Six Degrees of Separation

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Home from Vegas, I vacillated between feeling “safe” and kind of “crazy.”  It had been a trip of highs and lows.  The lows involved Mother feeling ill, and me being afraid to venture out beyond the pool and showroom due to anxiety-ridden character flaws (that’s what it felt like at the time, but it was actually a distorted belief).  The highs being feeling like a caterpillar hidden in a cocoon, yet somehow able to briefly transform into a butterfly in order to be near to, listen to, and interact with Tom Jones, my transitional object (unbeknownst to me at the time). 

I lived for the adrenaline of those moments, yet my life was mostly made up of “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to school we go” moments.  Yep, Snow White (AKA: Long Tall Sally) was schlepping books and charting a course for the future.  I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I just knew I needed to work on my motivating mantras.  I needed to be better.  I needed to grow (not physically, since six-foot-two was more than ample, thank you very much).  So my motivating mantra became, “If I work at being around people and learn how to better handle myself socially, then I’ll be able to get Tom Jones fall in love with me.”  In the meantime, it was not unusual, (pardon the unoriginal play on words), to listen to Jones’ albums in order to regulate, moderate, or accentuate my mood and emotions.   

Bright lights backstage – Westbury Music Fair, NY

In iconoculture, the culture of celebrity, there is a belief that everyone is just six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.  But, Mommio and I found ourselves a loose six degrees of separation from Tom Jones one Sunday morning in the 1970s.  Let me explain these very wide degrees of separation: 

First degree:  We resided in Orange County, California.  Actor John Wayne left the more liberal lifestyle of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles County, for the more conservative Orange County in the 60s and 70s.  John Wayne was so revered that they named Orange County Airport, the airport we flew in and out of in order to see Tom Jones perform, John Wayne Airport.   

Second degree:  Wayne was probably the most famous and revered celebrity who lived in Newport Beach.  He had a beautiful home in Bayshore, a private community along Newport Bay, in Newport Beach, California.  We also lived in Newport.   

Third degree:  Wayne’s beautiful wife during the 60s & 70s attended our church. We rarely saw Mr. Wayne.  I think we saw him once at church, and once at our local Savon, and you could not miss him due to his size.  He was one of the few men who was actually taller than I – a rarity – and he appeared to be as tall as they claim his 6-foot-four-inch frame was.  He was a big, brawny man, and you could not miss his voice; it was deep and uniquely, unmistakably John Wayne.   

Forth degree:  My mother’s uncle married a lovely lady who lived next door to John Wayne.  She, too, attended our same church, and they became “couples” friends.  They shared meals and evening card games in their beautiful homes until the Waynes’ separated.  We heard many times that the Waynes were gracious and fun hosts.   

Fifth degree:  Our family knew the John Wayne house only from the outside bay view, as my father was a lifelong sailor, and we regularly sailed by their notable home.  It was a large, white ranch-style, one-story home with impeccable landscaping and a stunning view of the Newport Bay basin.  Most exciting to see, and keep tabs on over the years, was Wayne’s 136-foot yacht, “The Wild Goose,” moored within Wayne’s sight in the bay.  It was the biggest “stink-pot,” (that’s sailor slang for a boat powered by an engine and not a sail), in the bay.  With its huge, painted white hull and varnished teak trim, it was known by the locals as the floating Taj Majal.  It was well known that Wayne would use it for family outings and that celebrities and other dignitaries also enjoyed its capable size, crew, and accommodations. 

Do you think TJ cruised off of Catalina Island…

Sixth degree:  After church we would often go to Richard’s Market, a local, individually owned, top-of-the-line supermarket at the base of Lido Island in Newport Beach, for our customary Sunday grocery shop.  The owner of the grocery store, who knew almost all of his customers by name, also just happened to go to our church, and was always friendly and chatty.  One Sunday, as we were purchasing our groceries, Mr. Richards pointed over to the next check-out stand and, said to me and Mom, “That’s the crew of ‘The Wild Goose.’  They’re taking someone you know somewhere.”  We were a little confused.  “They’re taking a special someone out.  Still not getting it, we just looked blankly at him.  He then asked one of the men purchasing items, “Can you tell them who you’re taking out?”  The man looked a tad chagrined, but said, “Sure.  We’re goin’ out on a cruise with Tom Jones and guests.  We’re preppin’ the galley and stockin’ up on supplies.”  My heart skipped a beat or two.  Mother and I looked at each other as if we were in on a secret.  So many questions we wanted to ask, but we were, for lack of better words, good girls.  We didn’t grill the Goose Crew.  We didn’t need Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and it would be decades until Richard Castle and detective Nikki Heat were created.  Besides, we were smart enough to know the most important part of the who: Tom Jones!  We did not have to sleuth out the what because we were told it was a cruise.  We didn’t know where, although we could surmise it would be either to anchor off of Catalina Island for a short cruise, or the coast of Mexico for a longer cruise.  We could guess when, because the supplies included fresh groceries, so it had to be soon.  It didn’t take a detective to determine the Why was for R & R, (rest and relaxation), because why else would anyone go on a cruise?  And we were told the How, as they would be cruising on “The Wild Goose.”   

As much as we wanted to pry and ask a million questions of the Goose Crew, we wished them bon voyage, and watched them as they went on their merry way.  Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum… or in Tom Jones case, a bottle of  Dom Perignon.  And that, my friends, is irrefutably stretching the six degrees of separation between me and Mom and Tom… the singer who saved me.

…or do you think the Superstar cruised to the coast of Mexico?

“Hello. Is that Snow White?”

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.

All performance photos – Ceaser’s Palace, Las Vegas

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.

The not so shy, Mr. Jones

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 brainDid 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.

Gypsy Singer

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.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club

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.

Jones with son, Mark. “This is Tom Jones” Fan Club

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.)

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club

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.)

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club

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.

Be Careful What You Wish For

April 20, 2011 § 8 Comments

How does an ordinary young girl find her place in life after a superstar has, even in the most miniscule way in the eyes of the world, touched her life?  At nineteen, being kissed by singer Tom Jones only served to solidify my purpose in life, which was to meet him.  Imagine every song that memory could recall that had the word “kiss” in it, and you could imagine what was going on in the limbic system of my brain.  Songs like “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” sung by Mel Carter, “Then He Kissed Me,” sung by The Crystals, and most especially, “Kiss,” sung by Marilyn Monroe flittered around in my head like butterflies.  The really good ones like “Kiss,” by Prince and later covered Jones, hadn’t even been written.

Mr. G. and Mr. J.

While other teens were socializing, studying in college, working, partying, and living the MTV life before there was MTV, I was attending school part-time, hiding in my room, and trying to figure out how to make Tom Jones fall in love with me so that I could feel beautiful, worthy, and, well, loved.  I knew there was something wrong with this picture, but it was the only picture in town, so to speak.  And since life seemed so limited, and I was living this narrow life in sepia-colored hues compared to others my age, Tom Jones added the Technicolor to what was my personal version of Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Pleasantville.

But of course, in order to make Mr. Jones fall in love with me, I had to meet him.  And this is where that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it,” comes into play (attributed to the short story, “Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs).  Because of my genuine, but failed, effort to nominate Jones for a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, the “Tom’s Booster’s” Fan Club president asked me to be the contact person with Tom’s road manager for a “meet and greet” when he came to play at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

After Performance – 1972

What?  Be still my palpitating 19-year-old heart!  I AM GOING TO MEET TOM JONES?  Oh, my God.  (That’s how we said it in the old days, when we didn’t have the modern, abbreviated version of OMG.)  My first thoughts were that this is what I’ve dream of, what I’ve hoped for, what I’ve put out in the universe as an intention, and is actually my wish come true.  I am going to meet the man who has occupied a good portion of my mind when I was sad and lonely, and whose voice resonated through my being, lifting me up, and sending endorphins throughout my body.  Mr. Jones = Mr. Excitement = Mr. Feel Good.  Not in a sleazy way – in a positive mental health kind of way.

But wait – do you hear the sound of tires screeching in their tracks?  There was just one problem.  At nineteen, I was still shy and afraid of my shadow.  How on earth was I going to arrange a meeting a superstar?  How was I going to meet him in Los Angeles, when I couldn’t even walk to my mail box or fly to Las Vegas with my mother without having a panic attack?  How could I call the Hotel Bel Air, where Tom’s road manager, Mr. G., was staying and arrange a meeting when I tremble just ordering lunch at the local drive-through Jack-in-the Box?

Again, “Be careful what you set your heart upon – for surely it will be yours.” (this saying is attributed to James Baldwin).  My Higher Power had to have had something to do with this, because I was just this tall, skinny kid who mostly hid at home, trying to connect with someone so far out of my connection zone that there had to have been some kind of divine intervention.  Anyway, this is what I did, and what I still do when I get nervous:  I wrote a script of what I wanted to say, I called the number, and when I reached Mr. G. on the telephone, I read the script.  BAM!  I had a date, a time, and a place to meet Tom Jones.

The shows were still a family affair and Mother and the sisters were in tow at the Greek Theatre; plus, my fears held me prisoner to driving long distances and going places without familiar faces.  I was to check-in with Mr. G. on the first of two nights of performances at the Greek.  We – the president and vice-president of “Tom’s Booster’s” Fan Club, and a club member from out of town and her young daughter – waited at the stage door for Mr. G.  I don’t know about the other ladies, but my thoughts were racing and my heart was pounding.  I was on the verge of meeting the object of my teenage desires, and what I learned many years later was also the transitional object in my teens and early twenties, the thing supporting the development of the self, my self.  For babies, the transitional object might be a blanket, something they can hold onto when mommy isn’t by the crib and they need comfort.  I didn’t know it at the time, but in many ways you could say Tom Jones was like my warm, fuzzy blanket I held onto when I needed comfort.

We waited at the stage door until it opened.  I met Mr. G. for the first time; he was a friendly man with whom I had many contacts over the years.  On our walk to Jones’ dressing room we came across a multitude of musicians, roadies, and Jones’ son, Mark Woodward.  It felt like the Red Seas of my tangled, ordinary life had parted and we were walking through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, where the famous singer would fall in love with the tall, skinny girl and we would live happily ever after.  Right?  Another door opened and BAM!  I made it to the goal, the purpose – my object.  There was Tom Jones in all of his glory.  He looked so gorgeous that I had difficulty maintaining my façade of maturity.

All thoughts of trying to get Tom to fall in love with me absolutely disappeared.  In the words of Sigmund Freud, “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead.  We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”  One thing that threw me off when we first arrived to his dressing room was that he did what so many people do, and men in particular, which is to assess my height with the once-over with his eyes, checking me out from the top of my head and then looking the full length of me, all the way down to my toes.  Do men do that to see if I am wearing high heels?

First Meeting With the Singer Who Saved Me

It rattled me a little.  I got caught off-guard.  I mean, this is TOM JONES.  This is Tom Jones, man of my teenage dreams, and my singing savior from being bullied; my go-to-guy for expressing feelings and emotions in song; the man with The Voice that calmed me the moment I heard it anytime, anyplace.  And here I was, finally in his presence, and I was… mostly thunderstruck.

Needless to say, Tom Jones did not fall in love with me the first time we met.  Nope – not at all.  I have to admit, however, I became more smitten with him despite his assessing my height.  I mean most people focus on the most obvious physical characteristic that stands out like a sore thumb, so why should he be different?  The backstage “meet and greet” was wonderful – the physical contact with a real flesh and blood man standing on terra firma and not on a stage added more fuel to my fire.  When I look at my old photograph with Tom in ‘72, I notice that he was that smooth and handsome superstar, and I was giddy and euphoric, slightly pulling away from him, like an immature young girl the first time I met… the singer who saved me.

Long Tall Sally

April 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

We returned to Vegas in spring of 1972.  This time Tom Jones was at Caesar’s Palace.  The hotel was dripping with gauche golden Roman decor, and men and women running around the casino wearing togas.  Former fighter, Joe Louis was Caesar’s formal “greeter,” wandering around the hotel welcoming the guests.  There were often comedians, such as Don Rickles, Norm Crosby (he toured with Tom and his malapropisms teased about “the fringe on his benefits”) and football stars, such as Deacon Jones, and many other football players whose names I’ve forgotten, hung out in the casinos or by the pool.

This trip was just me, Mom, and Tom (forget the several thousands of others there to specifically see TJ).  This trip to Vegas wasn’t something I had to earn, so it was all about seeing Tom Jones and loooooking goooood.  I spent a lot of time preparing just the right clothes, sewing most of them, because during that time period, there weren’t a lot of clothese to fit my 6’2” frame.  If, I wanted to wear pants, I had to make them myself to fit my 36-inch inseam; if I wanted to wear jeans, I had to buy them in the men’s department, and let’s just say, there was always just a little too much fabric in the crotch area.

Despite all of my clothing challenges, Mommio and I were dressed to the nines from arrival to departure in Vegas.  Yep, while I had a distinctly spiritual side that prayed and thought about how to be a good daughter, a good person, and a good citizen of the world, I had this flip-side that focused trying to make myself look good in order to make Tom Jones fall in love with me.  Because if Tom Jones fell in love with me, I would feel beautiful, right?  Because, “I leaned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens…At seventeen I learned the truth/And those of us with ravaged faces lacking in the social graces/Desperately remained at home inventing lovers on the phone/Who called to say come dance with me…It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.” (“At Seventeen,” lyrics by Janis Ian)

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club, Caesar’s Palace

At almost nineteen, something very strange began to occur.  Boys who used to be really mean, were suddenly looking at me in a different way.  I was still just as skinny, but any ounce of fat that I gained went to what judge Len Goodman, on Dancing with the Stars, refers to as the “chesticle” area.  Instead of being told, “You’re so skinny you look crippled,” (yes, someone had the gall to say that), boys, and even men, were suddenly saying, “Hey baby, hey baby,” (imagine Gwen Stefani singing the chorus).  But the change was too fast.  It was confusing.  What I was beginning to hear, didn’t match the internal dialogue inside of my head that said I was different and I wasn’t good enough.

 

As Mother and I enjoyed two fabulous days of fantastic Tom Jones’ shows, she had figured out how to get us seated at center stage.  There would be no more viewing from afar – uh-uh, oh no.  From now on it was up close and personal.  From now on, Jesse the maitre’d was the man to get us close to our man. Jesse and Mom spoke a special language called Greenback, and I think it took about 50-60 greenbacks to get us to that center-stage, touch-TJ’s-boots seating.

One thing we found fascinating was, how many men end up at Tom Jones’ shows, especially in Vegas.  These dear husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends who love their women so much that they are willing to sit around a bunch of women who are prime to go crazy and throw some panties at a man singing “What’s New Pussycat.”  The men are always won over by his voice.  Always.  That is the power of The Voice.  Despite the singer’s sexual antics and all of the wild women, The Voice is always the most important presence on the stage.

At our first show the music played, and the words announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones,” and I found myself literally sitting at the feet of the man who had been singing my teenage pain away, singing my adolescent heart to beat, and singing my youthful soul alive.  I knew the rhythm of his show (i.e., he sang two upbeat songs, then took a break to say hello to the audience and have a drink, before singing a slow song).  Suddenly, after the second song, I found myself standing, and this shy, awkward girl who was afraid to walk to the mailbox or go to school became determined, brave, and womanly, with a glass of water in her hand reaching out as an offering.  I heard him say to the band, “Well, looky here, there’s long, tall Sally.”  Jones was referencing the song, and the first of two nicknames he gave me over the years:

“Long tall Sally has a lot on the ball

And nobody cares if she’s long and tall

Oh baby, yes baby, whoo-oo-oo-oo baby,

I’m having me some fun tonight…”

(Long Tall Sally, by “Little” Richard Penniman, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, and Enotris Johnson)

We had a mini on-stage chat, during which I lied about my age.  My spiritual side which told me to always be truthful, was always at war with my need to make contact with my object of transition, but there was no way I was ever going to voice the word “teen” in any conversation I ever had with Mr.  Jones.  That could seriously jeopardize his ability to fall in love with me, which was, after all, my ultimate goal.  Remember too, I looked far more mature than I actually was.  And then it happened.  Tom Jones leaned over, put his arm around my back, and kissed me.  This was not a little peck on the lips kind of kiss.  This was a man kissing a woman kiss.  This was my first kiss ever, with any man.  How lucky can a tall, skinny girl who was bullied and teased and felt nervous and anxious and terrible about who she was get?  My first kiss was with… the singer who saved me.

Daughter of Darkness

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

“You took my heart and tore it apart, you daughter of darkness.” (“Daughter of Darkness,” song by Geoff Stephens)

From the Lens of T.H.

I still struggled with dark thoughts.  They didn’t go away because I hoped and prayed and wanted them to go away.  They didn’t go away because my parents hoped, and my mother prayed, and they both wanted my dark thoughts to go away.  They didn’t go away because I was suddenly madly, crazy-ga-ga infatuated with the sexy Tom Jones powerhouse performer I saw live in Las Vegas, and who lived inside of my sheltered teenage head and heart.

The dark times were there and I was always the “difficult” daughter.  Not difficult as in naughty or causing havoc.  Difficult as in hypersensitive, emotional, anxious, and then, as a teen, depressed.  I know there were times when my lack of self, lack of strength, lack of identity, which manifested itself in being clingy and dependent, isolative, emotional and tearful with a hopeless/helpless attitude, broke my parents’ hearts.  When my fears and frailties brought not just me, but those whom I loved the most, down to their knees.

From the Lens of T.H.

What was the family dynamic?  We were a family that looked good and fit in well everywhere.  We were a family that had lots of friends and social activities.  We were a family that did all sorts of interesting and exciting things.  Except for that tall, skinny daughter with the dark thoughts who disappeared.  While prayer was my only resource as a young girl, as I became an adult, and more familiar with the psychological process, I learned that I took on the role of the identified patient.  In family therapy, when everyone is focused on the easily identified person who is the  “problem,” it allows everyone else in the family to avoid looking at their own contribution to the problems within the whole family system.  And with as much love as there was within the family, there were problems, just like there are problems in every family.

While Tom Jones has historically been rather spare at doling out personal information, I remember being riveted to his report of feeling deep disappointment at a low point in the beginning of his career.  He had met his manager, Gordon Mills, released his first single “Chills and Fever,” which hadn’t done as well as they had hoped and dreamed, and Jones and Mills were low on money.  The two men were living in London, trying to make that big break happen, and Jones’ wife, Belinda, (commonly known as Linda), was working in a factory in Wales, helping to support her little family, and taking care of their young son, Mark.  It was reported that in his despair, “Jones stared at a London Underground train approaching as he stood on the platform and thought how easy it would be to end it all by stepping in front of it… ‘For a split second I thought, awe, f*** it, if I just step to the right it’d be over.  I felt so down because I didn’t know what to do.  That very rarely happens to me.  I didn’t want to go back to Wales without proving myself.  I wasn’t making any money.  F*** it.  But then things flash through your mind.  What about your wife?  What about your son?  What about your mother and father?  How would they feel?  But for that split second – that’s as low as I’ve ever got.”  (The Independent, “Tom Jones: The Devil in Mr. Jones,” by Bob Guccione, Jr., April 16, 2005.)  Shortly thereafter, Jones recorded “It’s Not Unusual,” his first hit, and the rest is Jonesian history.

Photographed by Patty

How would they feel? That is the question I always asked myself when my thoughts got dark – when I became the daughter of darkness.  How would they feel? That is what you must focus on when you get lost in the darkness and the pain of living.  How would they feel? They would feel unbearable hurt, loss, and grief.  Whenever I thought my pain was too great, I asked, how would they feel… and persevered… just like the singer who saved me.

 

Brilliant Idea…Bad Timing

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

At 18-years-old, I tried to figure out a clever way I could somehow inveigle, insinuate, and worm my way into Tom Jones’ world.  I began to build my relationship with the president of Tom’s Boosters Fan Club, and also began a long-term correspondence with an older woman living south of San Diego.  Being 6’2” and growing up with older sisters, I could sometimes fake looking and sounding mature and could talk fairly easily with older women.  These two women would play a huge role in my TJ connection.  One on the fan side, and one on the groupie side, but I am getting ahead of myself…

Thinking I am going to major in Communications with a focus in Public Relations and Advertising, I began wracking my brain as to how I can utilize my growing, bookish PR knowledge.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club, Detroit 1971

And then it hit me, while I was watching Rona Barrett, a local LA precursor version of Mary Hart, (who was probably still in junior high school), on our local Channel 11 news, showing some actor getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Of course!  This is it!  Tom Jones needs a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

I immediately wrote the president of Tom’s Boosters, who immediately wrote the gentleman who managed the Tom Jones National Fan Club, operated by Jones’ management.  They said, go for it.  I immediately wrote Johnny Grant, who was at that time, in charge of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which operated under the Chamber of Commerce.  I wrote of letter of inquiry requesting the requirements for nominating an entertainer into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It was quite simple:  You nominate, and if they accept the nomination, you pay the money.    Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom – it was so simple.

If memory serves me correctly, in late 1971, when Tom’s Boosters nominated Tom Jones to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the fee for “maintenance” of the star was $2500.  We had absolutely no doubt that we could come up with the funds, given the legions of fans in southern California alone.  And we knew if we needed help from our “sister” chapter fan clubs, they would jump on in throughout the states, and beyond.  That’s what hard-core fans do – they support in body, heart, and soul… and dollars, pounds, francs, and yen.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club, Detroit 1971

We were giddy with excitement.  We had the Tom Jones National Fan Club blessing, and we knew we could come up with the cash.  I moved forward with the appropriate nomination paperwork and sent it off with a kiss.  Remember, I was emotionally attached to the singer.  I could do things related to Tom Jones that I could not do just for myself.  And, if I’m going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, wouldn’t it be nice to start with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame?

We waited until we finally got the letter from Johnny Grant.  I was so excited.  This was my letter of entry into Tom Jones’ world.  The letter stated that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce representing the Hollywood Walk of Fame “regrets to inform you,” that the nomination of Tom Jones was not accepted, due the fact that Mr. Jones was a relatively new performer, who had not yet withstood the “test of time.”  It was a bitter pill to take 40 years ago.  Nowadays, it seems like young pop stars find themselves “starred” and “waxed” (Madame Tussaud’s, I mean) before they even hit their prime, let alone withstand the test of time.  Looking back, however, I do believe that in earlier years they did strive harder for singers/actors/entertainers to have a large body of work behind them in order to earn and deserve their star.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club

My parents tried to rescue me from the sobbing, heaving, “ugly cry,” as Oprah calls it.  They tried to comfort me, saying “It’s OK.  A star was a brilliant idea.  It will happen.  Just not now.  You did all you could do to make it happen.”  What they didn’t know or understand (although I think my mother had a little motherly intuition) was the real, secret goal of my teenage fantasy:  MEET TOM JONES.  They didn’t know my secret motivating mantra:  “If I’m going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, I have to…”  They didn’t know that I believed that if Tom Jones connected with me, then I would have value and worth and everything would be all right in my world.

It took until 1989 for Jones to get his long overdue star.  I heard about it over the news.  It is reported that his star was nominated and funded by his fans, which is reportedly the only time a star has been funded by fans.  No surprise there – his hard-core fans love him as much now as then.  You can find the star at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard, just outside of Frederick’s of Hollywood.  No surprise there, either.

The Voice would not only withstand the test of time, but would triumph in his 70th year by producing one of his most highly acclaimed CDs, Praise and Blame.  The Voice that sang to millions.  The Voice that sold millions.  The Voice that earned a star for… the singer who saved me.

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