August 20, 2012 § 8 Comments
How was I going to live without the singer who saved me? Having truly taken the last train from Tom Jonesville into Realityworld was like going into foreign territory. It might as well been Mars. Cold turkey – letting go of The Voice, the voice of the singer who saved me from self-destruction and slowly led me to maturity was not easy. Tom Jones is essential to my story, and I had to use everything in my power to help myself let go: prayer, positive thinking, psychology, distraction, distance, and even exploring other music, from the Doobie Brothers, to Steely Dan, Stevie Nicks, Nicolette Sheridan, Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson.
As I said goodbye to Tom in 1979 and hello to a new decade – the 80s with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads – the men who were available to me were still not so desirable. Why couldn’t I like the guys who liked me? Why couldn’t I go for the church guy who was “a catch and looking for someone to marry,” according to Mommio. Or the co-worker who already owned his own home, (a plus in Daddio’s eyes), and kept asking for a date despite being turned down?
Life continued on without Tom. I took a trip to France and was a standout due to the naturally genetically smaller stature of the French. One street performer was so impressed with my height that he ran over and said something like, “Je vous mange du feu.” (loose translation: I eat the fire for you) and plunged a stick with a ball of fire down his throat! I sat with Roudin’s “The Thinker” and pondered if true love would ever find me.
Shortly after returning from France, I attended a friend’s wedding with the knowledge that her mother told my mother that she was going to sit me at a table with a “really tall” guy friend. First, involving the mothers is generally not a good idea. Second, it was a speed-dating version of a blind date, except speed dating hadn’t been invented yet. Since the bride had never mentioned this uber-tall gentleman, I questioned the validity of a love connection, but would be polite for the sake of our friendship.
When Mommio, Daddio, and I arrived at the wedding, a tall, dark, and handsome man took my mother’s arm in his and ushered us to our seats. The voice inside my head was screaming, “Lord, have mercy! Is this the man I’m supposed to meet?” Mommio was almost in a trance and tried to ever so indelicately nudge my sides with her elbow and give me The Look, as in, “He is so tall, dark, and handsome.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down ladies! Mommio and I had to shake it off, refocus, and delight in the bride and groom.
After the lovely wedding we drove to a country club for the wedding reception. As I excitedly found my way to the assigned luncheon table, I saw the man the bride set me up with at her wedding. He was tall. Maybe 6-foot-six. But hold on Bridezilla! This is not the tall, dark, and handsome stranger who ushered us into the church. And long before the cake was cut it was very clear that the very tall man at my table was more in love with himself than I could ever be.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was at the bridal table, and not intended for me. And Joe Schmoe was at my table fully infatuated with himself. The bride’s matchmaking was a colossal failure, and I went home feeling dejected. Okay, so maybe I went home and played Tom Jones’ “Without Love” (song by Clyde McPhatter) and felt a little lovesick. It was just a glimpse, but there was something. There was something.
When I told my spiritual mentor at the time about my wedding blind-lunch date who turned out to not be Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome, she flippantly said, “You should call that young man and ask him to a concert. My boys love it when girls invite them to something special.” Interestingly enough, I had purchased two tickets to a George Benson concert that I was going to go to with Rose.
Would Rosie be willing to give up her ticket so I could invite the tall, dark, and handsome stranger to the concert? Did Rosie think I was crazy? Probably. But, of course, being the incredible friend she was, she did the typical girlfriend self-sacrificing give-up-whatever-for-the-guy thing and gave up her ticket for Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome. (“Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.” Jean de La Fontaine) She helped me pick the perfect outfit, get ready for the date, and it altered the course of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had chased my Tom Jones hopes, dreams, and goals, but those were during non-thriving circumstances. I had been an achingly sensitive, bullied, withdrawn young girl living in Tomjonesville. How does a more outgoing and mature young woman in Realityworld invite a total stranger to a concert? I used my “Tom Jones skills” and reverted back to what I did when I was younger and called Mr. G. in order to see Mr. Jones. I wrote down what I wanted to say as if it were a script. That way my anxiously quivering voice might not be so noticeably awkward. I had a plan and a script, and all I needed was the man’s name and a telephone number. Good grief, I didn’t even know his name.
Since the bride was on a long honeymoon, I tested the waters, so to speak, with her mother. Fortunately, the mother of the bride knew his name; unfortunately she didn’t have a telephone number. I had to wait several agonizing weeks before I could call the bride and ask for Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome’s digits. We had commiserated over life, love, and men many times, so she was more than delighted to give me the 411.
I recently uncovered a very old memory box during Garage Hog’s Day 2012 (The nine torturous days it took to clean out our garage from top to bottom, and in which every day seemed like we were living the same day over and over and over again, until one day the work, the purge, and the donating were done and we were completely renewed.) In the memory box I found the hand-written script I used to invite Mr. Tall-Dark-And Handsome to the concert. He later told me that he said “Yes” long before I gave him a variety of “outs” in case he didn’t want to go out with a total stranger. He said I sounded somewhat nervous and that I “just kept talking” (i.e., read the whole script without a pause or a breath).
A funny thing happened on the way to finding another naughty boy… I found a nice one. Part and parcel of low self-esteem is a belief in not feeling worthy of being valued, but once you begin to value yourself, it shifts how others perceive you. As I look back, I can’t help but think that a common denominator in the men I was attracted to might have been that they thought they could turn the innocence of one who was absolute in her determination to stay that way. It was always a dance we played, the innocent and the naughty – three steps forward, two steps back, one-two cha-cha-cha. And we never really got anywhere.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was nice, kind, thoughtful, funny, intelligent, and treated me with respect. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me.” (“Respect” lyrics by Otis Redding) Oh, Aretha, you know of what you sing! And I was finally ready. I had worked through the ugly and bad parts of my life, had developed and matured slowly, and was finally ready for the good. Key word here is work. Whether we like it or not, we all have to work on something. There are a myriad of paths and tools to help us on our journey in life. We have to reach out and try them and identify what works for us as individuals.
Mr. Tall-Dark-And-Handsome was such a gentleman that he called to suggest we go on a date several weeks prior to the concert, “Just to get to know each other.” He showed up driving a black and gold GM Firebird with the popular T-tops of the 80s, and we have been together ever since. For years we’ve laughed about what might have happened if he drove up in the pea-green Ventura he originally came out to California in instead of that sexy black beauty. I still like to tease him and say our story might not have turned out the same way, but truth be known, I would have fallen madly in love if he had hitchhiked all the way from the Midwest to LA.
Snow White and Long Tall Sally gave way to Toots, Popsicle Toes, and Bebe. And now, several decades of anniversary years later, Bebe is the nickname that stuck (a silly reference from a funny Greek mythology movie which, I think, starred a very young Harry Hamlin). Love, real, genuine love was in the air and it encompassed more than the sun, the moon and the stars. It was grounded on earth and was felt through the core of my being. There were fireworks beyond what I could imagine. “I had a vision, it was real to me/ Like a new song and my heart sings/ Just like the striking of a lightning ball/ I feel the power of a miracle/ I can see the fireworks/ I can see the fireworks/ I can see the fireworks.” (Lyrics by R. Kelly)
I found that I became more my real self. My experience of genuine love is that it made me a better person. His hopes, dreams, and goals became as important as my own; sometimes they superseded mine. My hopes, dreams, and goals became as important as his; sometimes they superseded his. Together we discovered our life’s rhythm.
This is not to say that life has always been perfect, as a young couple in love or now as an older married couple. Oh, no. Life is not perfect. With or without love, life is fraught with challenges. But love can make the burdens lighter. Love can comfort us when we feel lost or inconsolable. Love can help repair damaged parts that seemed irreparable. Love can help us laugh when we’ve lost our sense of humor. And love can make the heart sing, sing, sing even when we don’t have the “gift of the golden voice” of the singer who saved me (“Tower of Song” lyrics by Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones’ CD, Spirit in the Room, released in Great Britain).
My husband introduced me to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Leo Kotke, and Leon Redbone, Lyle Lovett, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer, Michael Franks, Santana, and other artists. Together we explored classical music. However, I was truly not prepared when my two worlds, Tomjonesville and Realityworld, collided one summer night as I found myself at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, watching my new husband watching Tom Jones perform, and watching my new husband watching me watch the singer who saved me.
How the heck did this happen? I remember being a newlywed, feeling madly, crazy, ga-ga-in-love with my husband. And one night, shortly after our honeymoon, he came home from work, proudly smiled, handed me two tickets and beamed while saying, “I got us tickets to see Tom Jones.” WHAT? I was shocked.
In retrospect, I see it as a loving gesture. However, at the time it just seemed… awkward. True Love is taking me to see my unique version of First Love? I thanked my new husband and told him how wonderful and generous he was, and basically held my breath until the whole thing was over. Whew… The memory of the concert is the only Tom Jones concert that is a bit of a blur. I remember where we sat and the intensity of emotions I felt for my husband – true love. And seeing Tom for the first time in concert in more than a few years, (remember, I had to go cold turkey), was like seeing a familiar old boyfriend – except he wasn’t. Tom Jones was the singer who saved me.
I really wanted my husband to have an appreciation for the vocal talent of The Voice, but it was years down the line before he had an appreciation for the power of a transitional object and how I survived my youth through my personal brand of Singersavedme Therapy. As I have shared my story and my more enlightened understanding of my trip to Tomjonesville with my husband, friends, and colleagues, they have encouraged me to share my long, circuitous coming of age story from an anxious, insecure teen to a mature young woman and how the singer factored into this transformation.
I discovered, later in life, that I have an ability to sit with others and hear their life stories. My own struggles have enabled me to be present for those who need a listening ear and a receptive heart; someone who is fearless in the presence of their sad, difficult, often traumatic stories. Ironically, I have worked with bullies and victims of bullies; those who lack self-esteem and those who have an over-riding excess of confidence; those who struggle because reality is too difficult; and those who struggle just trying to find reality.
What we all have in common is our humanity and how we survive the challenges that arise from the human condition. How we deal with the human spirit is what tests and proves our mettle. As a teenager I dreamed that singer Tom Jones would fall madly in love with me and save me from the bullies of the world and subsequently, myself. His accessibility fueled the fire that motivated me to do both mundane and exciting things I didn’t believe or imagine I had the courage to do. What happened along the way was that I slowly matured into a young woman who found self-confidence, peace of mind, love, and joy. Would I have found peace, love, and joy without singer Tom Jones? I will never know, because he is and always will be… the singer who saved me.
“I was listening to everybody, everybody/Sayin’ be like everybody else/Oh, you’ll see/I gotta be me/And there ain’t nobody just like this/I got to be me/Oh baby, hit or miss…You’ve got to believe/Baby hit or miss/You’ve got to believe, in yourself/Don’t listen/Nobody else/You’ve got to believe, in yourself/You’ve got to believe/You’ve got to believe/ You’ve got to believe in yourself…”
“Hit or Miss” (Lyrics by Odetta, sung by Tom Jones in Spirit in the Room)
Post Script: Thank you to my precious family, without whose support I would not have written my story. And an extra thank you to my husband for his technological expertise, without which this memoir blog would not exist.
Any and all photographs and images which are reproduced must be credited with Singer Saved Me. Thank you to the many TJ fans whose photographs made the blog so, so seventies in Tomjonesville!
April 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
We returned to Vegas in spring of 1972. This time Tom Jones was at Caesar’s Palace. The hotel was dripping with gauche golden Roman decor, and men and women running around the casino wearing togas. Former fighter, Joe Louis was Caesar’s formal “greeter,” wandering around the hotel welcoming the guests. There were often comedians, such as Don Rickles, Norm Crosby (he toured with Tom and his malapropisms teased about “the fringe on his benefits”) and football stars, such as Deacon Jones, and many other football players whose names I’ve forgotten, hung out in the casinos or by the pool.
This trip was just me, Mom, and Tom (forget the several thousands of others there to specifically see TJ). This trip to Vegas wasn’t something I had to earn, so it was all about seeing Tom Jones and loooooking goooood. I spent a lot of time preparing just the right clothes, sewing most of them, because during that time period, there weren’t a lot of clothese to fit my 6’2” frame. If, I wanted to wear pants, I had to make them myself to fit my 36-inch inseam; if I wanted to wear jeans, I had to buy them in the men’s department, and let’s just say, there was always just a little too much fabric in the crotch area.
Despite all of my clothing challenges, Mommio and I were dressed to the nines from arrival to departure in Vegas. Yep, while I had a distinctly spiritual side that prayed and thought about how to be a good daughter, a good person, and a good citizen of the world, I had this flip-side that focused trying to make myself look good in order to make Tom Jones fall in love with me. Because if Tom Jones fell in love with me, I would feel beautiful, right? Because, “I leaned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens…At seventeen I learned the truth/And those of us with ravaged faces lacking in the social graces/Desperately remained at home inventing lovers on the phone/Who called to say come dance with me…It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.” (“At Seventeen,” lyrics by Janis Ian)
At almost nineteen, something very strange began to occur. Boys who used to be really mean, were suddenly looking at me in a different way. I was still just as skinny, but any ounce of fat that I gained went to what judge Len Goodman, on Dancing with the Stars, refers to as the “chesticle” area. Instead of being told, “You’re so skinny you look crippled,” (yes, someone had the gall to say that), boys, and even men, were suddenly saying, “Hey baby, hey baby,” (imagine Gwen Stefani singing the chorus). But the change was too fast. It was confusing. What I was beginning to hear, didn’t match the internal dialogue inside of my head that said I was different and I wasn’t good enough.
As Mother and I enjoyed two fabulous days of fantastic Tom Jones’ shows, she had figured out how to get us seated at center stage. There would be no more viewing from afar – uh-uh, oh no. From now on it was up close and personal. From now on, Jesse the maitre’d was the man to get us close to our man. Jesse and Mom spoke a special language called Greenback, and I think it took about 50-60 greenbacks to get us to that center-stage, touch-TJ’s-boots seating.
One thing we found fascinating was, how many men end up at Tom Jones’ shows, especially in Vegas. These dear husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends who love their women so much that they are willing to sit around a bunch of women who are prime to go crazy and throw some panties at a man singing “What’s New Pussycat.” The men are always won over by his voice. Always. That is the power of The Voice. Despite the singer’s sexual antics and all of the wild women, The Voice is always the most important presence on the stage.
At our first show the music played, and the words announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones,” and I found myself literally sitting at the feet of the man who had been singing my teenage pain away, singing my adolescent heart to beat, and singing my youthful soul alive. I knew the rhythm of his show (i.e., he sang two upbeat songs, then took a break to say hello to the audience and have a drink, before singing a slow song). Suddenly, after the second song, I found myself standing, and this shy, awkward girl who was afraid to walk to the mailbox or go to school became determined, brave, and womanly, with a glass of water in her hand reaching out as an offering. I heard him say to the band, “Well, looky here, there’s long, tall Sally.” Jones was referencing the song, and the first of two nicknames he gave me over the years:
“Long tall Sally has a lot on the ball
And nobody cares if she’s long and tall
Oh baby, yes baby, whoo-oo-oo-oo baby,
I’m having me some fun tonight…”
(Long Tall Sally, by “Little” Richard Penniman, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, and Enotris Johnson)
We had a mini on-stage chat, during which I lied about my age. My spiritual side which told me to always be truthful, was always at war with my need to make contact with my object of transition, but there was no way I was ever going to voice the word “teen” in any conversation I ever had with Mr. Jones. That could seriously jeopardize his ability to fall in love with me, which was, after all, my ultimate goal. Remember too, I looked far more mature than I actually was. And then it happened. Tom Jones leaned over, put his arm around my back, and kissed me. This was not a little peck on the lips kind of kiss. This was a man kissing a woman kiss. This was my first kiss ever, with any man. How lucky can a tall, skinny girl who was bullied and teased and felt nervous and anxious and terrible about who she was get? My first kiss was with… the singer who saved me.
August 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have loved three men in my life, respectively, my father, singer Tom Jones, and my husband. My father was married to my mother for over 60 years before he passed away days before his 91st birthday. It is well known that Tom Jones married his first love. And I am married to the love of my life.
Tom Jones is what I like to call the object of my transformation, but in object relations theory of psychology, he was technically my object of transition. He came at a time and place in my life when, as a teenager, I was teetering in the abyss of a black hole. While life appeared so simple for so many, it felt so complicated for me.
This is my story of how Tom Jones saved my life and how my path to maturity took a twisted turn into song, sound, celebrity, and sanity. It’s a fun superficial story – a sexy pop star, backstage visits, and Vegas in the 70s baby! It’s also a journey that took me years to fully understand. Would I have gotten to peace, love, and joy without Tom Jones? I don’t know, because he is inextricably linked to my delayed development.
Shortly before my mother passed on, I bought the old TV show, “This is Tom Jones” DVDs, which we watched in her bed together. Time and space and illness disappeared and we were as giddy and giggly and had as much fun as we did when we watched it together four decades ago. My mother was very religious with conservative values, and I decided this was my moment to ask her why she encouraged and allowed me to chase my Tom Jones dreams. She reached out her hand, squeezed mine gently, and looked at me with love in her eyes and said, “Because he was all you had, Judi.”