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 § 5 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.
July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
As I was walking – no, crawling – on my long maturing road, I moved from a junior college to a university and switched majors from Communications to English Literature. Why? I was afraid to drive the freeways. Embarrassing to admit back in the day, but it was true. Anxiety regarding driving the freeways actually changed my entire college path. I had transferred to a state college with a forty-minute drive on the freeway, but on the first day of school, I had a panic attack, and realized I couldn’t force myself to meet the challenge; when it came to fight or flight, I was a flight risk. So, with a lot more shame than embarrassment, I ended up transferring to a university with a mere fifteen-minute drive from home to classroom… on streets. At the time, it was just another seemingly paralyzing, shameful reason as to why I was stuck in a place of arrested development; and another reason why I felt so insecure and would find myself escaping into Tom Jonesville, a place I went to whenever I needed a boost or a release for my many emotions.
Most people thought my fear had to do with actually driving on the freeway, or a fear of getting lost, which I have to admit, not wanting to go outside a 5-mile radius beyond my home tended to confirm that theory. However, the biggest reason I didn’t drive the freeways had more to do with the fact that I got severe migraines, which were often triggered when driving. I would be cruising along and suddenly, the glint of sunlight off of a chrome bumper would temporarily alter my vision and I would see spots and lose part of my vision. Once the spots showed up I would inevitably have a “light show” in my eyes, followed by temporary, partial vision, and a severe, debilitating migraine headache. I would end up in bed and stay in a dark room for one or two days. The pain of these sick migraines was severe and debilitating and lasted for years.
Because we didn’t go to doctors, I didn’t know what that visual problem meant, and so, in my ignorance, I was afraid that I was losing my vision. My mother and I would pray, and pray, and pray over this lurking fear of blindness. I had so many lingering fears regarding my sight and the horrible pain and sickness of a migraine that it interfered with my ability to live my life freely for years. In my limited world, fear of losing my vision while driving also translated to fear of driving any distance by myself on freeways. What would happen if I had to pull over and wait for an hour on the side of the freeway to get my vision back? What would happen if I became sick on the side of the freeway? Good things don’t happen to girls alone on the side of a freeway. I would focus on every news show that featured a horrible story about a woman on a freeway. As usual, my inability to contain my fears always led to catastrophizing.
At this point, my father, who did see doctors, took me to his ophthalmologist. The surgeon was shocked to find out that I feared losing my vision, and was quickly able to identify the lights and loss of vision as a migraine “aura,” which can precede a migraine for up to 60 minutes and can include blind spots, fine lines that float across your field of vision, spots that move or shimmer, and flashes of light. I cannot describe the relief that came with the news that I wasn’t facing blindness. It was as if I had been living in the Dark Ages, and a man from the future came back to share his knowledge. (Side note: These migraines can still occasionally knock me off my feet, though in the late 80s I began to use medication to help with the pain and limitations they imposed on my life, and it made a huge improvement in the quality of my life.)
Speaking of my father, I have to honor how he always moved heaven and earth for me to see Tom Jones. In fact, I honor all of the men – the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, and male friends – that were patient and accepting of all of us women who danced around Tom Jones for years and still do, and made them change their plans, spend money when maybe we shouldn’t have, attend concerts, let us control the TV clicker on certain nights, listen to albums or CDs over and over again, drive us long distances, etc. For me and Mommio, any trips to our mountain cabin were planned around TV Guide and had to occur either before or after any TJ television shows or specials; Dad just accepted it as “girl rule” and part of his lot in life, as these were the old days, before Beta, video, or DVR. (Today, can you imagine such a life?)
Due to my fear of driving the freeways, Daddio would always drive me up to whatever L.A. box office was selling TJ tickets, because I could get better tickets than places like Ticketron offered. He also gave me the tip to show my photos with Tom to “improve the odds of getting better tickets.” He was a keen writer, due to the fact that he went to law school, (though getting his law degree was interrupted by the war), and when I was really young and trying to promote “Tom’s Booster’s” fan club, he taught me everything about being specific and checking for details, and how to edit, edit, edit. He was a great salesman and businessman, and Daddio was probably the one who told me to have a “cheat-sheet” in front of me when I made calls to Tom’s management in order to prompt me what to say. It actually helped assuage my nerves, and is a life lesson I’ve used for years. Daddio always had more confidence in me than I had in myself, saying repeatedly, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I never believed him, until I met Tom Jones.
Near the end of his life, my father took me out to a little restaurant on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. After lunch we would always walk around the Island, admire the beautiful and charming homes, and check out the sailboats and “stinkpots” in the bay. He was struggling with his short-term memory this summer, more so than ever before. He forgot three times that we had already ordered our lunch, but was able to describe, in detail, the way his childhood bedroom looked, the first car he got when he was 14-years-old, and what he ate on board ship in the navy during World War II.
Neither of us knew this would be our last lunch alone together, or that in a mere three months he would be gone. Out of the blue, he asked, “Judi, was I a good father? Was there something I could have done better?” For me, just asking that question was the very answer. There were so many ways he was a good father that I could write a blog about this tall, handsome man who wore a bow tie, seemed to know the answer to everything, was generous beyond words, and always left me with a kiss on the cheek, saying “I love you, my sweet,” or “Keep your powder dry.” (This is a “Be prepared!” reference that comes from the old days when you had to carry a satchel of dry gun powder to place into your gun when it was necessary to shoot, and meaning you have to be careful with your resources and use them when you need them.)
I have to admit that among the many things I told him I was grateful for was his willingness to pave the way on my long trip to Tom Jonesville. Like my mother, he knew it was important, but unlike my mother, I don’t think he understood why. But that was the beauty of my father; even if he didn’t get the why, he simply understood it was. While we ate lunch, I reminded him about the time he drove me up to my sister’s place to see Tom in L.A., and a few days later, after I seeing him on and offstage, Dad was supposed to pick me up and take me home. Suddenly something came up in his business and he couldn’t pick me up; mother was ill and couldn’t pick me up; and my neither of sisters could get me home. I was afraid of going on a public bus system with so many strangers, or in a taxi with only one stranger (on the verge of an anxiety-ridden agoraphobia attack).
For some reason that neither one of us could remember, I had to get home. What did he do? Daddio sent me home from LA to Orange Country in a six-seat passenger airplane. There was twenty-something me, scared-to-death to be with five very serious businessmen heading home from a long day’s work in L.A. I was able to manage my anxiety because I was actually flying on a TJ high. Daddio and I both laughed out loud remembering all of his enabling of my Tom Jones shenanigans. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, because by then I was managing my life-limiting migraines, fears of driving the freeways, and oh-so many other things that in my teens and twenties I didn’t dream possible during my Tom Jones days. We both laughed it off, but I will be forever grateful that he supported me 100% in the long maturing road that included… the singer who saved me.
June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
I got myself by an obsession
It’s on another dimension
Don’t need a whole lot protection
‘Cause it gave me all I’ve been getting
It gave me life, hope, dreams, golds [for me, substitute “goals”]
“Give a Little Love” (Song by Tom Jones, Kara Dio Guardi, Iyiola Babtunde Babalola, and Darren Emilio Lew)
I have to admit, my TJ life, hopes, dreams, and goals helped lift me out of my lonely existence. My Tom Jones motivating mantras were working for me (post “The Motivating Mantra of My Younger Years”). I was beginning to branch out and build superficial social relationships by becoming a little more engaged with my fellow collegians while at school. I even met a student who had the same type of passion and quest for a personal relationship with a superstar.
In her case, it was Neil Diamond. We were both shocked that we discovered each other in an English Literature class. And she invited me over to her home so we could share pictures and stories. This was miraculous for me, because I rarely went anywhere. We discussed the difference between fans and groupies in between studying; in our youthful wisdom we agreed that fans were permanent fixtures and groupies were gone in 60 seconds. It also validated that I wasn’t as wacky and alone in my semi-secret, wild pursuit. There were actually others like me… big sigh of relief.
In 1973, Jones performed at the Universal Amphitheatre (now called the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal City Walk). He was performing there for multiple days and my mother and sisters were going to attend the shows with me. Although my mother and I still searched high and low for pants long enough to cover the skinny legs, I still had to sew them myself because of that darn 36-inch inseam. I sewed my fingers off, all the while hoping that my long pants and skirts wouldn’t look like loving hands at home.
I had written and rewritten my script for Mr. G. He was staying at the Hotel Bel Air, as usual. No matter how many times I spoke to him over the phone, I always needed my prepared script to calm my nerves and ease the way into the most important human thing on my mind (versus the most important spiritual things I had on my mind, which, believe it or not, I did focus on religious, metaphysical, philosophical, and esoteric issues when not perseverating over TJ). But the goal was always, WHEN AND WHERE AM I GOING TO MEET TOM JONES? This time it was just the head of the fan club and me. I tried to use my most adult, sophisticated voice, and Mr. G. was as friendly and upbeat as usual. Bada-bing, bada-boom! We had a date, a time, and a place.
Knowing that I was going to get backstage put rose-colored glasses on all of the shows. If I had been a critic, I would have had to recuse myself, because I was on a Tom Jones high. Every show was fantastic. Every song superb. Even as I write, I can picture the stage, the star, and The Voice, with everything and everyone else fading in the background. The only thing that slightly marred the experience was that Mother was frequently ill and missed the performances. With me being me, I had no one to take her place. How sad was that? Still, no best friend to share my most important youthful moments with. We always bought a ticket for Mommio, but it eventually turned out that my oldest sister began bringing her friends to take Mom’s place at our TJ concerts – they were game and appreciated the fun and mystery of how in the world this shy, skinny kid got into Tom Jonesville.
The fascinating thing about the Universal Amphitheatre in ‘73 was that there was no backstage. Literally. There was the stage, curtained side stages, an area behind the stage, and no real backstage. Mr. G. hadn’t prepared me by telling me that he would put us into a car and we would be driven to see Tom. He surely didn’t prepare me for a limousine ride to see him.
It was quite exciting to show up at stage left, and then be escorted into a big ol’ limo! I must admit, with a lot of fans, groupies, and hangers-on lurking around looking for Tom, I felt a little like a starlet climbing into that long, black car with tinted windows. It wasn’t the quintessentially 70s white limo that Jones was known to own with Gordon Mills and Engelbert Humperdink that carried the license plate “GET,” standing for Gordon, Engelbert, Tom. It was my first and only ride in a limo, even though famous OC Housewives drive in limos to get their nails painted, and famous New Jersey Housewives rent limos to drive their preteens to birthday parties to get their nails and toes done.
We had no idea where we were going, and the drive seemed dark and longer than expected on the Universal property. Suddenly, we were at the discreet destination. It was a portable building; sort of like a mobile home without wheels. The driver opened the limo door and escorted us up to the door. The party had definitely started without us, as there was an open bar, and drinks were flowing. It appeared that everyone in Jones’ entourage was there, including Mr. G., bodyguard Dave Perry, The Getter, as well as some key musicians, including Big Jim Sullivan. It was a male-dominated group.
I was not surprised to be offered an alcoholic drink, because even though I was under-age, I didn’t look it. However, I didn’t, and still don’t drink, so I asked for a Perrier with lime (hoping I would appear to be a sophisticate). We sat at the bar with our drinks and tried to make small talk with the “cool people.” I’m not so sure how “cool” I was, but I did my best to carry an air of coolness that wasn’t cold, and warmth that wasn’t overtly I’m-crazy-ga-ga-over-Tom-Jones giddy like I think I was the first time I met him. And we waited… and waited… and while I told myself to never forget this moment, these people, this place, this time, Mr. Jones slipped into the room.
There he was. No stage. No microphone. Just Jones. And again, everything and everyone just faded away. This time was a little different than the first. I was a little more mature. A little more composed. I found myself on the couch with Tom. That is part of his charm and his accessibility. As much as I wanted to believe I was special, I know that we are all special to him. Talent, drive, and charisma need people, a conjoined, supportive public. But, I digress. Perfect photo opportunity. You learn when a photo is appropriate, and when one isn’t.
After a little small talk – yes, I could finally participate in a little small talk with Tom Jones – I wanted to ask him a burning question. With a big, silent gulp, I said, “You’ve called me Long Tall Sally, which I get. But, you’ve called me Snow White a few times. (Another big, silent gulp.) I’m kind of curious. Where did Snow White come from?”
And sitting close to me, Tom Jones, with his arm around me, looked at me with his hazel eyes and said, in his deep, thick Welsh accent, “Because you make me feel like a dwarf, luv.”
Oh, no. His words hit so hard they knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t speak. My heart jumped to my throat and then sank into my stomach. I think I might have blushed bright red underneath my dark, summer tanned face. For a moment, my heart started pounding and my hands started to feel numb and then tingle. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Panic attack coming on.
Tom Jones, my Superstar hero, The Voice who comforted me, who gave me life, hope, dreams, and goals, told me he feels like a dwarf. And his voice, The Voice, placed an emphasis on the word dwarf. I will never forget the sound of that word spoken with his Welsh accent. It made all of the birdies that chirp and dance around my head when I am with him dissipate into thin air. It made the song “Someday My Prince Will Come” that dances around my brain when I see him come to a shrill, screeching halt.
A Tom Jones reality check for Snow White on the sofa! Grumpy, Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc might as well have carried me out on a stretcher. All my youthful fears were again realized in that one moment by that one comment. I instantly felt like that awkward, unattractive, tall, skinny girl I was working so hard to leave behind. Is it be possible that I made the most self-confident, poised, and self-assured, sexy man I had ever met feel… uncomfortable? The sensitive Amazon Anomaly was crushed, and in the beginning stage of a mega meltdown in the arm of an unsuspecting superstar.
I think he must have realized that his comment caught me off-guard and left me utterly breathless. Because, Tom Jones, being Tom Jones, a man who has a way with the ladies, leaned over, spoke in my ear, and said something that breathed fresh air into my deflated sense of self. Something that made me feel like I wasn’t the ghastly Jolly Green Giant. Something that made me feel attractive and special. Something that allowed me to believe that I had value in singer Tom Jones’ eyes. At twenty-years-old, it was that something for which I had been searching. Yes, the object of my affection, the object of my transformation, leaned over and said… oh no, hold on. I’ve got to save something between me… and the singer who saved me.
May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
The Tom Jones fire was alive, but the next trip Mommio and I took to Vegas was not exactly the trip we planned. We flew in on a Hughes Air bright banana yellow jet, (what was Howard Hughes thinking?), and went back to Caesar’s Palace. Mother wasn’t feeling well, so we went straight to the hotel room so she could lie down before we went to the Friday night dinner show. As we dressed, I was nervous, because my mother was my rock, my right hand, my wing-woman so-to-speak. Even though I was now a grown, mature-looking 20-year-old, I depended on her like I depended on Tom Jones – only lots, lots more.
In my family we kept all of our physical ailments private, so no one really knew that both Mom and I suffered from chronic, “sick” headaches. Mom was determined to make it to the first show, so we put on our make-up and our evening gowns and headed downstairs for the dinner show. In the elevator, we ran in to some of Jones’ musicians. This was in the old days when he traveled with bandleader, Johnnie Spence, guitarist “Big” Jim Sullivan, well known from Jones’ TV show, other key players, and a rather large orchestra.
Mother, being extremely friendly and sociable, asked the musicians if they played for Tom, and struck up a light and friendly conversation with them. “Where are you boys from?” “How long have you been playing?” The trumpet-player took an interest in me, and said, “I’ll look for you after the sets this weekend.” Mom and I giggled after he left, both of us knowing full well without having to say it, that she would never, ever, for a moment, consider letting her underage daughter go out with a musician in “Sin City.” Remember, Vegas in the 70s was not the family friendly Vegas of today.
What the trumpet player didn’t know, and what Mother didn’t know, (or did she?), was that I only had eyes for Tom Jones. I mean, come on, when Tom Jones is the first man you have ever kissed, and you meet him when you are a teenager, why wouldn’t you think that maybe you had just an itty-bitty, eensy-teensy, tiny-winy little chance? Helloooo, silly girl, because he was Tom Jones? Because he was a superstar? Because he was married? Because I wasn’t in his league? Because I was so young, so tall, so shy, so sensitive, so anxious, so… Oh, puhleeze! That didn’t stop me.
Onward, to the pre-show routine of slipping Jesse the maitre d’ a few “dollahs” to get close to the stage. We ate the preliminary meal, and Mother chatted the preliminary Tom-chat with our table-mates, such as “Have you seen him perform before?” I sat quietly. Getting to the foot of the stage at Caesar’s Palace was the culmination of another year’s worth of motivating mantras that pushed me beyond my comfort zone. My goal was to look and act “normal,” rather than like the girl who hides in her house, and only crawls out in order to go to college and church and a few other designated “safe places.” My goal was to get to this time and this place where I could believe, even if for a moment, that when Tom Jones sang “She’s a Lady,” he was looking at and singing that song to me. (Weren’t many of us smitten fans thinking that?)
Mother and I were equally enthralled when Jones jumped onto the stage. Jones and The Voice were like the Pied Piper to me, at once hypnotizing and energizing, and I found myself standing and asking him to autograph the blank page of my photo album (currently seen on my blog home page). Where did that courage come from? He teased me a bit, in a good way – a kind of a playful, flirtatious way. No bullying from Tom Jones. He made me want to say to all of the bullies, “See, this man finds me attractive.” Hmmm… a recurring theme of finding self-worth through attachment to someone considered special.
This first show was the perfect way to start our TJ Vegas trip, but as soon as we got back to the hotel room, Mother went to bed for the rest of the weekend. Uh oh. This was big trouble for me, because I was petrified to do anything independently. We kept the curtains drawn, the lights low, and had room service for the rest of our stay.
Mommio encouraged me to go out to the huge Caesar’s Palace pool the following day. What was a normal activity for everyone was a challenge for me. There was a lot of anxiety around leaving the safety of the hotel room; fear of going in the elevator by myself; fear of getting lost in the huge hotel (and it’s even bigger and better today). Once I found the pool, there was fear of getting a towel from the pool boy.
Then came the ultimate nerve-wracking experience of taking off the cover-up to reveal the endless skinny girl legs. This was decades before Bethenny Frankel coined the Skinnygirl brand name and being a skinny girl became a good thing. I tried to act normal and relaxed while sitting in a chaise lounge in a bikini. But, I’m sorry, I wasn’t relaxed in my body when it was covered from head to toe, let alone, sitting in a bikini by myself poolside. I don’t think there are too many people who feel relaxed in a little bikini. Well, maybe Tom Jones. But he was exceptionally fit and trim – and a bit of an exhibitionist.
I was not going to go to the second night’s shows in Vegas because Mommio was still sick, and I was too timid to go to a show by myself. She kept encouraging me to get dressed “just to see.” Mothers. That’s how they lure you in to doing things you think you can’t do. So I got dressed in my kelly-green “hot-pants,” a little one-piece jersey jumpsuit, (it was the 70s and short-shorts, as they are now called, were “in”), and black patent boots, that had to be “taken in.” That’s right, my legs were so thin that Anthony the cobbler had to take out inches on each side of both boots.
I was so nervous and self-conscious that much of the night seemed like an out-of-body experience. Throughout the evening I had mini-panic attacks, but I was getting better at not letting anyone see what was going on in my body or my mind. I managed to pay the “toll” to sit down front. People probably thought I was aloof, even though I was actually nauseous with fear and probably would have started crying if anyone had tried to engage me in real conversation. There was anxiety due to not having my designated “safe” person with me. Anxiety due to all of the attention I was getting wearing the very “hot” hot-pants. And anxiety related to being completely out of my element; the outside didn’t really match the inside. I was a faint-hearted young lady, and not the sexpot I had dressed to portray.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones!” The moment he began to sing, all of my fears melted. I didn’t know it at the time, but the sound of his voice was my “relaxation response” that Herbert Benson describes in his book, The Relaxation Response. All of the tension in my body dissipated. His power on stage seemed to act as a defibrillator on my weakness; a magnetic force that allowed me to breathe in Tom Jones, breathe out Tom Jones, and feel stronger. I felt a degree of confidence I normally didn’t feel.
After Jones’ hello to the audience and a corny joke, (I think all of his fans love his cute, corny jokes), about how Las Vegas reminds him of his youth in Wales because, “When you work in the coal mine you don’t get to see much daylight, (pregnant pause), and it’s the same thing here.” Then, from out of the blue, while he was hydrating his throat with his own drink, Tom Jones asked the table, my table, “Everything alright?” How’s Snow White treating you? She okay?” I got the impression he was talking about me, and as shocked as I was, I gave out a vibe in a whatever Lola wants, Lola gets manner that told him I knew what I wanted, and it was him. Then he raised his glass, looked directly at me, and said, “Cheers,” with a twinkle in his eye.
After he sang “She’s A Lady,” Jones again drank from his own glass, again looked at me and said, “Hello. Is that Snow White?” Now I knew he was talking about me. “That she is that,” he continued. Could he hear the Disney song waltzing through my brain? Did he know he was my Prince Charming? What would have happened if I had burst into singing “Someday My Prince Will Come”? (Song by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill.) Forget my previous nickname – Long Tall Sally – I became Tom Jones’ Snow White during this Vegas sojourn and thereafter. The dwarves asked their lady if she was a princess, and when Jones called me Snow White, I felt like a Princess with a capital “P.”
As I stood up to continue the conversation, he said, “It’s you again.” This time I pulled out my photograph from the Greek Theater (seen in the post “Be Careful What You Wish For”). “I remember,” he said. “I remember everything. Well, (pregnant pause), nearly everything (audience laughter).” As I handed him a pen, he asked, “What are you shaking for? You were shaking last night, as well (more laughter).” I was in Seventh Heaven before the kiss, which brought the house down with roars and cheers. Despite a little shaking, I realized I had made an impression on Tom Jones, the man whose voice had been my comfort and joy for years.
Now that Jones has been forthright about his less than perfect ways, and documented them in his song called “The Road,” from his CD, 24 Hours, I will, for the first time, admit that I had “heard” from the more groupie-side of his fan base, that sometimes someone was invited backstage on behalf of Jones. A trusted Jones employee, whom I will call The Getter, would deliver the invitation. As I left, still in the thrill of what my youthful mind saw as on-stage flirting, I saw him – The Getter – and he was looking at me, heading my way.
I panicked. I started shaking. I could barely breathe. My chest was pounding – this was a full-blown, gale-force panic attack. My endless legs, barely covered by my little hot pants and knee-high boots, automatically bolted, while my waist-length blonde hair fluttered in the wake of the speed at which I moved. Forget Tom Jones, forget all of my hopes and dreams – I could not get up to the safety of the hotel room and my mother fast enough.
Of course, Mommio immediately wanted to know everything, and in my breathlessness I shared everything that went on. Everything, except the come-hither-I-am-woman vibe I put out, and the incident with The Getter. I knew that if I told anyone about those things, especially my mother, my Tom Jones concerts, future backstage visits, and the mere possibility for me to somehow get him to fall madly in love with me would have been immediately shut down. Kaput. Over.
As I lay in my hotel bed that night at Caesar’s Palace, I was so disappointed in myself. I spent the dawn hours chastising myself for my childishness. I couldn’t believe I ran. But, I wasn’t ready. I had enough insight to know that while the outside appeared to be sexy and sophisticated, I was far from being that Cosmo girl I was trying to depict. I was still extremely immature, very naïve, and dare I say, innocent? In fact, if I wanted to hang with Tom Jones, I needed to get an education by reading Cosmopolitan magazine, or maybe even Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown. Unfortunately Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell was still a blink in her parents’ eyes.
I wondered how could I yearn for something so much, yet literally run from it? Then it dawned on me. Maybe the Getter wasn’t coming for me. Oh no. What was I thinking? Tom Jones flirts with every female from age 5 to 95. Maybe The Getter was going toward a celebrity or a business acquaintance that Jones was inviting backstage. Oh no. Alone in my bed I felt foolish and embarrassed.
There I was, a flesh and blood, 6-foot-two-inch blonde Snow White, muddling through a humdrum world surrounded by dwarves and dreaming about Prince Charming. The Disney-animated, short brunette Snow White got her Prince Charming. Even though I ran like the wind at twenty-years-old in Vegas, I still wanted my prince to be… the singer who saved me.
April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
What struck me upon meeting Tom Jones for the first time in 1972 was that he was easygoing, casual, and, well, affable. Not the expected, “I am lion hear me roar,” sex machine that had been described over the years. When he sings, he sings without an accent, but when he speaks off-stage, he speaks with a Welsh accent. He was just so darn real, life-size, and human off-stage. On-stage, when Jones takes the stage, the star and The Voice become larger than life. The largest venue I’ve seen him perform is the Los Angeles Forum, and I discovered that even in the large arenas, Jones was always bigger than his biggest venue.
What would it be like, to be a singer who is able to take command of a stage and an audience? What is that feeling that singers feel? Is it love? Joy? Adulation? Acceptance? Oneness with the audience? Power? Is that what Tom Jones longed for when he was a young prepubescent boy stricken with TB and stuck at home alone? Is it what he yearned for when he got his first real taste of popularity singing in the local Welsh pubs? Is that what he felt when he claimed his fame and fortune? Is it enough to fill you when you are on the road 24 Hours?
24 Hours is a critically acclaimed CD that preceded Jones’ recent Praise and Blame, with many songs co-written by Jones. Some of the songs in 24 Hours are autobiographical and reflect the challenges a family deals with when a singer travels the road for a living 24/7. There was much buzz about the ode to his long-time wife in “The Road,” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babatunde Bablolla, Armando Manzanero, Lisa Rachelle Green, and Darren Emilio Lewis. You have to know Jones and his story to get the connection to “Seen That Face” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babtunde Babalola, Nicole Louise Morier, and Darren Emilio Lewis, which describes the recognition of pain on a child’s face when you leave him.
Whatever that feeling is that singers get, they get hooked on it like crack, and follow it through the gypsy lifestyle with its infamous sex, drugs, and rock and roller-coaster, which takes its toll on anyone who enters the golden gates of fame and fortune. The life of a gypsy singer is fraught with struggles. It is the struggle of breaking into the industry. Then there is the struggle to stay at the top. There is also the struggle to ride the ebb and flow of a career in the music industry, which eats you up and spits you up as fast as it can; or as fast as the gifted one can self-destruct. And family members are along for the ride.
The most insidious loss for anyone involved with a gypsy singer is the difficulty of maintaining intimate family relationships, because it always starts out with the intention of being a positive thing for the family. Tom Jones’ story is no different. He had a wife and a child by the time he was 17-years-old and he knew he had talent. The goal was to support the family. “I started singing in clubs about the time he [son, Mark Woodward, who kept Jones’ surname; Jones is Tom’s mother’s maiden name] was born, so I wasn’t around him much. I went to London in 1964, and my wife would come to see me, but I didn’t see my son unless I went back to Pontypridd. I wanted to, but I was very preoccupied. From 1965 I started going to America a lot – the records were as big there as here [England]. I didn’t have time to be in Wales, but I thought as long as I was sending money home it was okay.” (“Relative Values: Tom Jones and Mark Woodward, by Bridget Freer, The Sunday Times, UK,12/8/02).
What about the wife and child? Where do they fit in? How do they live a family life at home without that gypsy singer? Once the struggle is over, is it all glamour and riches? Is it lonely? How do you live your life without the love of your life around? Who do you have intimate relationships with (and I don’t mean sexual intimacy, I mean close, sharing, relationships). And who does the gypsy singer become intimate with? The gypsy singer becomes close to the gypsy roadie family. And, like it or not, they do go “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”
(“Lookin’ for Love,” written by Wanda Mallette, Patti Ryan, and Bob Morrison.)
How do you participate in the family’s emotional needs while sustaining them financially as a gypsy singer? This is how the young Jones family did it, according to Bridget Freer’s 2002 interview with Tom and Mark:
TOM: “Mark’s had a life most kids haven’t had with their fathers. We became closer as men than we did when I was a teenager and he was a little boy, and that was through working together. We got older together…
“When the money started rolling in from “It’s Not Unusual,” I bought a house in Shepperton and said: ‘Now we can have Mark with us.’ That was 1966. I enjoyed going to pick him up from school… The mothers would be: ‘Oooooh, there’s Tom Jones!…
“He was a shy child. He spent a lot of time in his room listening to music. Later, there’d be six-month tours; it affected him more than I realized. He came out for school holidays wherever I was, and always seemed fine. But one night, when he was 15, we went to a restaurant and he was very quiet. Linda said: ‘He’s missing you a lot now.’ We talked it over and she said: ‘Do you think he could travel with you? I said: ‘Yeah, as long as it’s okay with his school’…”
MARK: “Me and my mother were alone a lot. She felt the strain, but she couldn’t go with him because I was in school. I missed him. It came to a head when I was an adolescent. I got depressed, and my parents didn’t know what to do. It was only the three of us – three young people. It was a big decision, but I left school and went on tour with him.
All my working life has been in my father’s business. I never wanted to do anything else. I was a roadie first, and whenever somebody got fired I learnt their job. Tom let me have a lot of input. I would never call him Tom to his face – that would feel weird. I call him Tom to a third person. I couldn’t say: ‘Would you book my daddy?’
He never gave me the father-son talk. I had to learn from experience. I was with grown-ups 24 hours a day… He wasn’t a 55-year-old guy in a suit coming home from his nine-to-five, laying down the law: he was in his thirties, with a very unusual lifestyle. My mother too – we all had an unusual lifestyle. That made them more sympathetic to me…
Soon after Gordon Mills, Tom’s manager, died, Tom said: ‘Are you willing to take the reins?’ I hesitated, because it’s all well very well having an opinion, but as manager, if a business decision went sideways it would fall on my shoulders. But it made sense: I was a 29-year-old, road-hardened kind of fellow, and as soon as I had my own family, I decided I couldn’t carry on travelling… I felt more qualified than ever to be his manager.”
The Jones family dealt with their family issues as best they could, and in the end, it kind of worked out for them. In the 70s, however, most people raised eyebrows and reporters cast aspersions over the fact that Tom Jones allowed his underage son to travel with him. I remember thinking, in my teens mind you, that their family decision was brilliant. I was totally enmeshed with my own mother, and so I believed I understood a child’s need, a son’s need, to be with his father, even though the gypsy lifestyle is unhealthy. It was also my teenage thoughts that made me believe that somehow I could possibly make Tom Jones fall in love with me and fit in with that crazy gypsy lifestyle. I discovered, years later, that the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 – Duh… (Oops, pardon the weak Charlie Sheen reference.)
At one point, my mom sort of half-joked, “You should flirt with Tom’s son!” Mother was right. I should have been interested in Tom’s son, who was only four years younger. We surely had more in common. We were closer in age. Mark was shy; I was shy. Mark felt uncomfortable at school; I felt uncomfortable at school. Mark spent a lot of time in his room listening to music; I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music. Mark had a family of three; since my sisters left home I had a family of three. Mark was depressed; I was anxious. Helloooooo… conversation starters! His whole life was wrapped up in press and public relations and I was studying PR.
Mark eventually married and gave Jones a daughter-in-law PR person/manager and both Mr. and Mrs. Jones a grandson and granddaughter. Jones was only 41 when he became a grandfather. Whenever I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Woodward, I have to admit, I choked. I was better with older people, and he was probably better with older people; neither one of us realized that we were the youngest kids around who might have had something in common when we were within arm and ear’s reach. Besides, Tom Jones was providing a deep psychological purpose for me – I just didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that in order to make this gypsy singer fall in love with all six-foot-two-and-scared-of-her-shadow-me, I had to figure out a way to get over my fears… for the singer who saved me.