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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.