“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?)

Tom Jones

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.

Tom Jones

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.)

Sticks and Stones… and Rope

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sticks and Stones… and Rope

Everyone knows the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Right?  Wrong!  Words are our greatest means of communication.  The pain of words can rip at your emotions far longer than the pain of a physical injury.  While a physical wound can leave a scar, words can sear into your psyche and leave a hidden, open wound.  It can damage your self-concept in a way that can stunt your development as a person, and make you question your very existence.

I remember two sisters in my neighborhood who were younger than me.  They lived at a home that was only one really long block, and then a short left turn and a quick right turn to the street where I lived.  One day when I was still in school and walking home from a long torturous day at school, I was walking by their house.  I couldn’t walk across the street because there was no sidewalk, just an enclosed drainage gulley.  I always tried to walk tall with my head up, pretending to ignore the typical name-calling that would occur whenever I walked by and they were playing in their front yard.  “Hey Stick Legs” or “Where you going, Spaghetti Legs,” was always followed by loud guffawing and tittering.

This time, however, they did something totally unexpected.  They ran behind me, and with a jump rope, looped the rope over my head like I was a cow they were trying to lasso, and then pulled hard on the rope.  The rope pulled down on my arms, making me jerk back and drop my notebook and schoolbooks to the ground.  I was shocked and shaking, but I did something even more unexpected.  I grabbed the rope that was around my elbows and pulled it, with all of the strength I had, away from one of the sisters, while crying and screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!”

Maybe the sisters saw the pain in my face and heard the anguish in my voice, because they suddenly apologized profusely as I threw the rope to the ground like a dead snake, and began to pick up my books and papers that were strewn all over the sidewalk.  I was so hurt and livid at the same time that I couldn’t see or think straight.  I just knew I had to get my stuff, walk the rest of the block, make a left and a right, and then I was home.

Home – where I was safe.  Home – where could listen to Tom Jones again and again and again.  I was like Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov’s proverbial dog.  Side note:  He discovered that environmental events (a bell ringing) could trigger a learned response called a reflex (a dog salivating for food when he hears a bell ring).  The process by which humans (teen Judi) learn to connect a stimulus (Tom Jones) to a reflex (feel good, relaxed, safe, or whatever emotion a particular song and music evokes) is called conditioning.  The moment I heard his voice I was fed.  Tom Jones saved me from the sticks and stones and rope, and was… the singer who saved me.

Hold On

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Well don’t you ever be sad,                                                                       Lean on me when times are bad.                                                                       When the day comes and you’re in doubt,                                                           In a river of trouble, about to drown.                                                                 Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming.                                                                              Song by Isaac Hayes and David Porter

Atlanta Early 70s

After I broke out of my high school “prison,” I was safe at home.  Or was I?  I noticed that for a while, I was never left at home alone.  It was probably a wise decision made by my parents.  I often took a bubble bath and would plant my feet up on the end of the tub, almost floating in the water, surrounded by clear opalescent bubbles, thinking of ways to end the emotional torment.

In the old days, the taunting might have made it to the principal’s office, or maybe to the parents of the bullies.  Today, sadly, we see it on the national news and watch as parents talk about their beloved child committing suicide because of relentless bullying; we hear the anguish it has caused in the angry, quivering voice of the father who’s handicapped child has been teased and tossed around on the school bus; we hear about online cyber-stalking; and then we hear the professionally calm voice of newscasters speak dispassionately of teen suicide statistics.

I always wish that I could reach out and grab that child who decides to drive off the cliff.  I was that teen ready to put my foot on the gas pedal, full speed ahead over the cliff a’ la Thelma and Louise before there was Thelma and Louise.  I felt ugly… a misfit… rejected by and alienated from my peers… depressed… hopeless.

But – BIG BUT – if you can just hold on, hold on, it can get better.  You can grow up to find life, love, and happiness.  But, you have to hold on, despite the immediate and seemingly endless pain and humiliation.  You have to hold on to the seed of a promise of hope that the suffering will eventually end.

I held on to my mother.  I held on to my father.  I held on to my sisters. I held on to my cat.  I held on to my God.  I held on to my religion.  I held on to education.  I held on to my passion for clothes and fashion.  I held on to writing as a form of self-expression.  I held on to the TV (remember, in the “old days” there was no PC, no internet, no email, no Facebook).  I held on to music.  I held on to Tom Jones.  And the singer saved me.

“Lean on me when times are bad”

My head was filled with The Voice.  I tape-recorded his TV shows before there were Betas, VCRs, and DVDs, so I could play the music while I did chores, got dressed, did homework, etc.  Tom Jones was in my head 24/7 – even when I wasn’t listening to him, the Memorex in my head was blaring his voice and fueling my adolescent girl crush on the pop star.  He soothed my broken soul and was the reason I sometimes walked with a beat in my step.  It wasn’t a song he was known for or recorded, but I could remember him sing, “Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming,” and I held on… to the singer who saved me.

One Way Ticket to Tom Jonesville

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

What do you do when you are young and feel alone in the world? I went home from school one day, and I stayed home. While Tom Jones’ isolation was forced upon him by TB, at the age of twelve, my isolation was by choice and withdrawal, at the age of sixteen. How do you tell your parents you don’t want to live? After crying day after day, week after week, month after month, I finally told my parents that I could not, would not go to school for one more day. It was just too painful. I remember my mother in tears, made me, in tears, go outside the next morning and tell my best friend and her mother, who were my regular ride to hell, I mean high school, that I wasn’t going to school that day.

It took my friends a while to notice that I wasn’t going back to school. How could I tell all of my normal friends that I was so not normal that I thought about driving off a cliff? How do you tell the belle of the ball, the brainy secretary of the student body, and the girls-at-lunch that I can’t see them any more because I am going to take my little self – ironically, I felt so small – and just disappear?

Tom Jones

By the time he was sixteen, Tom Jones, was more than making up for his two years in isolation — he married his childhood sweetheart and a month or so later, became a father. Living his adolescent life by being sexually active, he took the fast train to adulthood. I have always been fascinated that he has never talked about having a wife and child at such a young age as a burden. In fact, in many articles, he has spoken of it as having made him “feel like a man.”

At sixteen, I certainly did not feel like a woman. I didn’t even feel human. I felt like a freak because people would stare at me or make comments related to my height and/or skinniness. I felt alienated because the bullies always managed to get away with teasing, even when my mother went to the school to talk to my counselor about it. I felt alienated because my friends didn’t…or couldn’t… really understand the heart-pounding depth of pain from teasing. They were just trying to survive their own teen years. And I had never fully revealed to anyone but my mother how anxious I was about life in general, so no one really understood how my own young fears were fueled by the torture of teasing. I just wanted to disappear.

And that’s what I did. I disappeared. I stayed home. It was 1969 and there was Tom Jones and his voice to comfort me. I took an adolescent girl’s trip to Tom Jonesville, and didn’t leave that part fantasy, part reality world until I… well, you’ll have to take the journey with me to see how my coming of age story turns out and the many ways…  the singer saved me.

Tom Jones

Note: Once I entered the world of Tom Jones and his legions of fans, I received many photographs taken by many fans throughout the United States via “snail mail,” back in the old days when there were no PCs and Internet. Most of these photos are not labeled with the name of the photographer. If you see your photo of Tom Jones and can remind me how/where/when this photo was taken and would like a credit, please feel free to contact me at singersavedme.com.

The Amazonian Anomaly

October 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Growing at the speed of light, by the time I was 16-years-old, I was six-feet-tall.  Shortly thereafter, I was two inches taller than my six-foot-tall father.  To make matters worse, I weighed only about a hundred pounds, because everything went into growth spurts.  And this was long before being boney thin and anorexic looking was considered cool and chic.  In my time, being a skinny Amazonian girl was simply an anomaly.  And fodder for relentless teasing.

Them Legs

I got pushed and pulled and knocked into lockers, and tripped by mean boys who found pleasure in stepping on the back of my shoes, pulling off my heels, and watching my gawky long arms and 36-inch inseam legs flail and fall toward the ground.  The teasing felt relentless.  Definitely not good for a sensitive child…  I was always amazed how even total strangers would make careless comments such as, “How’s the weather up there?”  Ha-ha.  Or, “Your chest is at my eye level.”  Ha-ha.

It all came to a head when my 6-foot-2-inch body could no longer hide behind my parents, who could not protect me from people making thoughtless comments that made me feel self-conscious and freakish.  And I could not hide behind my friends, who could not protect me at school, where I was fearful of what nerve-wracking “torture” the day might bring.  It felt like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were in my head, singing, “Nowhere to run, baby.  Nowhere to hide.  Nowhere to run, baby.  Nowhere to hide.  Nowhere to run, baby.  Nowhere to hide…”  Little did I know that I would I would run to… the singer who saved me.

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