April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
“You took my heart and tore it apart, you daughter of darkness.” (“Daughter of Darkness,” song by Geoff Stephens)
I still struggled with dark thoughts. They didn’t go away because I hoped and prayed and wanted them to go away. They didn’t go away because my parents hoped, and my mother prayed, and they both wanted my dark thoughts to go away. They didn’t go away because I was suddenly madly, crazy-ga-ga infatuated with the sexy Tom Jones powerhouse performer I saw live in Las Vegas, and who lived inside of my sheltered teenage head and heart.
The dark times were there and I was always the “difficult” daughter. Not difficult as in naughty or causing havoc. Difficult as in hypersensitive, emotional, anxious, and then, as a teen, depressed. I know there were times when my lack of self, lack of strength, lack of identity, which manifested itself in being clingy and dependent, isolative, emotional and tearful with a hopeless/helpless attitude, broke my parents’ hearts. When my fears and frailties brought not just me, but those whom I loved the most, down to their knees.
What was the family dynamic? We were a family that looked good and fit in well everywhere. We were a family that had lots of friends and social activities. We were a family that did all sorts of interesting and exciting things. Except for that tall, skinny daughter with the dark thoughts who disappeared. While prayer was my only resource as a young girl, as I became an adult, and more familiar with the psychological process, I learned that I took on the role of the identified patient. In family therapy, when everyone is focused on the easily identified person who is the “problem,” it allows everyone else in the family to avoid looking at their own contribution to the problems within the whole family system. And with as much love as there was within the family, there were problems, just like there are problems in every family.
While Tom Jones has historically been rather spare at doling out personal information, I remember being riveted to his report of feeling deep disappointment at a low point in the beginning of his career. He had met his manager, Gordon Mills, released his first single “Chills and Fever,” which hadn’t done as well as they had hoped and dreamed, and Jones and Mills were low on money. The two men were living in London, trying to make that big break happen, and Jones’ wife, Belinda, (commonly known as Linda), was working in a factory in Wales, helping to support her little family, and taking care of their young son, Mark. It was reported that in his despair, “Jones stared at a London Underground train approaching as he stood on the platform and thought how easy it would be to end it all by stepping in front of it… ‘For a split second I thought, awe, f*** it, if I just step to the right it’d be over. I felt so down because I didn’t know what to do. That very rarely happens to me. I didn’t want to go back to Wales without proving myself. I wasn’t making any money. F*** it. But then things flash through your mind. What about your wife? What about your son? What about your mother and father? How would they feel? But for that split second – that’s as low as I’ve ever got.” (The Independent, “Tom Jones: The Devil in Mr. Jones,” by Bob Guccione, Jr., April 16, 2005.) Shortly thereafter, Jones recorded “It’s Not Unusual,” his first hit, and the rest is Jonesian history.
How would they feel? That is the question I always asked myself when my thoughts got dark – when I became the daughter of darkness. How would they feel? That is what you must focus on when you get lost in the darkness and the pain of living. How would they feel? They would feel unbearable hurt, loss, and grief. Whenever I thought my pain was too great, I asked, how would they feel… and persevered… just like the singer who saved me.
March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
At 18-years-old, I tried to figure out a clever way I could somehow inveigle, insinuate, and worm my way into Tom Jones’ world. I began to build my relationship with the president of Tom’s Boosters Fan Club, and also began a long-term correspondence with an older woman living south of San Diego. Being 6’2” and growing up with older sisters, I could sometimes fake looking and sounding mature and could talk fairly easily with older women. These two women would play a huge role in my TJ connection. One on the fan side, and one on the groupie side, but I am getting ahead of myself…
Thinking I am going to major in Communications with a focus in Public Relations and Advertising, I began wracking my brain as to how I can utilize my growing, bookish PR knowledge.
And then it hit me, while I was watching Rona Barrett, a local LA precursor version of Mary Hart, (who was probably still in junior high school), on our local Channel 11 news, showing some actor getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Of course! This is it! Tom Jones needs a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
I immediately wrote the president of Tom’s Boosters, who immediately wrote the gentleman who managed the Tom Jones National Fan Club, operated by Jones’ management. They said, go for it. I immediately wrote Johnny Grant, who was at that time, in charge of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which operated under the Chamber of Commerce. I wrote of letter of inquiry requesting the requirements for nominating an entertainer into the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was quite simple: You nominate, and if they accept the nomination, you pay the money. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom – it was so simple.
If memory serves me correctly, in late 1971, when Tom’s Boosters nominated Tom Jones to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the fee for “maintenance” of the star was $2500. We had absolutely no doubt that we could come up with the funds, given the legions of fans in southern California alone. And we knew if we needed help from our “sister” chapter fan clubs, they would jump on in throughout the states, and beyond. That’s what hard-core fans do – they support in body, heart, and soul… and dollars, pounds, francs, and yen.
We were giddy with excitement. We had the Tom Jones National Fan Club blessing, and we knew we could come up with the cash. I moved forward with the appropriate nomination paperwork and sent it off with a kiss. Remember, I was emotionally attached to the singer. I could do things related to Tom Jones that I could not do just for myself. And, if I’m going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, wouldn’t it be nice to start with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame?
We waited until we finally got the letter from Johnny Grant. I was so excited. This was my letter of entry into Tom Jones’ world. The letter stated that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce representing the Hollywood Walk of Fame “regrets to inform you,” that the nomination of Tom Jones was not accepted, due the fact that Mr. Jones was a relatively new performer, who had not yet withstood the “test of time.” It was a bitter pill to take 40 years ago. Nowadays, it seems like young pop stars find themselves “starred” and “waxed” (Madame Tussaud’s, I mean) before they even hit their prime, let alone withstand the test of time. Looking back, however, I do believe that in earlier years they did strive harder for singers/actors/entertainers to have a large body of work behind them in order to earn and deserve their star.
My parents tried to rescue me from the sobbing, heaving, “ugly cry,” as Oprah calls it. They tried to comfort me, saying “It’s OK. A star was a brilliant idea. It will happen. Just not now. You did all you could do to make it happen.” What they didn’t know or understand (although I think my mother had a little motherly intuition) was the real, secret goal of my teenage fantasy: MEET TOM JONES. They didn’t know my secret motivating mantra: “If I’m going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, I have to…” They didn’t know that I believed that if Tom Jones connected with me, then I would have value and worth and everything would be all right in my world.
It took until 1989 for Jones to get his long overdue star. I heard about it over the news. It is reported that his star was nominated and funded by his fans, which is reportedly the only time a star has been funded by fans. No surprise there – his hard-core fans love him as much now as then. You can find the star at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard, just outside of Frederick’s of Hollywood. No surprise there, either.
The Voice would not only withstand the test of time, but would triumph in his 70th year by producing one of his most highly acclaimed CDs, Praise and Blame. The Voice that sang to millions. The Voice that sold millions. The Voice that earned a star for… the singer who saved me.
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.
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.”