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.