The Final Hurrah with Tom Jones, My Object of Transition

April 24, 2012 § 8 Comments

Just when I thought I was going to grow up for good and let go of my, well, what was it?  What could I call it?  I simply did not understand it in my teens or my twenties.  Was I addicted to singer Tom Jones?  Was Tom my crack cocaine?  I always had an innate need to understand things, and I just didn’t understand.  I didn’t know what it was.  

It was more than appreciating and loving the sound of Jones’ voice.  It was more than being a fan.  It was more than a flirtation.  It was more than an attraction.  It was more than a dream.  It was more than a fantasy.  What I learned decades later while earning a Master’s in clinical psychology is that Tom Jones played the important role of being an object of transition for a sensitive young girl who needed something, someone to help her make it through the night… and day, which turned into days, then weeks, months, and years. 

All Grown Up Compared to the Teenager in the Post “Be Careful What You Wish For” – Backstage Greek Theatre June 1978

Tom became my safe port in a storm of bullying, my go-to-guy from just plain insensitive people.  They sent me into withdrawal which, combined with my sensitive nature, led to agoraphobia.  He gave me hope that someday a caterpillar could become a butterfly; he gave me courage to do things I would do for no one else.  

The Voice became my voice, expressing every emotion I felt – hurt, pain, and sorrow to love, joy, and hope.  I carried it with me everywhere.  I never imagined that Jones’ accessibility would lead to transitional emotional growth.  He had a transformative effect on my life.  That’s right, Sir Tom Jones!  You grew me up in a way no one would ever dream or imagine… except maybe a therapist and object relations’ theorists. 

My Last Ticket To Tomjonesville, 1979

After I put all of my life in Tomjoneville in a big brown packing box and carried it to my garage with eyes moist with tears, ready to give it all up – cold turkey – I found myself invited right back into that world.  And I couldn’t say “No.”  Yet, I was beginning to acknowledge, ever so gently to myself mind you, how limited that world had become.  My sights were resetting and my vision of what might be possible in my future began to hope and dream beyond Tomjonesville.  I could see a future far beyond what my delayed development and all that it entailed could see in those early young years.  But Jones was at Knott’s Berry Farm to tape a TV special and his management liked to pack the house with fans and friends, so like a TJ Trooper, I asked Rose to join me for two nights of potential adventures. 

As I dressed for the venue’s first night in my jeans and tube top – oh, hold on, I must digress!  Who invented the tube top?  Wikipedia, authority of all things pop culture and beyond, claims it was “invented by American World War II veteran Murray Kleid,” a womens’ accessories manufacturer in New York City.  Why am I not surprised it was a man?  It was a hot fashion statement in the 70s, but I wonder how in the world I had the nerve to wear a tube top?  It seems like such a dangerous piece of clothing, if you could even call it clothing.  It was just a small band of elastic-like cloth, kind of like a fabric cuff for breasts.  The tube top fell into the small amount of attention-seeking clothes I only wore around the singer, like the hot pants jumpsuit I wore in Vegas, which was retired the moment I returned from that trip. 

My ritual of getting dressed for any TJ show involved listening to The Voice blaring on the stereo, and I distinctly remember pausing when I heard Tom sing “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” (song by Percy Sledge).  The lyrics, “And am I wrong trying to hold on/ To the best thing I ever had” were messing with my mind.  Was I wrong in trying to hold on to the best thingI everhad? 

“Come Hither, My Luv.”

My mother intuitively knew he was the best thing in my life for a particular period of time.  I am so very grateful she knew.  She knew and I survived.  However, my new goals of love, marriage, and family – things I never dared dream about until after the singer provided me with a corrective emotional experience, because I was so sure I was too tall, too skinny, too undesirable, too sensitive, too fearful, too immature, too this, and too that – now fought with my life in Tomjonesville.  What was a six-foot-two, eyes-of-blue, everybody-sees-this-gal kinda girl gonna do?  What I always did when Tom Jones came to town.  I would make myself known. 

Even though my best friend Rosie and I never made it to Las Vegas like we had planned, we did manage to drive to Knottsberry Farm in style.  We zipped up to Buena Park, home of Knott’s Berry Farm, on the gritty, jam-packed 5 freeway in a cinnamon-red Mercedes Benz 450 SL.  We laughed out loud as we reminisced about the wild and wooly Tom Jones limo chase in our not-so-distant past (see The Tom Jones Limo Chase posts, Parts 1 & 2).  And then we felt guilty and a bit embarrassed.  Shame on us.  I might have even sung Shirley & Company’s “Shame Shame Shame”:  Don’t stop the motion/If you get the notion/You can’t stop the groove/’Cos you just won’t move/Got my sun-roof down/Got my diamonds in the back…I say shame, shame, shame, yeah shame on you.  (Written by Sylvia Robinson) 

I must admit some of the Knott’s Berry Farm taping is a blur because as excited as  I was to see Tom Jones perform, I was also going through a deeply personal process.  I remember we had good seats and a good time both nights.  And the best part of being at a taping of a TV show is that there are breaks, and when there are breaks Tom pauses and chats up the audience.  “Hellooo Mr. Jooones,” was my mental note to his notice, and the next thing I knew we were engaged in that typical Tom Jonesian silly/funny “Come hither, my luv” banter.  

Of course, when the singer kissed me stage-side, I felt the earth move, but it wasn’t an earthquake.  I felt the stars tumbling, but there weren’t any falling stars.  I was still inside Knott’s Berry Farm, and I realized that being in Tomjonesville would always be exciting.  My emotions ran amok.  I realized this thing, this thing I didn’t understand, could go on forever.  When the first night’s taping was over, Rosie gushed about how much fun it was.  As usual, I was good at hiding what I was really feeling and joined in the goodtime talk even though I was completely distracted by my inner world.  As we drove home in the darkness we both agreed how wonderful it was that we could do it all over again the next night.  In the words of the yet unborn Britney, “Oh baby, baby.” 

Sleep was a stranger that night because years of emotions and attachment to Tom Jones completely overwhelmed me.  He had been like a secret companion since I was sixteen; someone I saw only occasionally, but carried with me everywhere.  I actually sat in bed and read old poetry and lyrics I had collected that evoked or expressed the myriad emotions I felt about loneliness and rejection, the results of being bullied, and the saving grace of the singer who saved me.  Would I ever forget “In Loneliness” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:  Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal show, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness and a silence.  Jones was that voice in my darkness. 

Then there was Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” which so beautifully, yet painfully, sings to adolescent angst:  To those of us who knew the pain/ Of Valentines that never came/ And those whose names were never called/ When choosing sides for basketball/ It was long ago and far away/ The world was younger than today/ When dreams were all they gave for free/ To ugly duckling girls like me.  Ah, the need to be known and loved. 

In the romanticism of the late night hours and raw emotional thankfulness for Jones and his place in my life, I was still able to recognize I was no longer withdrawn and painfully lonely.  I had begun to build a small circle of friends, genuine friends with whom I am still close to today.  I had worked through some of my problems, though not all.  I had conquered some fears and gained some confidence.  It made me feel sad and almost nauseous, but I knew what I had to do.  If I wanted to continue to grow as an individual, to grow as a woman, to follow my heart and reach for the next set of goals, hopes, and dreams, I truly did have to take the next train out of Tomjonesville.   And not look back. 

Being with Rosie always gave me courage; she was/is a brave and adventurous person.  But on our way to Knott’s Berry Farm the second night, I realized I had to put on my emotional high-heeled sneakers and give her a good time, even though I recognized that night of Jones’ TV taping would be my final hurrah with my then unknown object of transition.  So off Rosie and I sped to that fateful night, slowing only for traffic in our dashing two-seater Mercedes – because (put on your best Atlanta Housewife Phaedra Parks’ voice) everybody knows, if you want to hang with the rich and famous, you have to look like the rich and famous. 

First Night On-stage Kiss

 

The venue was packed, and Jones was quintessential Jones – delivering on cue, exciting the crowd, and singing like the legend The Voice became.  When we left Knott’s Berry Farm, Rosie had no idea I was in the throes of a TJ crisis, vacillating between wanting to stay where I was, safe and more comfortable with who I had become, or letting go and moving toward the person I wanted to become.  I was thankful for the changes.  I was no longer that child-like, odd-girl-out misfit.  Older, happier, more independent and self-accepting, though far, far from perfect, I had reached the proverbial fork in the road.  

The singer who saved me had served his purpose.  With deep gratitude and a heavy – or was it a heaving – heart I realized Tom Jones, the man, was no longer going to play a part in my future.  I had to detach.  In the wee small hours of the morning, the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars aligned and serendipity followed.  Now in the heart of Bel Air, home and stomping grounds of TJ, I had my moment.  In the warmth of the balmy darkness as Tom pulled my head close to his, I found myself silently saying goodbye forever… as I kissed the singer who saved me.          

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

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.) 

The ever-present autograph signing session.

 

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? 

The superstar with a hint of his son in the background.

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. 

Mr. Greenfield - the gatekeeper to 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.

Jones and Dave Perry the ever-present mate and muscle, if needed.

 

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.

Guitar man, Big Jim Sullivan.

  

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.  

Elvis on stage at Tom Jones' show at Caesar's Palace September 1973.

              

 

Ode to Jones The Voice

February 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

I am quite jealous that the British version of “The Voice” with The Voice is currently being taped in England and I cannot jet across the pond and somehow inveigle my way into the audience.  Oh, hold on!  Stand down Snow White!  Sit still before you go all watusi on the page Long Tall Sally!  The days of inveigling your way into Tom Jonesville are days gone by.  (Oops, pardon the open reality check.)

Jones has mentioned that when he was growing up in Wales, it was common practice to attach your profession to your name, and I so want to honor Jones The Voice, because he played such an important and unwitting role in saving me when I was a young girl at risk.  Tall, thin, teased and bullied, I withdrew from the world and found comfort, solace, and at times, my life’s blood, through the voice of singer Tom Jones.

Just by having and sharing The Voice, Jones served a far greater purpose in my life than my teenage dreams could have ever imagined, and I know that I am not alone.  Others have revealed poignant stories regarding how The Voice has affected their lives.  What I didn’t realize in my youth was that it was actually The Voice that carried me through the challenges in my life – not the man to whom I felt so attached.  It was always The Voice that soothed my fervor brow; it was The Voice that took me from the depths of despair to thoughts of hope; it was The Voice that led me from high anxiety to moments of courage.

Tom Jones Always on the Go - 1973

I like to look through a psychological lens in object relations theory, which focuses on one developing a psyche (our conscious/unconscious mind; our ego strength, or sense of self) in relationship to others.  As an infant, we look to our mother to create a safe, consistent, nurturing environment, and without that sense of safety, that infant can perceive the world as not a safe place, and can develop a hypersensitivity to the outside world.  Along the way to maturity, I hit a big bump in the road, and my own natural sensitivity and already tentative sense self, or weak ego strength, was completely knocked off-kilter by bullying at school.   My extraordinary height for a young girl in the 60s & 70s, and naturally thin body during a time when anorexia was truly considered a disease and not a positive fashion statement, made people feel uncomfortable.  The incessant need for strangers and others to constantly comment on my physicality only added salt to the self-conscious wound.

We all need something outside of ourselves to attach to, or connect with, that can help us cope with life’s uncomfortable, or difficult, or anxiety-producing challenges.  An infant turns to its mother for that sense of safety.  Where do you go when you are older?  You go to religion and a Higher Power, philosophy or psychology, literature, art, or music.  You turn to people for comfort – family, friends, teachers, mentors, religious figures, counselors, therapists, etc.  Everyone thought Michael Jackson was weird to call his son Blanket, yet it ever to gently speaks to Jackson’s deep attachment needs.  What helps people calm and contain their fears and anxieties?  Trust and faith in something greater than themselves.  Beautiful things in which they can relate, such as lyrics or the sound of music.  Some people relate to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.  Some find calm and comfort in the feel good feelings that come from exercise.  Others find feel good feelings through connecting to other people; some find it in tattoos or other ways to objectify their feelings.

There is an endless list of possibilities of people/places/things to which you can attach that help transition you through the good and bad times in your life.  My family religion was ever-present in my life experience during my youthful challenges, but The Voice came along and gave me something that was outside of the religious realm, and became an intricate part of my personal journey and salvation.  I attached to The Voice.

The Voice became my warm, fuzzy security blanket that I could access at home, in the car, and carry with me in my head.  As I got older and stronger, The Voice translated into the rhythm of the beat and strength in my step.  The Voice became, as I mentioned in posts so long ago, my motivating mantra at a time when I really just wanted to melt into the floor or disappear into my room – or someplace else – forever.  The Voice provided me with my very own Singer Saved Me exposure therapy, which I didn’t even know about or understand at the time.  It was The Voice that got me outside of myself long enough to put my mother’s goals into place, and eventually set my own goals, take the steps to work toward them, and actually achieve them.  And each goal required leaving the house, interacting with people, and stepping outside of my personal fears.

Jones Backstage at the Palladium - 1973

Why that voice?  Why did I attach to that voice?  Reviewers, producers, and musicians have written, or spoken, a bazillion-and-one praises and accolades regarding The Voice, which have spanned over the course of decades.  I would not presume to describe Tom Jones’ voice in a new, unique way.  I just know that The Voice can take you from rock and roll to a Cappella, from to pop to blues, or from light opera to country.  Jones’ voice is extraordinarily versatile, and perhaps, that is the greatest gift of The Voice.

If you are very, very talented, have a variety of very, very astute people helping you along the way, and are very, very lucky in the entertainment industry, you might be able have a long career sprinkled with peaks and valleys.  It is easy to remember Jones’ peaks – the hit records, the TV show, the huge fan-filled stadiums like Madison Square Garden and the LA Forum, and the 40-plus years of packed houses in Vegas.  Yet, something I found endearing occurred a long time ago in the late 80s or early 90s – I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact date.  I was driving my minivan, (a long, long way away from a Porsche chasing a limousine), on Harbor Boulevard in Orange County.  It’s not the nicest area, and in fact, you might find a “lady of the night” wandering around in the middle of the day, and like a diamond in a brass ring, I suddenly saw the name “TOM JONES” on the sign of a small, local club that was known to have everything from punk to metal, Willy Nelson to Hall & Oates, and a lot of local unknown singers, bands, or cover bands.

Tom Jones Wax Model at Madame Tussauds in London

As soon as I got home, I called the venue out of curiosity.  “Excuse me, Galaxy Theatre, is singer Tom Jones, the Welsh singer Tom Jones, the superstar Tom Jones, THE Tom Jones actually going to perform at your club?”  The ticket person said, “Yes, ma’am.”  Oh Lord, have mercy.  I was in shock.  Tom Jones was playing at a small, local place in the OC where mostly unknowns, sprinkled with a few famous players play?  Oh Lord, have mercy.  I immediately called my mother to discuss how on earth he could have possibly ended up there.  I asked, “Why would he play there when he has played for the Queen of England?”  It boggled my mind.  How could he play there when he has played at the big Pacific Amphitheatre in the same city?  It was a puzzle that I tried to piece together.

After a few days in a disgruntled conundrum, I got it.  Of course, I told my mother, it is all about the singing.  It had to be about the singing.  I believe the reason Tom played a small, unknown venue during a valley in his career was because, despite what people think about the man who had worked for years to reach superstar status, was because the singing was more important than the ego, money, or status.  If I am correct, for The Voice, it is all about the singing.  Perhaps it is that love, that passion, that need to sing that is the key part in his multiple resurgences over a long, long career – he has never stopped singing.

I didn’t get to see The Voice at the Galaxy Theatre, because, at that point in time, “I” had turned into “we,” and in our lives the price of a TJ ticket was the cost of a new tutu and ballet slippers – and the ballerina in my life was my #1 priority.  But, I keenly remember the shock of seeing Jones’ name on the Galaxy marquee, and keenly remember the moment I realized that Tom Jones knows who he is and what he’s accomplished – he simply must sing, as it is his life’s blood.  The Voice… is the singer who saved me.

The Tom Jones Limo Chase: Part 2

November 26, 2011 § 4 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.)  

The English Tudor at the Fork in the Road - 1970s

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.  

Tom at the Hotel Bel Air - 1970s

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.   

Tom Jones, Atlanta 1971

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. 

The Long Maturing Road

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.

Tom Jones - Do we like the striped short-sleeved sweater?

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.

Tom Jones, 1972 - The striped sleeveless sweater?

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.)

Tom Jones, 1973 - Or the plaid three-quarter-sleeve sweater?

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.

A Tom Jones’ Reality-Check

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.   

TJ Looking at Tom's Boosters Fan Club Scroll

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.

Prior to Reality Check for Snow White

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.    

"With Love, Tom Jones XXX"

Tom Jones, my Superstar hero, The Voice who comforted me, who gave me life, hope, dreams, and goals, told me he feels like a dwarfAnd 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.   

Me & Mrs. Jones

May 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

For those of you who saw Tom Jones on the “American Idol” finale and are new to the blog and my story, have a renewed interest in the singer, (known as The Voice long before the British or American version of that TV show with the same name), I encourage you to check out his two latest original CDs, 24 Hours and Praise and Blame.  You will be amazed at the range, tone, and texture of his big, rich voice.  On June 7, Jones will hit the age of 71, and he has, indeed, raised the bar for “aging pop stars” in terms of the quality of vocals and the desire to keep working purely for the love of singing 

Let’s go back to the 70s, when as a super-tall young woman, I felt like the Jolly Green Giant, a frequent misnomer given to me – huge, visible, and vulnerable to the world.  Sometimes, I felt like a flea – a small speck, burrowing into whatever safe host I could find, such as my house, my room, and my car.  At all of these “safe” places, The Voice was with me, singing my heart full and occupying my mind.   

Tom Jones Florida 1972

That was the thing about Tom Jones.  Because he was on TV, on the radio, and on my stereo, I could listen to him in the comfort of all of my safety zones.  For the most part, I could live my life comfortably in the safety of my own home with Tom Jones.  And then, because he was so accessible, (I’ve looked through a thesaurus and this is the only word that really describes it), I could somehow muster up the courage to leave my safety zone and venture out to the man, or should I say, superstar I put all of my hopes and dreams upon.   

I didn’t understand this need to disappear from the world.  I just knew that unfamiliar places and unfamiliar faces were not “safe” and caused me to feel such anxiety that I would have panic attacks.  But, if I was going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I knew I had to learn how to be around a lot of people and learn to talk with people.  So I had to work harder be more comfortable with my peers; do something as simple as accept a piece of gum from a fellow student, instead of keeping my distance and saying “No, thank you” to everything.  I was very good at saying “No, thank you” to everything, including living life.  You can’t really live life if you hide. 

I remember one day reading one of my mother’s ladies’ magazines, like Redbook or Good Housekeeping.  There was an article about something I had never heard of before called agoraphobia.  Say what?  Agoraphobia?  I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it, let alone understand what it was and determine if it related to my life.  I got the phobia part – fear, my constant companion.  It was defined as a fear of being in open or public places.  It also included fear of unknown people, fear of traveling to unfamiliar places, fear of separation from certain close relationships, as well as fear of having a panic attack in a situation from which there is no perceived escape.  Uh oh.   

That pretty much lumped all of my fears and social anxiety with panic attacks into one big category and left me feeling a bit bereft.  At first, I thought I was a huge hot mess with a label.  But then, I felt relief.  For years, I thought that because I had all of these strange and awkward feelings that no one else I knew had, it meant I was crazy.  This little article I just happened to come across gave me freedom from that crazy label, and let me know that there were others who felt like I felt… and survived and thrived.  So there was hope!    

It did seem to explain why I couldn’t go to Tom Jones venues as an independent young woman, like when he taped “The Midnight Special.”  I got a call saying that he would be taping the show at NBC studios in Burbank.  Perfect.  It would give me an opportunity to try to spread my wings.  Or not.  Nope.  I couldn’t drive the freeways.  Remember, this was in the Dark Ages of the 70s with no cell phone or GPS to provide assistance or aide.  The mere thought of driving to Alameda Avenue, not far from Hollywood, a not-so-easy drive for anxious me made me start to shiver and shake.  Gratefully, I didn’t have to work too hard to twist my sisters’ arms to join (and drive) me.   

“The Midnight Special” stage was just a simple box stage close to the ground and the audience.  The audience, small and mostly women, actually sat on the floor – thank heavens we three sisters wore pants.  There were lots of lights and multiple cameras on wheels, with one cameraman who kneeled with and walked through the audience with a huge, hand-held camera.  There were lots of professionals on the sidelines, and a non-famous “host” who introduced the real host, Tom Jones, and his guest, Chuck Berry. 

The first part of the taping was Chuck Berry’s solo.  He was, well, wild.  He was fun and funny and wild.  He really worked at pumping up the audience to get them to engage in Chuck Berryville, even though it was a big Tom Jones audience.  And he could play that guitar like no man’s business!  I remember being totally impressed how he won over that TJ fan base during his musical moments.  It was fun, too, when Jones came out and did his duet with Berry.  There was no separation between age, race, or style – they were soul singers. 

Chuck Berry disappeared, and Tom Jones appeared to tape his voice introductions, segues, and voiceovers.  It was fun to be part of this show business side, with the non-famous host telling us when to be quiet, when to laugh, and when to applaud.  Tom was, as usual, very cute and polite to women who would try to speak to him during the taping, but this gig was serious and down-to-business.  I imagine they felt they had to run a tight ship due to the small, intimate quarters in which audience members could potentially get out of control.  As usual, Jones delivered pitch-perfect performances.   

Sitting Indian-style on the floor I looked like everyone else, but standing up, I stood out like a sore thumb.  I discovered that when anything related to Tom Jones, I did not want to disappear like camouflage; I liked being six-foot-two and heads above the rest.  I wanted him to see me.  How else was I going to get him to fall in love with me and take me from feeling less smart, less beautiful, less normal than others to feeling special and worthy of the love of a superstar?  How else would I be vindicated from the bullies?  How else would I find value and worth if not through someone whose voice gave me permission to feel every emotion I had experienced and could imagine.  And so, whenever he was taping and the audience could stand up, I was up, up, up, heads above all. 

I don’t know if Jones noticed me that night of “The Midnight Special.”  I put on my best Snow White, AKA Long Tall Sally, smile, as if he might.  But, I began to notice something around this time frame.  It had to do with Mrs. Jones and how she had virtually disappeared.  At the beginning of Tom Jones’ career, there were pictures and taped pieces, and she was a definite presence in the media.  And then, like a Marilyn Monroe whisper, Mrs. Jones quietly disappeared.  There were no more photographs and rare sightings.  She just disappeared.   

Mrs. Jones and Mr. Jones in Bermuda 1970s

I was young and I didn’t know much about Mrs. Jones, except what Jones reported about his wife not liking the limelight.  I could, however, recognize the signs of someone who disappears.  Because of my own challenges, I could sense the presence of something more than not liking the public life.  I cannot say I know what went on in Mrs. Jones world, but I have the utmost compassion for anyone who hides.  It is not easy.  It is lonely.  Family and friends who love you the most don’t understand.  What seems so easy for them becomes a death-grip conflict for you.  Your struggle becomes a family struggle. 

The fame and fortune that was a blessing to Tom Jones and his family may have driven his beautiful, loving, and beloved wife inward.  How could a young Welsh mother who didn’t finish high school but worked to help support the family, while her husband pursued his passion keep up with a husband who transcended his Welsh coal-mining destiny to travel the world and eventually meet with presidents and queens? How does that wife and mother, whose only child eventually travels full-time with his father, and then essentially focuses his own career on his father, cope?   

Only decades later has the media swirled around the word “agoraphobia” and linked it to Mrs. Jones.  Even when he was knighted Sir Tom Jones by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006, Mrs. Jones was missing.  Simon Hattenstone  interviewed Jones and wrote, “They’ve been apart a lot, he says.  ‘But we are still in love with each other… we are still in tune with each other, we can still have fun, we still talk.  She’s still the Welsh girl I married.’  He says Linda is shy, agoraphobic.  When he has well-known friends around, she hides.” (Mail Online 11/08)  I can imagine the myriad reasons Mrs. Jones began to disappear, and understand how difficult it would be, as a spouse of a public figure, to identify something that would help transition her out of a private, self-made prison and out into the world again. 

Ironically, for me, Mrs. Jones’ husband was one pathway out of my fears, anxiety, and hiding.  I later realized that a lot of my fears were based on lack of ego strength, and my quest to get Tom Jones to fall madly in love with me was all about building up that ego.  How on earth did a shy, scared, skinny girl unwittingly pick Tom Jones to help her build a sense of self?  Because The Voice and his music were there to comfort me 24/7; because he was the epitome of manly self-confidence; because as big as he was at the height of his career, he was still accessible.   

Tom Jones was that special someone who had that special something that was important enough to draw me out of my private, self-made prison and out into the world.  Although prayer was my main source of hope, listening to Tom Jones’ recordings, seeing him sing live at concerts, and visiting him backstage or elsewhere, was as close to therapy as I got in the therapy-was-not-so-acceptable 70s.  Tom Jones was the catalyst in which my desire to become stronger, less fearful, and more mature was made possible, in part, by my strong attachment to him.  And all of the “baby steps” I took in order to become the type of person I hoped he would fall in love with, allowed me to ever so slowly begin the ego-building process.  It was singer-saved-me therapy made possible by… the singer who saved me.

 

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Uncategorized category at Singer Saved Me.