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!
July 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
Should I stay or should I go? That was running through my head at warp speed sitting on the sofa with Tom Jones in the backstage mobile home at the Universal Amphitheatre in ’73. I didn’t have much time to think it through. Tom was wearing a leather jacket. Was he going to stay or was he going to go? Would it be right to separate from the fan I came with? Was it selfish of me? Was it safe for me to stay alone, and safe for the other fan to go alone? Would that be breaking an unspoken fan code? If you come backstage together do you have to leave together?
Should I stay or should l go? Cell phones weren’t even invented yet, so how on earth was I going to let my sister know that I would be staying? She was waiting for me back at the parking lot. How would I get back to her place in LA? Would a ride be provided? Would I get a taxi? Was there a phone in that funky mobile home? I was not yet wise to the ways of… well, what was it? Changing from fan to groupie? Oh, heck no, I thought, I am not a groupie. Remember, groupies are gone in 60 seconds.
Should I stay or should I go? Within seconds, I realized my goal was unchanged. I was going to get close to Tom Jones so that he could see all of the wonderful qualities I expressed that no one else could see. (Distorted thinking. Of course there were people in my life who saw good, positive qualities in me. I just couldn’t accept it because I didn’t believe it.) Then, Tom would somehow magically fall in love with me, just like when the handsome Prince falls in love with Snow White and they live happily ever after.
Should I stay or should I go? I did not stay. I believed that jacket meant he was going to go, and I didn’t want to “party” with a bunch of musicians and hangers-on. There was only one person I wanted to hang onto, and if he wasn’t there, there was no reason to be there. Besides, if I had ditched my sister, my family would have called 911 and let the bloodhounds loose.
Of course, after I left, I privately, anxiously ruminated over whether I made the right decision. Did fear make the decision for me? What if this was the time and place that Tom Jones fell in love with me and I blew it again? And why, oh why, did I have to ask about Snow White? I loved being called Snow White. I must admit that it made me feel special, and I did feel like I was waiting for my prince to come kiss me and break the evil spell I was under. The spell of self-consciousness, self-doubt, and sometimes, even self-loathing. I loved being Tom Jones’ Snow White until I asked him the questions that I wished I’d never asked once I heard his answer:
“You’ve called me Long Tall Sally, which I get. But, you’ve called me Snow White a few times. I’m kind of curious. Where did Snow White come from?”
I wished I had never, ever asked that stupid question. When Tom told me he called me Snow White because I made him feel like a “dwarf,” he recognized, in that split second of my mortification, that his comment was more hurtful than cute or funny. Given my limited ego strength, it was hard for my brain to compute his honesty, and that it really said more about him than me. At the time, however, it was still too close to the teasing and bullying I experienced. I was still too tender and still too sensitive.
Jones always took me away from my issues. I always felt like his extraordinary confidence trumped my extraordinary height. But this time, my question about the nickname opened my personal can of worms that slithered all over my fears and anxieties to strangle any shred of self-confidence I had in that moment. As I look back on those photos with Tom Jones, (see post Tom Jones’ Reality Check), I see a young girl who didn’t see or feel her own beauty. I see a young girl who heard from a grandmother, “Number One Sister is pretty. Number Two Sister is beautiful. And you, Number Three Sister, you are (imagine a painstakingly long pause) different.” I see a young girl who heard from adult strangers, “You’re different,” and from children, “You don’t belong.”
Why did that girl allow others to be the barometer of her feelings and confidence? I felt so lacking in normal human connections that I sought after a superstar to find some kind of super connection. That Jones was so accessible is still amazing to me. (NOTE TO MUSICIANS AND SINGERS: Lesson 101 – How to Build A Fan Base, by legendary singer and icon, Tom Jones. Be accessible to your fans. They will follow you into the future.) I was not a stalker, errr… welll, I do have some funny stories about a limo chase or two, but that is still to come… And is it really stalking when you kind of, sort of know the person and kind of, sort of know where they/you might be going??? But, I digress.
One of the biggest flaws in my pursuit of Tom Jones, and that I’m sure everyone on the face of the earth would have told me except that I kept it a secret, was looking to him for validation. As I look back I realize that I was always looking to someone, everyone – my mother, my father, my sisters, my church, Tom Jones, and later, friends – for validation. I was looking for someone outside of myself to give me what I could not give myself – confidence. In that small, private moment when Tom whispered something in my ear, he validated me from an external standpoint, and so the confidence was fleeting and dependent upon his feelings and words in that moment.
In that moment, he took me from painful to pleasurable feelings in the blink of his eyes. But the validation was external, fleeting, and short-lived, which explains why it fueled the fire to keep me in Tom Jonesville for years to come. I was always trying to connect and then reconnect to my object – Tom Jones, The Voice of energy, comfort, and emotional expression, the worldly and famous superstar – who, by finding me attractive and loveable, would allow me to believe that I was worthy, significant, and that all six-foot-two-inches of me had a place in this world. (Another distorted belief. Even though my religion told me I had innate value as a child of God, I didn’t feel it. Even though I believed that all human beings had innate value, I still didn’t feel it. Let’s face it, I was still a sensitive, tortured soul.) At twenty, I knew I still wasn’t the woman I needed to be for Jones to fall in love with, but I was much closer than the hypersensitive 17-year-old, the gawky 18-year-old, or the awkward 19-year-old. I was getting a little more mature, a smidge more talkative, and able to reveal a tad more of my personality. While outwardly I may have looked like a young woman who had her act together, inwardly I still had a lot of work to do.
Not long before the Amphitheatre performances, which I attended on multiple nights, I had a class in which 50% of our final grade was based on oral presentations. I spent weeks begging my professor to allow me to write a lengthy paper in order to avoid standing and speaking in front of the class. Nonetheless, I had to do the oral report, and my face flushed, my voice quavered, and my whole body quivered from start to finish. So, how did this same girl gather the courage to run up to the Universal Amphitheatre stage, ask Jones for his tie, and be kissed by him in front of over five thousand people? It was the sheer magnetism… of the singer who saved me.
June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
I got myself by an obsession
It’s on another dimension
Don’t need a whole lot protection
‘Cause it gave me all I’ve been getting
It gave me life, hope, dreams, golds [for me, substitute “goals”]
“Give a Little Love” (Song by Tom Jones, Kara Dio Guardi, Iyiola Babtunde Babalola, and Darren Emilio Lew)
I have to admit, my TJ life, hopes, dreams, and goals helped lift me out of my lonely existence. My Tom Jones motivating mantras were working for me (post “The Motivating Mantra of My Younger Years”). I was beginning to branch out and build superficial social relationships by becoming a little more engaged with my fellow collegians while at school. I even met a student who had the same type of passion and quest for a personal relationship with a superstar.
In her case, it was Neil Diamond. We were both shocked that we discovered each other in an English Literature class. And she invited me over to her home so we could share pictures and stories. This was miraculous for me, because I rarely went anywhere. We discussed the difference between fans and groupies in between studying; in our youthful wisdom we agreed that fans were permanent fixtures and groupies were gone in 60 seconds. It also validated that I wasn’t as wacky and alone in my semi-secret, wild pursuit. There were actually others like me… big sigh of relief.
In 1973, Jones performed at the Universal Amphitheatre (now called the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal City Walk). He was performing there for multiple days and my mother and sisters were going to attend the shows with me. Although my mother and I still searched high and low for pants long enough to cover the skinny legs, I still had to sew them myself because of that darn 36-inch inseam. I sewed my fingers off, all the while hoping that my long pants and skirts wouldn’t look like loving hands at home.
I had written and rewritten my script for Mr. G. He was staying at the Hotel Bel Air, as usual. No matter how many times I spoke to him over the phone, I always needed my prepared script to calm my nerves and ease the way into the most important human thing on my mind (versus the most important spiritual things I had on my mind, which, believe it or not, I did focus on religious, metaphysical, philosophical, and esoteric issues when not perseverating over TJ). But the goal was always, WHEN AND WHERE AM I GOING TO MEET TOM JONES? This time it was just the head of the fan club and me. I tried to use my most adult, sophisticated voice, and Mr. G. was as friendly and upbeat as usual. Bada-bing, bada-boom! We had a date, a time, and a place.
Knowing that I was going to get backstage put rose-colored glasses on all of the shows. If I had been a critic, I would have had to recuse myself, because I was on a Tom Jones high. Every show was fantastic. Every song superb. Even as I write, I can picture the stage, the star, and The Voice, with everything and everyone else fading in the background. The only thing that slightly marred the experience was that Mother was frequently ill and missed the performances. With me being me, I had no one to take her place. How sad was that? Still, no best friend to share my most important youthful moments with. We always bought a ticket for Mommio, but it eventually turned out that my oldest sister began bringing her friends to take Mom’s place at our TJ concerts – they were game and appreciated the fun and mystery of how in the world this shy, skinny kid got into Tom Jonesville.
The fascinating thing about the Universal Amphitheatre in ‘73 was that there was no backstage. Literally. There was the stage, curtained side stages, an area behind the stage, and no real backstage. Mr. G. hadn’t prepared me by telling me that he would put us into a car and we would be driven to see Tom. He surely didn’t prepare me for a limousine ride to see him.
It was quite exciting to show up at stage left, and then be escorted into a big ol’ limo! I must admit, with a lot of fans, groupies, and hangers-on lurking around looking for Tom, I felt a little like a starlet climbing into that long, black car with tinted windows. It wasn’t the quintessentially 70s white limo that Jones was known to own with Gordon Mills and Engelbert Humperdink that carried the license plate “GET,” standing for Gordon, Engelbert, Tom. It was my first and only ride in a limo, even though famous OC Housewives drive in limos to get their nails painted, and famous New Jersey Housewives rent limos to drive their preteens to birthday parties to get their nails and toes done.
We had no idea where we were going, and the drive seemed dark and longer than expected on the Universal property. Suddenly, we were at the discreet destination. It was a portable building; sort of like a mobile home without wheels. The driver opened the limo door and escorted us up to the door. The party had definitely started without us, as there was an open bar, and drinks were flowing. It appeared that everyone in Jones’ entourage was there, including Mr. G., bodyguard Dave Perry, The Getter, as well as some key musicians, including Big Jim Sullivan. It was a male-dominated group.
I was not surprised to be offered an alcoholic drink, because even though I was under-age, I didn’t look it. However, I didn’t, and still don’t drink, so I asked for a Perrier with lime (hoping I would appear to be a sophisticate). We sat at the bar with our drinks and tried to make small talk with the “cool people.” I’m not so sure how “cool” I was, but I did my best to carry an air of coolness that wasn’t cold, and warmth that wasn’t overtly I’m-crazy-ga-ga-over-Tom-Jones giddy like I think I was the first time I met him. And we waited… and waited… and while I told myself to never forget this moment, these people, this place, this time, Mr. Jones slipped into the room.
There he was. No stage. No microphone. Just Jones. And again, everything and everyone just faded away. This time was a little different than the first. I was a little more mature. A little more composed. I found myself on the couch with Tom. That is part of his charm and his accessibility. As much as I wanted to believe I was special, I know that we are all special to him. Talent, drive, and charisma need people, a conjoined, supportive public. But, I digress. Perfect photo opportunity. You learn when a photo is appropriate, and when one isn’t.
After a little small talk – yes, I could finally participate in a little small talk with Tom Jones – I wanted to ask him a burning question. With a big, silent gulp, I said, “You’ve called me Long Tall Sally, which I get. But, you’ve called me Snow White a few times. (Another big, silent gulp.) I’m kind of curious. Where did Snow White come from?”
And sitting close to me, Tom Jones, with his arm around me, looked at me with his hazel eyes and said, in his deep, thick Welsh accent, “Because you make me feel like a dwarf, luv.”
Oh, no. His words hit so hard they knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t speak. My heart jumped to my throat and then sank into my stomach. I think I might have blushed bright red underneath my dark, summer tanned face. For a moment, my heart started pounding and my hands started to feel numb and then tingle. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Panic attack coming on.
Tom Jones, my Superstar hero, The Voice who comforted me, who gave me life, hope, dreams, and goals, told me he feels like a dwarf. And his voice, The Voice, placed an emphasis on the word dwarf. I will never forget the sound of that word spoken with his Welsh accent. It made all of the birdies that chirp and dance around my head when I am with him dissipate into thin air. It made the song “Someday My Prince Will Come” that dances around my brain when I see him come to a shrill, screeching halt.
A Tom Jones reality check for Snow White on the sofa! Grumpy, Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc might as well have carried me out on a stretcher. All my youthful fears were again realized in that one moment by that one comment. I instantly felt like that awkward, unattractive, tall, skinny girl I was working so hard to leave behind. Is it be possible that I made the most self-confident, poised, and self-assured, sexy man I had ever met feel… uncomfortable? The sensitive Amazon Anomaly was crushed, and in the beginning stage of a mega meltdown in the arm of an unsuspecting superstar.
I think he must have realized that his comment caught me off-guard and left me utterly breathless. Because, Tom Jones, being Tom Jones, a man who has a way with the ladies, leaned over, spoke in my ear, and said something that breathed fresh air into my deflated sense of self. Something that made me feel like I wasn’t the ghastly Jolly Green Giant. Something that made me feel attractive and special. Something that allowed me to believe that I had value in singer Tom Jones’ eyes. At twenty-years-old, it was that something for which I had been searching. Yes, the object of my affection, the object of my transformation, leaned over and said… oh no, hold on. I’ve got to save something between me… and the singer who saved me.
April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
What struck me upon meeting Tom Jones for the first time in 1972 was that he was easygoing, casual, and, well, affable. Not the expected, “I am lion hear me roar,” sex machine that had been described over the years. When he sings, he sings without an accent, but when he speaks off-stage, he speaks with a Welsh accent. He was just so darn real, life-size, and human off-stage. On-stage, when Jones takes the stage, the star and The Voice become larger than life. The largest venue I’ve seen him perform is the Los Angeles Forum, and I discovered that even in the large arenas, Jones was always bigger than his biggest venue.
What would it be like, to be a singer who is able to take command of a stage and an audience? What is that feeling that singers feel? Is it love? Joy? Adulation? Acceptance? Oneness with the audience? Power? Is that what Tom Jones longed for when he was a young prepubescent boy stricken with TB and stuck at home alone? Is it what he yearned for when he got his first real taste of popularity singing in the local Welsh pubs? Is that what he felt when he claimed his fame and fortune? Is it enough to fill you when you are on the road 24 Hours?
24 Hours is a critically acclaimed CD that preceded Jones’ recent Praise and Blame, with many songs co-written by Jones. Some of the songs in 24 Hours are autobiographical and reflect the challenges a family deals with when a singer travels the road for a living 24/7. There was much buzz about the ode to his long-time wife in “The Road,” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babatunde Bablolla, Armando Manzanero, Lisa Rachelle Green, and Darren Emilio Lewis. You have to know Jones and his story to get the connection to “Seen That Face” by Tom Jones, Iyiola Babtunde Babalola, Nicole Louise Morier, and Darren Emilio Lewis, which describes the recognition of pain on a child’s face when you leave him.
Whatever that feeling is that singers get, they get hooked on it like crack, and follow it through the gypsy lifestyle with its infamous sex, drugs, and rock and roller-coaster, which takes its toll on anyone who enters the golden gates of fame and fortune. The life of a gypsy singer is fraught with struggles. It is the struggle of breaking into the industry. Then there is the struggle to stay at the top. There is also the struggle to ride the ebb and flow of a career in the music industry, which eats you up and spits you up as fast as it can; or as fast as the gifted one can self-destruct. And family members are along for the ride.
The most insidious loss for anyone involved with a gypsy singer is the difficulty of maintaining intimate family relationships, because it always starts out with the intention of being a positive thing for the family. Tom Jones’ story is no different. He had a wife and a child by the time he was 17-years-old and he knew he had talent. The goal was to support the family. “I started singing in clubs about the time he [son, Mark Woodward, who kept Jones’ surname; Jones is Tom’s mother’s maiden name] was born, so I wasn’t around him much. I went to London in 1964, and my wife would come to see me, but I didn’t see my son unless I went back to Pontypridd. I wanted to, but I was very preoccupied. From 1965 I started going to America a lot – the records were as big there as here [England]. I didn’t have time to be in Wales, but I thought as long as I was sending money home it was okay.” (“Relative Values: Tom Jones and Mark Woodward, by Bridget Freer, The Sunday Times, UK,12/8/02).
What about the wife and child? Where do they fit in? How do they live a family life at home without that gypsy singer? Once the struggle is over, is it all glamour and riches? Is it lonely? How do you live your life without the love of your life around? Who do you have intimate relationships with (and I don’t mean sexual intimacy, I mean close, sharing, relationships). And who does the gypsy singer become intimate with? The gypsy singer becomes close to the gypsy roadie family. And, like it or not, they do go “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”
(“Lookin’ for Love,” written by Wanda Mallette, Patti Ryan, and Bob Morrison.)
How do you participate in the family’s emotional needs while sustaining them financially as a gypsy singer? This is how the young Jones family did it, according to Bridget Freer’s 2002 interview with Tom and Mark:
TOM: “Mark’s had a life most kids haven’t had with their fathers. We became closer as men than we did when I was a teenager and he was a little boy, and that was through working together. We got older together…
“When the money started rolling in from “It’s Not Unusual,” I bought a house in Shepperton and said: ‘Now we can have Mark with us.’ That was 1966. I enjoyed going to pick him up from school… The mothers would be: ‘Oooooh, there’s Tom Jones!…
“He was a shy child. He spent a lot of time in his room listening to music. Later, there’d be six-month tours; it affected him more than I realized. He came out for school holidays wherever I was, and always seemed fine. But one night, when he was 15, we went to a restaurant and he was very quiet. Linda said: ‘He’s missing you a lot now.’ We talked it over and she said: ‘Do you think he could travel with you? I said: ‘Yeah, as long as it’s okay with his school’…”
MARK: “Me and my mother were alone a lot. She felt the strain, but she couldn’t go with him because I was in school. I missed him. It came to a head when I was an adolescent. I got depressed, and my parents didn’t know what to do. It was only the three of us – three young people. It was a big decision, but I left school and went on tour with him.
All my working life has been in my father’s business. I never wanted to do anything else. I was a roadie first, and whenever somebody got fired I learnt their job. Tom let me have a lot of input. I would never call him Tom to his face – that would feel weird. I call him Tom to a third person. I couldn’t say: ‘Would you book my daddy?’
He never gave me the father-son talk. I had to learn from experience. I was with grown-ups 24 hours a day… He wasn’t a 55-year-old guy in a suit coming home from his nine-to-five, laying down the law: he was in his thirties, with a very unusual lifestyle. My mother too – we all had an unusual lifestyle. That made them more sympathetic to me…
Soon after Gordon Mills, Tom’s manager, died, Tom said: ‘Are you willing to take the reins?’ I hesitated, because it’s all well very well having an opinion, but as manager, if a business decision went sideways it would fall on my shoulders. But it made sense: I was a 29-year-old, road-hardened kind of fellow, and as soon as I had my own family, I decided I couldn’t carry on travelling… I felt more qualified than ever to be his manager.”
The Jones family dealt with their family issues as best they could, and in the end, it kind of worked out for them. In the 70s, however, most people raised eyebrows and reporters cast aspersions over the fact that Tom Jones allowed his underage son to travel with him. I remember thinking, in my teens mind you, that their family decision was brilliant. I was totally enmeshed with my own mother, and so I believed I understood a child’s need, a son’s need, to be with his father, even though the gypsy lifestyle is unhealthy. It was also my teenage thoughts that made me believe that somehow I could possibly make Tom Jones fall in love with me and fit in with that crazy gypsy lifestyle. I discovered, years later, that the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 – Duh… (Oops, pardon the weak Charlie Sheen reference.)
At one point, my mom sort of half-joked, “You should flirt with Tom’s son!” Mother was right. I should have been interested in Tom’s son, who was only four years younger. We surely had more in common. We were closer in age. Mark was shy; I was shy. Mark felt uncomfortable at school; I felt uncomfortable at school. Mark spent a lot of time in his room listening to music; I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music. Mark had a family of three; since my sisters left home I had a family of three. Mark was depressed; I was anxious. Helloooooo… conversation starters! His whole life was wrapped up in press and public relations and I was studying PR.
Mark eventually married and gave Jones a daughter-in-law PR person/manager and both Mr. and Mrs. Jones a grandson and granddaughter. Jones was only 41 when he became a grandfather. Whenever I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Woodward, I have to admit, I choked. I was better with older people, and he was probably better with older people; neither one of us realized that we were the youngest kids around who might have had something in common when we were within arm and ear’s reach. Besides, Tom Jones was providing a deep psychological purpose for me – I just didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that in order to make this gypsy singer fall in love with all six-foot-two-and-scared-of-her-shadow-me, I had to figure out a way to get over my fears… for the singer who saved me.