I recognize this as the first noticeable chink in my Tom Jones armor. The Tom Jones armor that somehow, someway protected me throughout my teens and early 20s. The goal of working to become a woman that Tom Jones would be attracted to, instead of the sensitive, anxious and, sometimes tormented young girl that seemed to identify me, actually worked to help move me forward in my life. But it was, for the first time ever, beginning to come under question. If I couldn’t make TJ love happen here, in a fairly normal milieu with no stage in sight, where on earth could I make it happen? And did I really want it to happen? Or did I just want to be loved?
This attachment to the singer, which gave me the courage to transcend my lonely, little life with this extremely tall, skinny, noticeable body that everyone – including the superstar – commented on, always seemed to work. From the first time I met Jones, I had one foot in the fan door, and one foot in the groupie door. When I wanted to be more than a fan I would become determined, but whenever I began to lean forward toward the groupie door, I became fearful and ran like the wind, or the door slammed in my face like at the Bel Air. I have been searching for a quote from Tom that I read in a British publication, but haven’t been able to find since I first read the article. Paraphrasing what Tom said, it goes something like this: Lots of women have fantasies about me, and if I really pursued [the women], it would be too much, and they would run away. Wise man, Sir Tom.
I look back and see how my story worked out as the ultimate protection for a sensitive, anxious, immature young woman who was looking for some kind of positive identity through another person’s strong, magnetic personality. When Rosie and I left the Hotel Bel Air, we left Tom and crew still winding down and enjoying the early morning hours. Rosie laughed and said, “When we’re old ladies sitting in our rocking chairs, we are going to look back at this with fun and fond memories.” What we didn’t realize was that what we considered old ladies in our twenties honestly doesn’t seem that old nearly 40 years later.
Rosie and I are not yet rockin’ rocking chairs. In fact, both of us have forged forward and changed our professions later in life. Our memories are most definitely fun and fond, and I can still picture us in that little orange Porsche racing after that big, black limo. One thing I know for sure, however, is that if I had actually understood the psychological process I was going through and the real purpose for Tom Jones in my life, I would not have felt so driven to chase… the singer who saved me.
September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
First, let me say that if I were young girl today, I would not chase a pop star in a limo, nor recommend it to anyone. I am talking about a different time and place, the mid-70s in the 20th century, when there was nothing really like the massive numbers of paparazzi or citizens stalking celebrities like there are today. Infamous photographer Ron Galella was just beginning what we now know was his relentless pursuit of Jackie O. There were not dozens of photographers lurking around bushes and chasing after celebrities such as Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian. TMZ didn’t exist and Harvey Levin was just an unknown student prepping for the bar exam with the dream of being a lawyer.
It also wouldn’t be wise to chase a limo today because of the pure and simple logistics of traffic in Los Angeles. I used to love LA as much as Randy Newman, but honestly, the traffic is so bad now that recently, we figured it would take a half hour to get to Trader Joe’s from Brentwood, and a half hour to return; that’s one whole hour of drive-time just to get some fresh fruits and veggies. I also wouldn’t recommend chasing anyone in a limo in this day and age, because it is a different time and place in the world. It feels more dangerous than “the good old days.”
When I was in my early twenties, however, when it came to Tom Jones, I always heard the good angel on my right shoulder saying, “No, no, no”; but the little devil on my other shoulder was singing, “Wild thing/ You make my heart sing/ You make everything groovy/ Wild thing.” (“Wild Thing” lyrics by Chip Taylor. Pop culture note: Chip Taylor is the stage name for James Wesley Voight, brother of actor Jon Voight and uncle of Angelina Jolie.)
As I matured through the university I discovered I was more intelligent than I thought. It had never occurred to me that I could actually survive a difficult course load that required considerable critical thinking and writing skills. Success in college helped with a modicum of confidence, and eventually, after I graduated I got my first real job as a part-time proofreader; that led to becoming an editor in an educational publishing company. It was a good job for someone like me. I could hide behind a desk and the written word, rarely having to interact with the large number of employees. I often felt like I was “pretending” to be an adult, because I was constantly struggling with my personal issues. Trying to resolve them through my limited knowledge, using prayer on one hand, and beginning to utilize biographies and self-help books and on the other.
It became time to take flight, so-to-speak, and one of the most difficult parts in leaving home was negotiating with my mother regarding Duchess, our sweet silver-tipped Persian cat. Duchess had been my best friend for nearly a decade and I didn’t know if I had the courage to actually move out and live on my own without her. Duchess and I had slept together every night since she was twelve-weeks-old; she was my buddy and confidante; she had been with me through the tears, the fears, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and was the keeper of every secret I had. She knew all about my Tom Jones mantras, and I was grateful when Mommio was willing to let go of Duchess in order to get rid of me. I say that with tongue-in-cheek, although being an anxiety-prone, agoraphobic late-bloomer, I was long overdue in leaving the safety of the nest.
My secret Tom Jones mantras enabled me to push through my failure to launch, as I told myself, “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to leave home,” and “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to become independent,” and “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to grow up and face my fears.” Yikes. The motivation for my maturity was linked to this entertainer whose voice, the Voice, comforted me, energized me, made me feel strong, made me feel womanly, and enabled me feel whatever I needed to feel. I was slowly beginning to develop a sense of self through my own, private, singer-saved-me therapy. I was even beginning to walk with a beat in my step.
When I finally flew the coop of my parent’s home, I moved to the same street as my mother’s best friend, and began to get close to her daughter, Rose, who was living with her for a while. Rose and I had known and skirted around each other’s families for years, but now, as adults, we were beginning to click. To be truthful, I think some of her family and all of my family thought she was, for lack of a better word, a “mercy” friend; a person who is loving and caring to the extreme of befriending a poor soul like me at that point in my life. (Remember, most people knew me as that tall, skinny girl who hid at home.)
Rose and I clicked on many levels – humor, common interests such as love of the entertainment world, love of pop/rock music, love of home, issues of the spirit, politics, etc. We shared thoughts and feelings, saw the best in each other, talked about our own foibles and failings, supported each other through the good times, and loved each other through the most difficult times. Rose had a free spirit and independence that I so admired and desired. She had studied acting, traveled the world, lived and worked in foreign countries, and taken the helm on a large sailing yacht in the Caribbean. She liked to go sailing with my dad and me, and most importantly, Rose liked Tom Jones.
Mommio no longer attended TJ shows due to chronic ill health, so Rose was the perfect addition to Tom Jonesville. On one occasion, when Tom was back at the Greek Theatre, and I had already seen him on and off stage, Rose and I were driving out of the parking lot after a show. Out of the blue, a limousine pulled out of the parking lot near the theatre where we were parked. We were pretty sure it was Jones. Who else would it be? We looked at each other, looked at the dark limo, looked at each other again, and simply followed it out of the driveway. We didn’t plan it. It presented itself to us and it was just too tempting. Too tempting!
Like the Pied Piper calling to us, the limo wound its way out of the Griffith Park area as we followed Jones in our little stick shift Porsche 912. We were travelling at an even pace and there really was no chase at this point. We just assumed we’d be going on the freeway when we left, because that was the way we came. Because I always panicked when it came to driving freeways, Rose was the designated driver and I became the lookout during the chase. I would carefully watch the limo and double-check the safety of our movement, saying things like, “Okay, Rose, hang back, not too close,” and “They’re turning right on Los Feliz. Put on your right-turn signal, and we are good to go.”
The further away from the Greek Theatre we got, the more the traffic opened up and the speed picked up. Oh yeah, baby, the speed picked up. We sped up North Western Avenue with our little Porsche easily able to keep up with the behemoth limo like the flippin’ tail of the whale. We surmised that we were heading into the heart of the “action.” Were we headed to a private club (private disco/dance clubs were very popular during the 70s, with Rose being a card-carrying club member in an LA dance club), or a restaurant like La Scala, a favorite of Tom’s, in Beverly Hills? Or, perhaps we were headed to his home in Bel Air, or the nearby Hotel Bel Air, a frequent hangout of Jones and many other celebrities (and a favorite place for my own family celebrations throughout the years).
At this point, the driver had to know we were following them. Are they used to this? It was such an impulsive act and we were so intent on being safe during the Tom Jones limo chase that we hadn’t even discussed what we would do once we got to a location. And then it happened. As soon as I saw the sign, “Sunset Boulevard,” I knew. “Rosie,” I shouted, “We’re goin’ to Bel Air! We are going to Bel Air!”
Our powerful engine revved up and down, depending on the speed at which we followed the smooth, long, ride that carried the superstar. We continued to flirt with the leviathan limo with blackened windows that could have swallowed up our little, orange Porsche like krill. We didn’t know exactly where in Bel Air we were going yet, and we certainly didn’t know what we would do when we got there, but we were impetuously and inappropriately chasing… the singer who saved me.
August 15, 2011 § 7 Comments
Years ago, the media fueled a fierce rivalry between Tom Jones and Elvis, but anyone who knows much about one or the other knows they were part of a “Mutual Admiration Society.” Only in more recent years has Jones become more public about their friendship. A great place to read up about their relationship and see fun photos and videos is through a popular Elvis fan site (www.elvis.com.au; search “Tom Jones”).
My mother, oldest sister, and myself found ourselves driving in one of the worst rainstorms southern California had seen in 1972, all for the sole purpose of seeing Elvis in concert at the Long Beach Arena. As we left for the concert, it felt like we might float away because the rain was so deep you could no longer see the curbs on the sidewalks. No rain, wind, thunder, or lightening was going to stop us from seeing the “King,” and as we arrived in Long Beach, the clouds began to open up and we could see a twinkle of stars way into the heavens.
It was a thrill to actually be part of an Elvis concert. ELVIS, for heaven’s sake! The crowd was excited and energized to be there, even if a little wet and bedraggled from the stormy weather. It was amazing to see someone so influential to multiple generations. Elvis was gifted with looks, talent, and a beautiful voice, but it was only five years later that his life came to a sudden and early end. We were so grateful we were able to see and hear Elvis live in concert, as there will always be only one King, and I can only imagine the legions of people who feel that Elvis’ music “saved” them.
However, “Don’t go to Vegas to see Tom Jones when Elvis is in town,” was my sweeping generalization back in 1973, when I was hoping to score some backstage time with Mr. Jones. I had gone to Caesar’s Palace with my other sister for a weekend of fun, sun, and my necessary TJ-connection. Everything worked out beautifully for the room, pool-time, and being up front and center at Tom’s shows, which were – it’s not unusual – packed to the gills and fantastic. I was hoping to see him backstage, but for the first and only time ever, my plans did not work out.
What? Was I too vague? Did I beat around the bush too much? I didn’t go directly to my buddy, Mr. G. Was that my big boo-boo? I thought I’d skip the midnight show and go to my hotel room and primp and prime, get myself all dolled up, and wait for the call to hear the words, “Come on down,” a la Bob Barker. I lay on top of the hotel bed in my beautiful dress with my false eye-lashes a-flutter, and while my sister retired in her jammies and got lost in her paperback romance novel, I thought about the dinner show from which I had just returned.
The man whose voice kept me going during the bad times, and now, as I was maturing, some good times, had been singing his heart out just a few feet in front of me. The mere sound of his voice lifted my heart and carried my emotions to whatever sentiment was intended by the lyrics and the vocalist. Was that part of the attraction? His voice always allowed me to feel the gamut of emotions that welled-up inside of me. Feelings, feelings, feelings… And each song I’ve heard, whether on a TV show, a radio, a record album (believe it or not, that’s how we older folks used to listen to our music in the old days), a Vegas show, or concert, carries a memory attached to it. A time and a place where I heard that song and it fulfilled some type of emotional feeling or need.
Maybe that need was simply to hear a fun song, like “She’s a Lady” and dream of being that lady. Maybe it was about putting into words the depths of feelings of someone who doesn’t feel worthy, and understanding those feelings as heard in “I, Who Have Nothing.” Or the poignant feelings derived from the story told in the song, “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Elvis Presley understood those feelings that you get when listening to a singer who moves you, and “told Tom a touching story: When your record ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ was issued here, the boys and I were on the road driving in our mobile home. Man, that record meant so much to us boys from Memphis we just sat there and cried.
“Then we called the radio station and asked them to play it again – they did, four times! We just sat there and sobbed our hearts out.” (New Musical Express, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones: Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, April 6, 1968).
Feelings, feelings, feelings – the singers save us through their expression of feelings in the artistry of the music, the lyrics, and the sound of their voices. At a live, intimate setting such as Vegas, I would get to enjoy the combination of all three, heightened by the close proximity to the performer. I would also get to participate in some on-stage banter and that was, in my youthful immaturity, all of the acknowledgement I needed to feel a connection, whether it was real or not.
There I was, just lying there on Caesar’s bed, waiting for the phone to ring so I could dance the light fantastic down to Tom Jonesville. “Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising/ Higher higher/It’s burning through to my soul.” (“Burning Love” written by Dennis Linde, sung by Elvis) Lord have mercy, I was getting feverish, as the clock tick-tocked on and on and on, one hour turning into another hour. I wondered why my call wasn’t beckoning me backstage, beckoning me to Tom, beckoning me to what I later learned was my object of transition, my object of transformation.
What I didn’t know, during those longsuffering moments of waiting for the call that never came, was that there was an Elvis sighting. It was way far, far down under the many little hotel rooms below mine, and all the way through the gaming casino, and into the Circus Maximus showroom where Tom Jones was performing. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… Elvis Presley was with… the singer who saved me.