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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.