The Long Maturing Road
July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
As I was walking – no, crawling – on my long maturing road, I moved from a junior college to a university and switched majors from Communications to English Literature. Why? I was afraid to drive the freeways. Embarrassing to admit back in the day, but it was true. Anxiety regarding driving the freeways actually changed my entire college path. I had transferred to a state college with a forty-minute drive on the freeway, but on the first day of school, I had a panic attack, and realized I couldn’t force myself to meet the challenge; when it came to fight or flight, I was a flight risk. So, with a lot more shame than embarrassment, I ended up transferring to a university with a mere fifteen-minute drive from home to classroom… on streets. At the time, it was just another seemingly paralyzing, shameful reason as to why I was stuck in a place of arrested development; and another reason why I felt so insecure and would find myself escaping into Tom Jonesville, a place I went to whenever I needed a boost or a release for my many emotions.
Most people thought my fear had to do with actually driving on the freeway, or a fear of getting lost, which I have to admit, not wanting to go outside a 5-mile radius beyond my home tended to confirm that theory. However, the biggest reason I didn’t drive the freeways had more to do with the fact that I got severe migraines, which were often triggered when driving. I would be cruising along and suddenly, the glint of sunlight off of a chrome bumper would temporarily alter my vision and I would see spots and lose part of my vision. Once the spots showed up I would inevitably have a “light show” in my eyes, followed by temporary, partial vision, and a severe, debilitating migraine headache. I would end up in bed and stay in a dark room for one or two days. The pain of these sick migraines was severe and debilitating and lasted for years.
Because we didn’t go to doctors, I didn’t know what that visual problem meant, and so, in my ignorance, I was afraid that I was losing my vision. My mother and I would pray, and pray, and pray over this lurking fear of blindness. I had so many lingering fears regarding my sight and the horrible pain and sickness of a migraine that it interfered with my ability to live my life freely for years. In my limited world, fear of losing my vision while driving also translated to fear of driving any distance by myself on freeways. What would happen if I had to pull over and wait for an hour on the side of the freeway to get my vision back? What would happen if I became sick on the side of the freeway? Good things don’t happen to girls alone on the side of a freeway. I would focus on every news show that featured a horrible story about a woman on a freeway. As usual, my inability to contain my fears always led to catastrophizing.
At this point, my father, who did see doctors, took me to his ophthalmologist. The surgeon was shocked to find out that I feared losing my vision, and was quickly able to identify the lights and loss of vision as a migraine “aura,” which can precede a migraine for up to 60 minutes and can include blind spots, fine lines that float across your field of vision, spots that move or shimmer, and flashes of light. I cannot describe the relief that came with the news that I wasn’t facing blindness. It was as if I had been living in the Dark Ages, and a man from the future came back to share his knowledge. (Side note: These migraines can still occasionally knock me off my feet, though in the late 80s I began to use medication to help with the pain and limitations they imposed on my life, and it made a huge improvement in the quality of my life.)
Speaking of my father, I have to honor how he always moved heaven and earth for me to see Tom Jones. In fact, I honor all of the men – the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, and male friends – that were patient and accepting of all of us women who danced around Tom Jones for years and still do, and made them change their plans, spend money when maybe we shouldn’t have, attend concerts, let us control the TV clicker on certain nights, listen to albums or CDs over and over again, drive us long distances, etc. For me and Mommio, any trips to our mountain cabin were planned around TV Guide and had to occur either before or after any TJ television shows or specials; Dad just accepted it as “girl rule” and part of his lot in life, as these were the old days, before Beta, video, or DVR. (Today, can you imagine such a life?)
Due to my fear of driving the freeways, Daddio would always drive me up to whatever L.A. box office was selling TJ tickets, because I could get better tickets than places like Ticketron offered. He also gave me the tip to show my photos with Tom to “improve the odds of getting better tickets.” He was a keen writer, due to the fact that he went to law school, (though getting his law degree was interrupted by the war), and when I was really young and trying to promote “Tom’s Booster’s” fan club, he taught me everything about being specific and checking for details, and how to edit, edit, edit. He was a great salesman and businessman, and Daddio was probably the one who told me to have a “cheat-sheet” in front of me when I made calls to Tom’s management in order to prompt me what to say. It actually helped assuage my nerves, and is a life lesson I’ve used for years. Daddio always had more confidence in me than I had in myself, saying repeatedly, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I never believed him, until I met Tom Jones.
Near the end of his life, my father took me out to a little restaurant on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. After lunch we would always walk around the Island, admire the beautiful and charming homes, and check out the sailboats and “stinkpots” in the bay. He was struggling with his short-term memory this summer, more so than ever before. He forgot three times that we had already ordered our lunch, but was able to describe, in detail, the way his childhood bedroom looked, the first car he got when he was 14-years-old, and what he ate on board ship in the navy during World War II.
Neither of us knew this would be our last lunch alone together, or that in a mere three months he would be gone. Out of the blue, he asked, “Judi, was I a good father? Was there something I could have done better?” For me, just asking that question was the very answer. There were so many ways he was a good father that I could write a blog about this tall, handsome man who wore a bow tie, seemed to know the answer to everything, was generous beyond words, and always left me with a kiss on the cheek, saying “I love you, my sweet,” or “Keep your powder dry.” (This is a “Be prepared!” reference that comes from the old days when you had to carry a satchel of dry gun powder to place into your gun when it was necessary to shoot, and meaning you have to be careful with your resources and use them when you need them.)
I have to admit that among the many things I told him I was grateful for was his willingness to pave the way on my long trip to Tom Jonesville. Like my mother, he knew it was important, but unlike my mother, I don’t think he understood why. But that was the beauty of my father; even if he didn’t get the why, he simply understood it was. While we ate lunch, I reminded him about the time he drove me up to my sister’s place to see Tom in L.A., and a few days later, after I seeing him on and offstage, Dad was supposed to pick me up and take me home. Suddenly something came up in his business and he couldn’t pick me up; mother was ill and couldn’t pick me up; and my neither of sisters could get me home. I was afraid of going on a public bus system with so many strangers, or in a taxi with only one stranger (on the verge of an anxiety-ridden agoraphobia attack).
For some reason that neither one of us could remember, I had to get home. What did he do? Daddio sent me home from LA to Orange Country in a six-seat passenger airplane. There was twenty-something me, scared-to-death to be with five very serious businessmen heading home from a long day’s work in L.A. I was able to manage my anxiety because I was actually flying on a TJ high. Daddio and I both laughed out loud remembering all of his enabling of my Tom Jones shenanigans. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, because by then I was managing my life-limiting migraines, fears of driving the freeways, and oh-so many other things that in my teens and twenties I didn’t dream possible during my Tom Jones days. We both laughed it off, but I will be forever grateful that he supported me 100% in the long maturing road that included… the singer who saved me.
April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
What struck me upon meeting Tom Jones for the first time in 1972 was that he was easygoing, casual, and, well, affable. Not the expected, “I am lion hear me roar,” sex machine that had been described over the years. When he sings, he sings without an accent, but when he speaks off-stage, he speaks with a Welsh accent. He was just so darn real, life-size, and human off-stage. On-stage, when Jones takes the stage, the star and The Voice become larger than life. The largest venue I’ve seen him perform is the Los Angeles Forum, and I discovered that even in the large arenas, Jones was always bigger than his biggest venue.
What would it be like, to be a singer who is able to take command of a stage and an audience? What is that feeling that singers feel? Is it love? Joy? Adulation? Acceptance? Oneness with the audience? Power? Is that what Tom Jones longed for when he was a young prepubescent boy stricken with TB and stuck at home alone? Is it what he yearned for when he got his first real taste of popularity singing in the local Welsh pubs? Is that what he felt when he claimed his fame and fortune? Is it enough to fill you when you are on the road 24 Hours?
24 Hours is a critically acclaimed CD that preceded Jones’ recent Praise and Blame, with many songs co-written by Jones. Some of the songs in 24 Hours are autobiographical and reflect the challenges a family deals with when a singer travels the road for a living 24/7. There was much buzz about the ode to his long-time wife in “The Road,” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babatunde Bablolla, Armando Manzanero, Lisa Rachelle Green, and Darren Emilio Lewis. You have to know Jones and his story to get the connection to “Seen That Face” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babtunde Babalola, Nicole Louise Morier, and Darren Emilio Lewis, which describes the recognition of pain on a child’s face when you leave him.
Whatever that feeling is that singers get, they get hooked on it like crack, and follow it through the gypsy lifestyle with its infamous sex, drugs, and rock and roller-coaster, which takes its toll on anyone who enters the golden gates of fame and fortune. The life of a gypsy singer is fraught with struggles. It is the struggle of breaking into the industry. Then there is the struggle to stay at the top. There is also the struggle to ride the ebb and flow of a career in the music industry, which eats you up and spits you up as fast as it can; or as fast as the gifted one can self-destruct. And family members are along for the ride.
The most insidious loss for anyone involved with a gypsy singer is the difficulty of maintaining intimate family relationships, because it always starts out with the intention of being a positive thing for the family. Tom Jones’ story is no different. He had a wife and a child by the time he was 17-years-old and he knew he had talent. The goal was to support the family. “I started singing in clubs about the time he [son, Mark Woodward, who kept Jones’ surname; Jones is Tom’s mother’s maiden name] was born, so I wasn’t around him much. I went to London in 1964, and my wife would come to see me, but I didn’t see my son unless I went back to Pontypridd. I wanted to, but I was very preoccupied. From 1965 I started going to America a lot – the records were as big there as here [England]. I didn’t have time to be in Wales, but I thought as long as I was sending money home it was okay.” (“Relative Values: Tom Jones and Mark Woodward, by Bridget Freer, The Sunday Times, UK,12/8/02).
What about the wife and child? Where do they fit in? How do they live a family life at home without that gypsy singer? Once the struggle is over, is it all glamour and riches? Is it lonely? How do you live your life without the love of your life around? Who do you have intimate relationships with (and I don’t mean sexual intimacy, I mean close, sharing, relationships). And who does the gypsy singer become intimate with? The gypsy singer becomes close to the gypsy roadie family. And, like it or not, they do go “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”
(“Lookin’ for Love,” written by Wanda Mallette, Patti Ryan, and Bob Morrison.)
How do you participate in the family’s emotional needs while sustaining them financially as a gypsy singer? This is how the young Jones family did it, according to Bridget Freer’s 2002 interview with Tom and Mark:
TOM: “Mark’s had a life most kids haven’t had with their fathers. We became closer as men than we did when I was a teenager and he was a little boy, and that was through working together. We got older together…
“When the money started rolling in from “It’s Not Unusual,” I bought a house in Shepperton and said: ‘Now we can have Mark with us.’ That was 1966. I enjoyed going to pick him up from school… The mothers would be: ‘Oooooh, there’s Tom Jones!…
“He was a shy child. He spent a lot of time in his room listening to music. Later, there’d be six-month tours; it affected him more than I realized. He came out for school holidays wherever I was, and always seemed fine. But one night, when he was 15, we went to a restaurant and he was very quiet. Linda said: ‘He’s missing you a lot now.’ We talked it over and she said: ‘Do you think he could travel with you? I said: ‘Yeah, as long as it’s okay with his school’…”
MARK: “Me and my mother were alone a lot. She felt the strain, but she couldn’t go with him because I was in school. I missed him. It came to a head when I was an adolescent. I got depressed, and my parents didn’t know what to do. It was only the three of us – three young people. It was a big decision, but I left school and went on tour with him.
All my working life has been in my father’s business. I never wanted to do anything else. I was a roadie first, and whenever somebody got fired I learnt their job. Tom let me have a lot of input. I would never call him Tom to his face – that would feel weird. I call him Tom to a third person. I couldn’t say: ‘Would you book my daddy?’
He never gave me the father-son talk. I had to learn from experience. I was with grown-ups 24 hours a day… He wasn’t a 55-year-old guy in a suit coming home from his nine-to-five, laying down the law: he was in his thirties, with a very unusual lifestyle. My mother too – we all had an unusual lifestyle. That made them more sympathetic to me…
Soon after Gordon Mills, Tom’s manager, died, Tom said: ‘Are you willing to take the reins?’ I hesitated, because it’s all well very well having an opinion, but as manager, if a business decision went sideways it would fall on my shoulders. But it made sense: I was a 29-year-old, road-hardened kind of fellow, and as soon as I had my own family, I decided I couldn’t carry on travelling… I felt more qualified than ever to be his manager.”
The Jones family dealt with their family issues as best they could, and in the end, it kind of worked out for them. In the 70s, however, most people raised eyebrows and reporters cast aspersions over the fact that Tom Jones allowed his underage son to travel with him. I remember thinking, in my teens mind you, that their family decision was brilliant. I was totally enmeshed with my own mother, and so I believed I understood a child’s need, a son’s need, to be with his father, even though the gypsy lifestyle is unhealthy. It was also my teenage thoughts that made me believe that somehow I could possibly make Tom Jones fall in love with me and fit in with that crazy gypsy lifestyle. I discovered, years later, that the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 – Duh… (Oops, pardon the weak Charlie Sheen reference.)
At one point, my mom sort of half-joked, “You should flirt with Tom’s son!” Mother was right. I should have been interested in Tom’s son, who was only four years younger. We surely had more in common. We were closer in age. Mark was shy; I was shy. Mark felt uncomfortable at school; I felt uncomfortable at school. Mark spent a lot of time in his room listening to music; I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music. Mark had a family of three; since my sisters left home I had a family of three. Mark was depressed; I was anxious. Helloooooo… conversation starters! His whole life was wrapped up in press and public relations and I was studying PR.
Mark eventually married and gave Jones a daughter-in-law PR person/manager and both Mr. and Mrs. Jones a grandson and granddaughter. Jones was only 41 when he became a grandfather. Whenever I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Woodward, I have to admit, I choked. I was better with older people, and he was probably better with older people; neither one of us realized that we were the youngest kids around who might have had something in common when we were within arm and ear’s reach. Besides, Tom Jones was providing a deep psychological purpose for me – I just didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that in order to make this gypsy singer fall in love with all six-foot-two-and-scared-of-her-shadow-me, I had to figure out a way to get over my fears… for the singer who saved me.
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.
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.
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.