March 26, 2012 § 4 Comments
As time went on and the more I got out into the world, the more I wanted to be loved by a man. A real man. A man I could see every day. A man with whom I could develop a genuine, reciprocal relationship. The desire was there, but it wasn’t so easy to let go of youthful dreams. I was torn between wanting more Tom Jones and wanting more of a real life. So I kept one foot in Tomjonesville and one foot in the real world. Backstage calls were juxtaposed against guys who just liked to hang out.
I had begun to bring appropriately aged, single men into my life, but I have to admit, it was always awkward when a young man unexpectedly found himself at my place and I hadn’t eradicated the one or two framed photographs of me and Mr. Jones from the premises. ” Are you kidding me?” was not an uncommon comment. Tom Jones always proved to be a mood buster, a date buzz kill. And, if I was drawn to the singer, was it intuitively obvious that I would be attracted to the tall, dark, and bad? Too many a girls with low self esteem have “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Bad boys, bad boys” running through their lives like the theme song from Cops. Was I going to be one of those girls? (“Bad Boys” song by James Alex, Larry Summerville, Jr., Melvin Watson, Lauren Evens, and Mike Busbee & Ian Lewis.)
Despite the fact that being at the Bel Air Hotel was the first true reality check that smacked me in the face and verified my slow but sure developing maturity, I wasn’t quite ready to give up the pursuit of the dreams and goals that led me, step-by-step, to singer Tom Jones. While I was able to get out of my agoraphobic comfort zone of my parents home, live on my own, work, and grow emotionally in many ways, part of my comfort zone became Tomjonesville. Part reality and part fantasyland strangely became my next safe place.
Despite the fact that I met and was around many different and interesting people – Mr. G., whom I will never forget as the first gatekeeper to Tomjonesville, God bless him, as he is no longer with us, Tom’s son, Mark Woodward, bodyguard Dave Perry, Big Jim Sullivan and other musicians, a disc jockey from KVCR, and a multitude of fun, serious, and generous Tom Jones fans, a groupie or two, as well as Engelbert Humperdink fans, and Elvis fans – this wild and funky world became my little microcosm, and I was hesitant to leave it. I mean, really, who wants to walk away from a handsome, sexy, superlative-voiced superstar?
I had given up the idea of me and Mr. Jones falling madly in love with each other, but the possibilities that lurked after these meetings still made me dance toward, and back away, toward and away, toward and away. My time in Tomjonesville felt like a long version of Baby’s time at the Catskills in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” It was my very own coming of age story, in which I went from being an awkward, giggly teenage girl to a fully developed, grown-up woman. Pardon the expression, but “I had the time of my life,” and the problem was, I couldn’t leave the Catskills – I mean, Tomjonesville.
So, I checked with my partner-in-TJ-crime, Rose, and we decided we would go to Vegas together. Vegas, baby!!! Rosie had never seen Jones perform in such an intimate setting, and I was excited to share the experience with her. However, Rosie had no clue what my real plan was. In fact, she will be reading it here for the first time. This was going to be the Final Hurrah: Rose and I would go to Caesar’s Palace, and while there, I would avail myself of all of the opportunities that were available to me the last two times I was in Vegas, sans Elvis, because everybody knows, (now I can’t use the phrase ‘everybody knows’ without hearing “Atlanta Housewife” Phaedra Park’s voice), when Elvis is in town there is no other game in town. And instead of running like the Arctic wind across the Nevada desert, my final goal was to become that long, tall drink of water to quench the thirst of the singer. I vowed to myself that I would not run like a six-foot-two Chicken Little. This Vegas trip was going to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G because I had matured, and reconsidered what I wanted.
Then the first domino fell. Rosie canceled because she couldn’t afford our trip, even though she was working two jobs. But it was cool. It was okay. I could go to Vegas by myself. In fact, it would be better to go alone. I knew what I wanted and how to make it happen. Oddly, I no longer heard Snow White’s voice singing, “Some day my prince will come.” I no longer heard the little birdies that used to chirp in my head, gently driving me forward to my goal.
In fact, as the date got closer, I began to have a few panic moments. Uh oh. I thought I had all of those panic feelings in check. Then I heard from an older TJ fan, who was very close to a card-carrying TJ groupie. In all her wisdom, she set the second domino in motion, by writing, “Don’t go to Vegas. You’re too young and have too much going for you to get caught up in that kind of thing.” She actually had the nerve to tell me, “Get on with your life.” It was like a bucket of ice-cold water in my face. It was completely sobering.
Then the third domino fell. I knew she was right. And the rows of dominos in the Last Hurrah fell like the sound of a hammer in my sensitive young heart – bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! I realize the only reason my mother didn’t freak out when I told her I was going to Vegas by myself was the fact that that she knew me so well that she trusted I would not go. Mommio was insightful. She just patiently waited it out, knowing that any real connection to the real man in Tomjonesville fought with my true self, my values system, and my ultimate goal of finding true love and creating a family.
There I was in my twenties, belatedly facing the death of my teenage fantasies, so I did what any teenage girl might do. I got out all of my Tom Jones paraphernalia and revisited the goodies one last time. I lovingly looked through all of the photographs, newspaper clippings, programs and hotel menus I had collected over the years. I held his tie, which for at least a year smelled like Tom, and listened to Jones’ LPs on my 1970’s stereo as I went through years of memorabilia. It felt like a break-up. Or a wake, because I distinctly remember some tears intermingled with Stoffer’s mac and cheese and chocolate ice cream during this mourning phase.
Jones plaintiff version of the song, “Tired of Being Alone,” (song by Al Green) danced in my head like the black swan. It was my party and I cried because I wanted to. So I cried. And cried. I put all of my Tom Jones things in a big brown packing box and ceremoniously carried it to a corner in the garage. I was going to have to learn to live TJ-free.
And then I got a call saying, “You have to go to Knottsberry Farm. Tom is taping a special there for a couple nights.” Maybe it wasn’t over… with 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.