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.

The Chapter Fan Club Era

March 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

After Vegas, I joined the “Official Tom Jones Fan Club.”  It was set up by Jones’ management, based in New York, and an official fan club member received a black and white autographed photo, a welcome “Letter from Tom,” and news of where he’d be performing.  I hadn’t joined prior to seeing the singer perform because, being isolative, I wasn’t much of a joiner.

“Tom’s Boosters” Fan Club, L.A. 1971

As a college student, I could only tolerate a few classes at a large junior college.  I tried to focus on my goal of learning and studying journalism, advertising, and public relations, yet I daydreamed about my real goal:  MEET TOM JONES.  When Los Angeles Times reporter, Robert Hilburn, wrote an article in Westways Magazine pullout section, I responded with a letter to the editor.  In the fossil-like, pre-Facebook days when every family was listed in the phone book, I received a lot of positive responses in the form of letters sent to my home.

I heard from a lot of Tom Jones fans, the president of a fan club “chapter” based in Orange County, called Tom’s Boosters, an Engelbert Humperdinck fan, and even my third grade teacher.  I discovered the “chapter” fan clubs were made of the hardcore fans consisting of the heart and soul of the singer’s fan base. I learned how important the chapter fan clubs were because the president of Tom’s Boosters sent me a photograph of her and her vice-president standing next to Tom Jones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engelbert Humperdinck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So dreams do come true! Suddenly, twirling around in my teenage head I heard those little birdies chirping and a falsetto singing, “Some day my prince will come…  Some day when my dreams come true.” (“My Prince Will Come,” song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney)

I immediately joined the Orange County chapter, Tom’s Boosters.  Another favorite chapter was called This is Tom Jones.  It was set up like a clipping service, where fans sent clippings from newspaper articles or reviews throughout the country and the chapter president (if I recall correctly, was based in Michigan) compiled, printed, and sent them out to TJ fans all across the US.  It kept us all abreast of TJ news in a world that did not yet have Entertainment Tonight and Extra on TV, or People and OK Magazine, let alone the internet.

“Tom’s Boosters” Fan Club, L.A. 1971

The women who ran the chapter fan clubs in the 70s were extremely diverse.  Most were older than me, many were married with children, and we all came from different walks of life.  Everyone was friendly and generous, sharing their knowledge and experiences about where and when Tom was going to perform, photographs, fun Tom stories, etc.  (By the way, if you recognize any of your photographs and would like your name credited, please contact me; I do not want to put private names out into the world without permission.)

Today you have the Official Tom Jones website (www.tomjones.com), and newsy fan sites, such as Tom Jones International (www.tomjonesintl.com), Tom Terrific (www.tjfanclub.com), Tom Jones Scandinavian (www.tomjones.dk), and more.  You can Google, you can “You Tube”, and it is a far cry from the old days of snail mail communication.

It was surprising how one simple letter to the editor opened my world and began to pave the way to making my teenage dreams come true.  It unexpectedly took me into a Tom Jones fan world I didn’t know existed.  Even though I was attending school, I had tunnel vision and was in and out without really partaking of the college experience.  The fan world opened my closed world just a crack.

We were all obsessed with the object of our affection.  We all communicated by letter, so no one knew or cared what anyone looked like, or if you were shy or sensitive or anxious or awkward.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club, Chicago 1971

And you heard little stories about the famous pop star that most people never heard, like the time Tom Jones was presented with a crown for being the unofficial “prince” of Wales.  Instead of withdrawing and shutting people out of my world,  I developed a few pen-pal relationships with a common interest… the singer who saved me.

The Motivating Mantra of My Younger Years

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

While most 18-year-olds and the law consider an 18-year-old an adult, I still felt like a child.  Like a little girl in a big girl’s body who had to hide.  Someone who couldn’t cope with normal things, like driving on the freeway, going new places, meeting new people, or getting out of my comfort zone – and my comfort zone was really, really small.

From the Lens of T.H.

And so, with much encouragement from my parents, I enrolled in college.  I no longer had the incentive to see Tom Jones perform in Las Vegas, so this is the slightly twisted mental game I played with myself in order to give myself the courage to move forward in my life:

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to get out of the house.”

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to drive to college.”

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to walk into that classroom.”

From the Lens of T.H.

Why did I need to use the idea of Tom Jones falling in love with me in order to do the things I feared?  Obviously there was a lack of ego strength; a lack of confidence and self-love; a teenage self-loathing based on anxiety, teasing, bullying, rejection, not relating to “normal” kids at whatever age, being different from others, etc. The sheepish teenage girly-girl in me liked his exhibitionism and told me I needed my motivating mantra because he was handsome and must be as wonderful as my youthful hopes and dreams (projections, really).

My subconscious was sending some kind of message I didn’t know or understand at the time, and had something to do with me knowing that Tom Jones would never fall in love with the person I was.  So somehow I had to become the kind of person Tom Jones might fall in love with.  I couldn’t become the kind of person I needed to be just for myself, so I had to become the kind of person someone really special, someone who had a gift, might fall in love with.  If someone who has value loved me… it would mean I had value… right?

From the Lens of T.H.

If you look at ego development from Erik Erikson’s (esteemed developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst) point of view, adolescent occurs between 12 to 18, and is a time in which you find your identity through what you do, who you socialize with, how you define your beliefs, how you begin to grow away from your family, begin to move into your own social circle, and become part of society.  Somewhere during the normal course of childhood development, I grew physically tall, but was emotionally stunted; my family defined my beliefs and I had accomplished none of the steps of maturity listed above.

While I did a lot of praying, I didn’t know any other ways to help myself, so I “attached” to this singer who was able to express so beautifully and powerfully, in song, every emotion a human being could feel.  I depended upon his voice to always be there for me; I depended on his songs to identify or express how I felt; and once I saw Tom Jones sing live in Las Vegas I depended upon him to make me feel like a woman.  I also depended upon Tom Jones to never reject me.

From the Lens of T.H.

In Tom Jonesville I was safe.  Entry into the real world as a college student, however, was challenging because I had become so withdrawn it was difficult to be around strangers (basically, anyone I didn’t know, which meant everyone).  I lived in fear that someone, especially a professor, would speak to me and I would have to respond.

Thus began my secret life with my motivating mantra, “If Tom Jones is going to fall in love with me, I have to…”  And though it may sound odd, this is what helped me negotiate the scary dark corners of my younger years, and yet another way… the singer saved me.

BAM!

March 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

BAM!  Taking in a Tom Jones show in an intimate lounge setting was like getting a shot of adrenaline.  One minute I was simply existing, and the next I was acutely aware of the blood rushing through my veins, my heart pounding to the beat of the music, my ears keenly attuned to the sound of The Voice emoting the gamut of love, hate, sexuality, and even death in song.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club – Chicago 1971

BAM!  The memory of Vegas lived on.  By the time we were home, mother and I relived it again and again, as if it was our own personal Live in Las Vegas album.  Remember when he bound out on the stage?  Remember when he took his jacket off?  Remember when he drank champagne?  Remember when he bantered with the audience?  Remember when he danced?

BAM!  We loved every second of the singing, but we were suddenly focused on the man, because that was the first time we had ever seen the man.  Tom Jones was no longer a 36” television screen or a photograph on an album.  He was a real man.

BAM!  A real man.  The moment I laid eyes on Tom Jones in Las Vegas, I knew.  I knew I had to meet him.  I didn’t know how or when.  I just knew that somehow I would.  It was now my purpose in life.  And this is where my road got a little twisted.

This is something I never shared with anyone at the time, because to make it known would have been too embarrassing.  I knew it was childish and immature, and I would have been humiliated if others knew my true The Real Manmotive.  But, in my teenage fantasies, I believed that if I could just get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, everything would be all rightI would be all right.  If Tom Jones fell in love with me… it would mean I would have value, I could feel good about myself, I would feel loved, and I would live happily ever after.  Right?

There was just one catch.  Well, to be honest, there were a few catches.  Tom Jones was married.  I was an underage, “jail bait” teenage girl who couldn’t even walk to the mailbox without having conniptions.  I still struggled with hypersensitivity, social anxiety, awkwardness, and shyness.  I had trouble carrying on a conversation with my old friends, had no new friends, and in fact, my only friend was pretty much my mom.

Still, in my heart of hearts, I believed that if I could get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, everything would be all right. BAM!  Somewhere within, there was an itty-bitty strength that told me an unknown, unremarkable teenage girl could meet a famous, remarkable superstar — the man of her dreams and teenage fantasies.  And so, listening to the singer saved me… morning, noon, and night.

Road Trip to Vegas!

February 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

At 17, I spent months preparing to see Tom Jones live in Las Vegas. I pushed myself to the limit just to accomplish my mother’s bribe to get me out of the womb tomb of home.   I was nervous about leaving my safety zone.  Whenever I wasn’t home, I felt like a modern-day Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, running though an obstacle course of insecurities and just wanting to click my heels to get home.

While I had the support of my family and a lot of prayerful support for all of my free-floating anxieties, as I look back as an adult, I wish someone had been able to talk to me realistically about my fears.  Like a typical teenager, I thought I was the only one on the face of the earth who had these weird feelings and thoughts.  I didn’t even know there was a name for panic attacks.  And there were no Lucinda Basset infomercials at 3 am in the morning to identify symptoms and share successful solutions that gave birth to her Midwestern Center for Stress and Anxiety.

Tom Jones – Writing a Note

One thing I wasn’t nervous about was the fact that we three sisters and Mom would look good in Vegas.  We were all into fashion, and Vegas in the 70s was not the Vegas we know now.  It was not the “family place” it has become; it was a place where adults went to gamble, see the shows, and enjoy the hotels.  No schlepping around in ratty t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops.  You dressed up when you went to Vegas.  You wore your best jeans or “pantsuits” or mini-skirts during the day, bikinis with cute little cover-ups at the pool, and lovely cocktail dresses, gowns, or sophisticated pant outfits for the shows.

And so we loaded our luggage into “ Sea-foam,” Mother’s big ol’ Cadillac with a white-beige leather top and gorgeous aqua bottom that looked like a wave on four wheels, and hit the road.  We were all really excited, which helped get us through the flat four-hour ride through the desert from Newport Beach to Las Vegas.  Once we got there we decided to eat lunch at The Flamingo Hotel, because – duh! – even Mom had listened to the Live from Las Vegas album a gazillion times and wanted to check it out.

We arrived at the Hotel International and it was huge and gorgeous and modern and Vegas beyond our imaginations.

Tom Jones – Reading a Note

Our bevy of beauty and the ugly duckling, (I am now able to identify this as a distorted belief, but at the time, it was my tiny world view), explored the hotel and took advantage of the April sun and pool.  Later we played the slot machines.  My sisters were well over 21, and while I was still a teen, my height and quiet manner feigned maturity, allowing me to appear to be of age.  I was able to pull down a few slots myself, and I felt like such a grown up!  I think we spent a whole $35 in quarters, and someone won back about $25.

To tell the truth, however, the only thing running through my adolescent head was that Tom Jones is here.  He is in this hotel.  I am going to see him.  I am going to hear him sing.  Like a calming mantra slowing my breath, I was breathing in Tom Jones… Breathing out Tom Jones… Breathing in Tom Jones… Breathing out Tom Jones… Calming my nerves and soothing my anxious soul…  I was only 17, and waiting to see… the singer who saved me.

Mother Knew Best

February 16, 2011 § 6 Comments

Did Tom Jones feel special at a very young age?  From what has been written and quoted, singing and girls came easily to him from lad to lothario.  You have to have confidence to succeed in the entertainment industry.  Confidence is reinforced again and again if you have the talent to “bring it” each time it is called upon.  You also have to have confidence to keep chasing it when you are told you aren’t quite good enough or what they want at the time.

Tom Jones

I certainly didn’t feel special or confident.  In fact it was quite embarrassing that at times I could barely walk to the mailbox without becoming breathless and getting the shakes.  If I spotted anyone outside, I would wait until they were gone before I’d go out.

So while Mr. Jones was married and with a young son, building a successful career recording albums, touring, and taping TV shows, building a huge base of fans, there I was, hiding in my bedroom, placing my stereo needle receiver on those big ol’ round, black, vinyl albums and gazing at those gorgeous album covers.  I would get movie magazines, the old fashioned version of People or OK Magazine, in order to get news of the singer.

One random day, Mother, came up with a scheme – a trick, a plan, a plot – to get me out of the house.  We all knew it wasn’t healthy for me to stay home day and night, even though it felt like it was the only safe place on the face of the earth, but no one ever really verbalized it.  So this was it, Mommio’s 3-part scheme:

“If you will

(1) Go back to high school for just one class

(2) Go to John Robert Powers modeling school for a basic modelinge class

(3) I will take you and the girls to Las Vegas to see Tom Jones.”

WHAT??? Be still my teenage heart.  Go to Las Vegas, Nevada?  Turn the Tom Jones Live from Las Vegas album, which I had memorized word for word, including his in-between-song chit-chat with audience members, a reality?

 

“Oh yes, Mommio!”  I made a decision that I would do whatever it takes to make this happen.  Despite overwhelming anxiety, I was determined to walk through the halls of high school hell to make this happen.  I would pretend I had the ability to walk the model walk like Twiggy, (Tyra wasn’t born yet), even though I couldn’t walk to the mailbox.

I chose a class that was the closest to the school parking lot, because I figured that if I panicked going to the mailbox, it was going to be more than a challenge to walk through school again.  So I chose a sewing class that would, due to stereotypical roles of that time period, not include mean boys, and it would be only a hop, skip and a jump from my car.  Condition # 1 accomplished.

A Twiggy in Training

Making John Robert Powers modeling class happen was more difficult, because it was a freeway drive into Santa Ana, near Bullocks Fashion Square in Orange County.  Having become so homebound, and also having physical problems with severe headaches and at times losing part of my vision, I had become extremely fearful of driving… especially driving freeways.

And the Dark Ages of the early 70s we weren’t even thinking about wireless telephones in our homes, let alone cell phones to take in our cars for matters of safety.  I had to depend on all of my family members to drive me to John Robert Powers.  Despite all of my fears and multiple panic attacks prior to the modeling classes, the TJ motivator was strong enough to push me through.  Condition # 2 accomplished!

Mother booked the trip to Kirk Kerkorian’s hot, new Hotel International in Las Vegas for Tom Jones’ spring 1970 show!  The International was known for Elvis’ invasion into Vegas.  I always wondered if Elvis’ eventual move to sing in Vegas was fueled by Jones’ incredible success there.  I wondered if the Colonel had thought Vegas wasn’t “big enough” for the legendary Elvis until, perhaps, he recognized how Jones was able to fill large stadiums like the LA Forum and Madison Square Garden, and still successfully utilize the more intimate setting of the Vegas lounge system like the older crooners, such as Sinatra.

The trip was months and months away.  I was going to see and hear the object of my affection sing live.  I would go into my 8’ by 10’ bedroom, listen to The Voice, and have a little, itty, bitty spark of hope.  I had something special to look forward to, and in those moments… the singer saved me.

Why Do I Exist?

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

As my parents and I would make our regular two hour and fifteen minute trek to a cabin in Big Bear, I would look at all of the different people in all of the different cars we would drive by, and wonder, “Why am I me, in this body, in this car, in this family, at this time… and why are you in your body, in your car, in your family, at this time?”  In the throws of adolescence, I often pondered, “Why do I exist?”

From my religious training, I understood that I existed to reflect all of the good qualities of a good God who created man (and woman) in His image and likeness.  We prayed over every problem, yet, when I became hopeless and helpless, my mother would ask, “Do you want to see a psychiatrist?”  But, because it was the late 60s and the early 70s, psychiatry and psychology were still not really part of the mainstream.  Certainly not something in which “normal” people participated.  In movies and TV they were depicted as dealing with crazy people.

The mere question felt more threatening than helpful, and made me even more fearful.  It led me to wonder if there really might be something wrong with me.  If I saw someone to help me with my emotional feelings – feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, insecurity, not fitting in, low self-worth, melancholy, depression, uncertainty of the future, questioning why I exist – would that mean I was crazy?  I would always respond to the “Do you want to see a psychiatrist?” question with an emphatic “No!”

In retrospect, I wish I had seen a mental health expert.  I believe my healing, my development, my growth into maturity might not have taken as long, nor gone down such a long, lonely path.  But, I also might not have discovered the power of my object of transition and transformation – Tom Jones.  Mother, who dealt with life’s problems through prayer, wanted the decision to “see somebody” to be my choice, but I was not capable of making that decision.

As I reflect upon my childhood, I might have suffered a little bit from of what is referred to as existential dread.  Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who led the way to 20th century existentialism, referred to the Danish word angst as meaning dread or anxiety.  As it relates to teenagers, existential dread is a fear, a sometimes unidentifiable, unknown feeling that is almost paralyzing and leads to a loss of hope.

Bullying led me to hide at home where no one would intimidate me or tease me, thoughtless comments of Everyday Jack and Jill led me to hide because I hated the self-consciousness that came with every “How’s the weather up there?” or “Hey spaghetti legs!”  But there was something else, something that I couldn’t describe to my parents or anyone else… It was a hopelessness, an inability to see that I had any real positive future…  I couldn’t see the forest from the trees… even though I was the tallest tree in the forest.

And would go into my room, listen to “I (Who Have Nothing),” and get lost in the Tom Jones zone.

Tom Jones – From the Lens of T.H.

I, I who have nothing
I, I who have no one
Adore you, and want you so
I’m just a no one
With nothing to give you, but oh
I love you

(Translated to English by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stroller from the Italian song, “Uno Dei Tanti.”  Originally released by Ben E. King in 1963; sung by many artists thereafter, but made most popular by Tom Jones in 1970.)

I would hear his voice, see his face, watch him move, and my adolescent heart would sing.  I would hold on to Tom Jones… and the singer saved me.

(NOTE:  If you feel sad, depressed, fearful, anxious, regularly ponder the meaning of life – not in a good way – seek out the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, pastor, minister, or family member.)

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