Tom Jones and Elvis
August 15, 2011 § 7 Comments
Years ago, the media fueled a fierce rivalry between Tom Jones and Elvis, but anyone who knows much about one or the other knows they were part of a “Mutual Admiration Society.” Only in more recent years has Jones become more public about their friendship. A great place to read up about their relationship and see fun photos and videos is through a popular Elvis fan site (www.elvis.com.au; search “Tom Jones”).
My mother, oldest sister, and myself found ourselves driving in one of the worst rainstorms southern California had seen in 1972, all for the sole purpose of seeing Elvis in concert at the Long Beach Arena. As we left for the concert, it felt like we might float away because the rain was so deep you could no longer see the curbs on the sidewalks. No rain, wind, thunder, or lightening was going to stop us from seeing the “King,” and as we arrived in Long Beach, the clouds began to open up and we could see a twinkle of stars way into the heavens.
It was a thrill to actually be part of an Elvis concert. ELVIS, for heaven’s sake! The crowd was excited and energized to be there, even if a little wet and bedraggled from the stormy weather. It was amazing to see someone so influential to multiple generations. Elvis was gifted with looks, talent, and a beautiful voice, but it was only five years later that his life came to a sudden and early end. We were so grateful we were able to see and hear Elvis live in concert, as there will always be only one King, and I can only imagine the legions of people who feel that Elvis’ music “saved” them.
However, “Don’t go to Vegas to see Tom Jones when Elvis is in town,” was my sweeping generalization back in 1973, when I was hoping to score some backstage time with Mr. Jones. I had gone to Caesar’s Palace with my other sister for a weekend of fun, sun, and my necessary TJ-connection. Everything worked out beautifully for the room, pool-time, and being up front and center at Tom’s shows, which were – it’s not unusual – packed to the gills and fantastic. I was hoping to see him backstage, but for the first and only time ever, my plans did not work out.
What? Was I too vague? Did I beat around the bush too much? I didn’t go directly to my buddy, Mr. G. Was that my big boo-boo? I thought I’d skip the midnight show and go to my hotel room and primp and prime, get myself all dolled up, and wait for the call to hear the words, “Come on down,” a la Bob Barker. I lay on top of the hotel bed in my beautiful dress with my false eye-lashes a-flutter, and while my sister retired in her jammies and got lost in her paperback romance novel, I thought about the dinner show from which I had just returned.
The man whose voice kept me going during the bad times, and now, as I was maturing, some good times, had been singing his heart out just a few feet in front of me. The mere sound of his voice lifted my heart and carried my emotions to whatever sentiment was intended by the lyrics and the vocalist. Was that part of the attraction? His voice always allowed me to feel the gamut of emotions that welled-up inside of me. Feelings, feelings, feelings… And each song I’ve heard, whether on a TV show, a radio, a record album (believe it or not, that’s how we older folks used to listen to our music in the old days), a Vegas show, or concert, carries a memory attached to it. A time and a place where I heard that song and it fulfilled some type of emotional feeling or need.
Maybe that need was simply to hear a fun song, like “She’s a Lady” and dream of being that lady. Maybe it was about putting into words the depths of feelings of someone who doesn’t feel worthy, and understanding those feelings as heard in “I, Who Have Nothing.” Or the poignant feelings derived from the story told in the song, “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Elvis Presley understood those feelings that you get when listening to a singer who moves you, and “told Tom a touching story: When your record ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ was issued here, the boys and I were on the road driving in our mobile home. Man, that record meant so much to us boys from Memphis we just sat there and cried.
“Then we called the radio station and asked them to play it again – they did, four times! We just sat there and sobbed our hearts out.” (New Musical Express, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones: Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, April 6, 1968).
Feelings, feelings, feelings – the singers save us through their expression of feelings in the artistry of the music, the lyrics, and the sound of their voices. At a live, intimate setting such as Vegas, I would get to enjoy the combination of all three, heightened by the close proximity to the performer. I would also get to participate in some on-stage banter and that was, in my youthful immaturity, all of the acknowledgement I needed to feel a connection, whether it was real or not.
There I was, just lying there on Caesar’s bed, waiting for the phone to ring so I could dance the light fantastic down to Tom Jonesville. “Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising/ Higher higher/It’s burning through to my soul.” (“Burning Love” written by Dennis Linde, sung by Elvis) Lord have mercy, I was getting feverish, as the clock tick-tocked on and on and on, one hour turning into another hour. I wondered why my call wasn’t beckoning me backstage, beckoning me to Tom, beckoning me to what I later learned was my object of transition, my object of transformation.
What I didn’t know, during those longsuffering moments of waiting for the call that never came, was that there was an Elvis sighting. It was way far, far down under the many little hotel rooms below mine, and all the way through the gaming casino, and into the Circus Maximus showroom where Tom Jones was performing. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… Elvis Presley was with… the singer who saved me.
“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.
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.
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 brain? Did 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.
“Ladies and Gentlemen…”
February 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
If I close my eyes, I can remember the Hotel International venue, with vertical rows of tables branching out from a small horizontal stage like sunbeams, and then rows of booths cupped the edges of the table rows like ruffles, followed by a large number of scattered dinner tables. I’d been to a Philharmonic symphony led by Zubin Mehtah, seen the Monkees at the Hollywood Bowl, and Herb Albert at the Greek Theatre, but I’d never been to a Las Vegas dinner show.
Mother tipped the maitre d’ to get us into a center booth at the end of a center row, and we four ladies were excited to see Tom and get the show on the road. But first we had to wade through a meal, and then laugh through the comedians – The Ace Trucking Company. (Remember them from the early TV shows, with Fred Willard being the most recognizable member from that crazy sketch crew?)
The intermission seemed interminable. While my mother and sisters enjoyed people watching, I was counting the minutes, and then the moments. But finally, finally, those words I heard so many times on television, those words that I was willing to climb an emotional Mt. Everest to get to, stated, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is Tom Jones!”
The moment he took the stage everything and everyone disappeared. I saw only him. I heard only him. Was it a typical teenage crush on a singer superstar? Was it The Voice working like synapses in the hypothalamus of my brain, sending neurotransmitters of sound and the thrill of good feelings throughout my body?
To borrow from Katy Perry’s “Firework” lyrics, (Teenage Dream CD), Tom Jones was a human firework, and he made me go “Oh, oh, oh,” and left us all in “awe, awe, awe.” We were all giddy with delight. My heart danced through the night. The Voice electrified. The man magnetized. The Voice was really real and I could really feel. It didn’t seem like a teenage dream, because the singer saved me… and made my heart sing, sing, sing.