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!
March 26, 2012 § 4 Comments
As time went on and the more I got out into the world, the more I wanted to be loved by a man. A real man. A man I could see every day. A man with whom I could develop a genuine, reciprocal relationship. The desire was there, but it wasn’t so easy to let go of youthful dreams. I was torn between wanting more Tom Jones and wanting more of a real life. So I kept one foot in Tomjonesville and one foot in the real world. Backstage calls were juxtaposed against guys who just liked to hang out.
I had begun to bring appropriately aged, single men into my life, but I have to admit, it was always awkward when a young man unexpectedly found himself at my place and I hadn’t eradicated the one or two framed photographs of me and Mr. Jones from the premises. ” Are you kidding me?” was not an uncommon comment. Tom Jones always proved to be a mood buster, a date buzz kill. And, if I was drawn to the singer, was it intuitively obvious that I would be attracted to the tall, dark, and bad? Too many a girls with low self esteem have “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Bad boys, bad boys” running through their lives like the theme song from Cops. Was I going to be one of those girls? (“Bad Boys” song by James Alex, Larry Summerville, Jr., Melvin Watson, Lauren Evens, and Mike Busbee & Ian Lewis.)
Despite the fact that being at the Bel Air Hotel was the first true reality check that smacked me in the face and verified my slow but sure developing maturity, I wasn’t quite ready to give up the pursuit of the dreams and goals that led me, step-by-step, to singer Tom Jones. While I was able to get out of my agoraphobic comfort zone of my parents home, live on my own, work, and grow emotionally in many ways, part of my comfort zone became Tomjonesville. Part reality and part fantasyland strangely became my next safe place.
Despite the fact that I met and was around many different and interesting people – Mr. G., whom I will never forget as the first gatekeeper to Tomjonesville, God bless him, as he is no longer with us, Tom’s son, Mark Woodward, bodyguard Dave Perry, Big Jim Sullivan and other musicians, a disc jockey from KVCR, and a multitude of fun, serious, and generous Tom Jones fans, a groupie or two, as well as Engelbert Humperdink fans, and Elvis fans – this wild and funky world became my little microcosm, and I was hesitant to leave it. I mean, really, who wants to walk away from a handsome, sexy, superlative-voiced superstar?
I had given up the idea of me and Mr. Jones falling madly in love with each other, but the possibilities that lurked after these meetings still made me dance toward, and back away, toward and away, toward and away. My time in Tomjonesville felt like a long version of Baby’s time at the Catskills in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” It was my very own coming of age story, in which I went from being an awkward, giggly teenage girl to a fully developed, grown-up woman. Pardon the expression, but “I had the time of my life,” and the problem was, I couldn’t leave the Catskills – I mean, Tomjonesville.
So, I checked with my partner-in-TJ-crime, Rose, and we decided we would go to Vegas together. Vegas, baby!!! Rosie had never seen Jones perform in such an intimate setting, and I was excited to share the experience with her. However, Rosie had no clue what my real plan was. In fact, she will be reading it here for the first time. This was going to be the Final Hurrah: Rose and I would go to Caesar’s Palace, and while there, I would avail myself of all of the opportunities that were available to me the last two times I was in Vegas, sans Elvis, because everybody knows, (now I can’t use the phrase ‘everybody knows’ without hearing “Atlanta Housewife” Phaedra Park’s voice), when Elvis is in town there is no other game in town. And instead of running like the Arctic wind across the Nevada desert, my final goal was to become that long, tall drink of water to quench the thirst of the singer. I vowed to myself that I would not run like a six-foot-two Chicken Little. This Vegas trip was going to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G because I had matured, and reconsidered what I wanted.
Then the first domino fell. Rosie canceled because she couldn’t afford our trip, even though she was working two jobs. But it was cool. It was okay. I could go to Vegas by myself. In fact, it would be better to go alone. I knew what I wanted and how to make it happen. Oddly, I no longer heard Snow White’s voice singing, “Some day my prince will come.” I no longer heard the little birdies that used to chirp in my head, gently driving me forward to my goal.
In fact, as the date got closer, I began to have a few panic moments. Uh oh. I thought I had all of those panic feelings in check. Then I heard from an older TJ fan, who was very close to a card-carrying TJ groupie. In all her wisdom, she set the second domino in motion, by writing, “Don’t go to Vegas. You’re too young and have too much going for you to get caught up in that kind of thing.” She actually had the nerve to tell me, “Get on with your life.” It was like a bucket of ice-cold water in my face. It was completely sobering.
Then the third domino fell. I knew she was right. And the rows of dominos in the Last Hurrah fell like the sound of a hammer in my sensitive young heart – bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! I realize the only reason my mother didn’t freak out when I told her I was going to Vegas by myself was the fact that that she knew me so well that she trusted I would not go. Mommio was insightful. She just patiently waited it out, knowing that any real connection to the real man in Tomjonesville fought with my true self, my values system, and my ultimate goal of finding true love and creating a family.
There I was in my twenties, belatedly facing the death of my teenage fantasies, so I did what any teenage girl might do. I got out all of my Tom Jones paraphernalia and revisited the goodies one last time. I lovingly looked through all of the photographs, newspaper clippings, programs and hotel menus I had collected over the years. I held his tie, which for at least a year smelled like Tom, and listened to Jones’ LPs on my 1970’s stereo as I went through years of memorabilia. It felt like a break-up. Or a wake, because I distinctly remember some tears intermingled with Stoffer’s mac and cheese and chocolate ice cream during this mourning phase.
Jones plaintiff version of the song, “Tired of Being Alone,” (song by Al Green) danced in my head like the black swan. It was my party and I cried because I wanted to. So I cried. And cried. I put all of my Tom Jones things in a big brown packing box and ceremoniously carried it to a corner in the garage. I was going to have to learn to live TJ-free.
And then I got a call saying, “You have to go to Knottsberry Farm. Tom is taping a special there for a couple nights.” Maybe it wasn’t over… with the singer who saved me.
September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
First, let me say that if I were young girl today, I would not chase a pop star in a limo, nor recommend it to anyone. I am talking about a different time and place, the mid-70s in the 20th century, when there was nothing really like the massive numbers of paparazzi or citizens stalking celebrities like there are today. Infamous photographer Ron Galella was just beginning what we now know was his relentless pursuit of Jackie O. There were not dozens of photographers lurking around bushes and chasing after celebrities such as Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian. TMZ didn’t exist and Harvey Levin was just an unknown student prepping for the bar exam with the dream of being a lawyer.
It also wouldn’t be wise to chase a limo today because of the pure and simple logistics of traffic in Los Angeles. I used to love LA as much as Randy Newman, but honestly, the traffic is so bad now that recently, we figured it would take a half hour to get to Trader Joe’s from Brentwood, and a half hour to return; that’s one whole hour of drive-time just to get some fresh fruits and veggies. I also wouldn’t recommend chasing anyone in a limo in this day and age, because it is a different time and place in the world. It feels more dangerous than “the good old days.”
When I was in my early twenties, however, when it came to Tom Jones, I always heard the good angel on my right shoulder saying, “No, no, no”; but the little devil on my other shoulder was singing, “Wild thing/ You make my heart sing/ You make everything groovy/ Wild thing.” (“Wild Thing” lyrics by Chip Taylor. Pop culture note: Chip Taylor is the stage name for James Wesley Voight, brother of actor Jon Voight and uncle of Angelina Jolie.)
As I matured through the university I discovered I was more intelligent than I thought. It had never occurred to me that I could actually survive a difficult course load that required considerable critical thinking and writing skills. Success in college helped with a modicum of confidence, and eventually, after I graduated I got my first real job as a part-time proofreader; that led to becoming an editor in an educational publishing company. It was a good job for someone like me. I could hide behind a desk and the written word, rarely having to interact with the large number of employees. I often felt like I was “pretending” to be an adult, because I was constantly struggling with my personal issues. Trying to resolve them through my limited knowledge, using prayer on one hand, and beginning to utilize biographies and self-help books and on the other.
It became time to take flight, so-to-speak, and one of the most difficult parts in leaving home was negotiating with my mother regarding Duchess, our sweet silver-tipped Persian cat. Duchess had been my best friend for nearly a decade and I didn’t know if I had the courage to actually move out and live on my own without her. Duchess and I had slept together every night since she was twelve-weeks-old; she was my buddy and confidante; she had been with me through the tears, the fears, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and was the keeper of every secret I had. She knew all about my Tom Jones mantras, and I was grateful when Mommio was willing to let go of Duchess in order to get rid of me. I say that with tongue-in-cheek, although being an anxiety-prone, agoraphobic late-bloomer, I was long overdue in leaving the safety of the nest.
My secret Tom Jones mantras enabled me to push through my failure to launch, as I told myself, “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to leave home,” and “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to become independent,” and “If I am going to make Tom Jones fall in love with me, I have to grow up and face my fears.” Yikes. The motivation for my maturity was linked to this entertainer whose voice, the Voice, comforted me, energized me, made me feel strong, made me feel womanly, and enabled me feel whatever I needed to feel. I was slowly beginning to develop a sense of self through my own, private, singer-saved-me therapy. I was even beginning to walk with a beat in my step.
When I finally flew the coop of my parent’s home, I moved to the same street as my mother’s best friend, and began to get close to her daughter, Rose, who was living with her for a while. Rose and I had known and skirted around each other’s families for years, but now, as adults, we were beginning to click. To be truthful, I think some of her family and all of my family thought she was, for lack of a better word, a “mercy” friend; a person who is loving and caring to the extreme of befriending a poor soul like me at that point in my life. (Remember, most people knew me as that tall, skinny girl who hid at home.)
Rose and I clicked on many levels – humor, common interests such as love of the entertainment world, love of pop/rock music, love of home, issues of the spirit, politics, etc. We shared thoughts and feelings, saw the best in each other, talked about our own foibles and failings, supported each other through the good times, and loved each other through the most difficult times. Rose had a free spirit and independence that I so admired and desired. She had studied acting, traveled the world, lived and worked in foreign countries, and taken the helm on a large sailing yacht in the Caribbean. She liked to go sailing with my dad and me, and most importantly, Rose liked Tom Jones.
Mommio no longer attended TJ shows due to chronic ill health, so Rose was the perfect addition to Tom Jonesville. On one occasion, when Tom was back at the Greek Theatre, and I had already seen him on and off stage, Rose and I were driving out of the parking lot after a show. Out of the blue, a limousine pulled out of the parking lot near the theatre where we were parked. We were pretty sure it was Jones. Who else would it be? We looked at each other, looked at the dark limo, looked at each other again, and simply followed it out of the driveway. We didn’t plan it. It presented itself to us and it was just too tempting. Too tempting!
Like the Pied Piper calling to us, the limo wound its way out of the Griffith Park area as we followed Jones in our little stick shift Porsche 912. We were travelling at an even pace and there really was no chase at this point. We just assumed we’d be going on the freeway when we left, because that was the way we came. Because I always panicked when it came to driving freeways, Rose was the designated driver and I became the lookout during the chase. I would carefully watch the limo and double-check the safety of our movement, saying things like, “Okay, Rose, hang back, not too close,” and “They’re turning right on Los Feliz. Put on your right-turn signal, and we are good to go.”
The further away from the Greek Theatre we got, the more the traffic opened up and the speed picked up. Oh yeah, baby, the speed picked up. We sped up North Western Avenue with our little Porsche easily able to keep up with the behemoth limo like the flippin’ tail of the whale. We surmised that we were heading into the heart of the “action.” Were we headed to a private club (private disco/dance clubs were very popular during the 70s, with Rose being a card-carrying club member in an LA dance club), or a restaurant like La Scala, a favorite of Tom’s, in Beverly Hills? Or, perhaps we were headed to his home in Bel Air, or the nearby Hotel Bel Air, a frequent hangout of Jones and many other celebrities (and a favorite place for my own family celebrations throughout the years).
At this point, the driver had to know we were following them. Are they used to this? It was such an impulsive act and we were so intent on being safe during the Tom Jones limo chase that we hadn’t even discussed what we would do once we got to a location. And then it happened. As soon as I saw the sign, “Sunset Boulevard,” I knew. “Rosie,” I shouted, “We’re goin’ to Bel Air! We are going to Bel Air!”
Our powerful engine revved up and down, depending on the speed at which we followed the smooth, long, ride that carried the superstar. We continued to flirt with the leviathan limo with blackened windows that could have swallowed up our little, orange Porsche like krill. We didn’t know exactly where in Bel Air we were going yet, and we certainly didn’t know what we would do when we got there, but we were impetuously and inappropriately chasing… the singer who saved me.
July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
As I was walking – no, crawling – on my long maturing road, I moved from a junior college to a university and switched majors from Communications to English Literature. Why? I was afraid to drive the freeways. Embarrassing to admit back in the day, but it was true. Anxiety regarding driving the freeways actually changed my entire college path. I had transferred to a state college with a forty-minute drive on the freeway, but on the first day of school, I had a panic attack, and realized I couldn’t force myself to meet the challenge; when it came to fight or flight, I was a flight risk. So, with a lot more shame than embarrassment, I ended up transferring to a university with a mere fifteen-minute drive from home to classroom… on streets. At the time, it was just another seemingly paralyzing, shameful reason as to why I was stuck in a place of arrested development; and another reason why I felt so insecure and would find myself escaping into Tom Jonesville, a place I went to whenever I needed a boost or a release for my many emotions.
Most people thought my fear had to do with actually driving on the freeway, or a fear of getting lost, which I have to admit, not wanting to go outside a 5-mile radius beyond my home tended to confirm that theory. However, the biggest reason I didn’t drive the freeways had more to do with the fact that I got severe migraines, which were often triggered when driving. I would be cruising along and suddenly, the glint of sunlight off of a chrome bumper would temporarily alter my vision and I would see spots and lose part of my vision. Once the spots showed up I would inevitably have a “light show” in my eyes, followed by temporary, partial vision, and a severe, debilitating migraine headache. I would end up in bed and stay in a dark room for one or two days. The pain of these sick migraines was severe and debilitating and lasted for years.
Because we didn’t go to doctors, I didn’t know what that visual problem meant, and so, in my ignorance, I was afraid that I was losing my vision. My mother and I would pray, and pray, and pray over this lurking fear of blindness. I had so many lingering fears regarding my sight and the horrible pain and sickness of a migraine that it interfered with my ability to live my life freely for years. In my limited world, fear of losing my vision while driving also translated to fear of driving any distance by myself on freeways. What would happen if I had to pull over and wait for an hour on the side of the freeway to get my vision back? What would happen if I became sick on the side of the freeway? Good things don’t happen to girls alone on the side of a freeway. I would focus on every news show that featured a horrible story about a woman on a freeway. As usual, my inability to contain my fears always led to catastrophizing.
At this point, my father, who did see doctors, took me to his ophthalmologist. The surgeon was shocked to find out that I feared losing my vision, and was quickly able to identify the lights and loss of vision as a migraine “aura,” which can precede a migraine for up to 60 minutes and can include blind spots, fine lines that float across your field of vision, spots that move or shimmer, and flashes of light. I cannot describe the relief that came with the news that I wasn’t facing blindness. It was as if I had been living in the Dark Ages, and a man from the future came back to share his knowledge. (Side note: These migraines can still occasionally knock me off my feet, though in the late 80s I began to use medication to help with the pain and limitations they imposed on my life, and it made a huge improvement in the quality of my life.)
Speaking of my father, I have to honor how he always moved heaven and earth for me to see Tom Jones. In fact, I honor all of the men – the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, and male friends – that were patient and accepting of all of us women who danced around Tom Jones for years and still do, and made them change their plans, spend money when maybe we shouldn’t have, attend concerts, let us control the TV clicker on certain nights, listen to albums or CDs over and over again, drive us long distances, etc. For me and Mommio, any trips to our mountain cabin were planned around TV Guide and had to occur either before or after any TJ television shows or specials; Dad just accepted it as “girl rule” and part of his lot in life, as these were the old days, before Beta, video, or DVR. (Today, can you imagine such a life?)
Due to my fear of driving the freeways, Daddio would always drive me up to whatever L.A. box office was selling TJ tickets, because I could get better tickets than places like Ticketron offered. He also gave me the tip to show my photos with Tom to “improve the odds of getting better tickets.” He was a keen writer, due to the fact that he went to law school, (though getting his law degree was interrupted by the war), and when I was really young and trying to promote “Tom’s Booster’s” fan club, he taught me everything about being specific and checking for details, and how to edit, edit, edit. He was a great salesman and businessman, and Daddio was probably the one who told me to have a “cheat-sheet” in front of me when I made calls to Tom’s management in order to prompt me what to say. It actually helped assuage my nerves, and is a life lesson I’ve used for years. Daddio always had more confidence in me than I had in myself, saying repeatedly, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I never believed him, until I met Tom Jones.
Near the end of his life, my father took me out to a little restaurant on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. After lunch we would always walk around the Island, admire the beautiful and charming homes, and check out the sailboats and “stinkpots” in the bay. He was struggling with his short-term memory this summer, more so than ever before. He forgot three times that we had already ordered our lunch, but was able to describe, in detail, the way his childhood bedroom looked, the first car he got when he was 14-years-old, and what he ate on board ship in the navy during World War II.
Neither of us knew this would be our last lunch alone together, or that in a mere three months he would be gone. Out of the blue, he asked, “Judi, was I a good father? Was there something I could have done better?” For me, just asking that question was the very answer. There were so many ways he was a good father that I could write a blog about this tall, handsome man who wore a bow tie, seemed to know the answer to everything, was generous beyond words, and always left me with a kiss on the cheek, saying “I love you, my sweet,” or “Keep your powder dry.” (This is a “Be prepared!” reference that comes from the old days when you had to carry a satchel of dry gun powder to place into your gun when it was necessary to shoot, and meaning you have to be careful with your resources and use them when you need them.)
I have to admit that among the many things I told him I was grateful for was his willingness to pave the way on my long trip to Tom Jonesville. Like my mother, he knew it was important, but unlike my mother, I don’t think he understood why. But that was the beauty of my father; even if he didn’t get the why, he simply understood it was. While we ate lunch, I reminded him about the time he drove me up to my sister’s place to see Tom in L.A., and a few days later, after I seeing him on and offstage, Dad was supposed to pick me up and take me home. Suddenly something came up in his business and he couldn’t pick me up; mother was ill and couldn’t pick me up; and my neither of sisters could get me home. I was afraid of going on a public bus system with so many strangers, or in a taxi with only one stranger (on the verge of an anxiety-ridden agoraphobia attack).
For some reason that neither one of us could remember, I had to get home. What did he do? Daddio sent me home from LA to Orange Country in a six-seat passenger airplane. There was twenty-something me, scared-to-death to be with five very serious businessmen heading home from a long day’s work in L.A. I was able to manage my anxiety because I was actually flying on a TJ high. Daddio and I both laughed out loud remembering all of his enabling of my Tom Jones shenanigans. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, because by then I was managing my life-limiting migraines, fears of driving the freeways, and oh-so many other things that in my teens and twenties I didn’t dream possible during my Tom Jones days. We both laughed it off, but I will be forever grateful that he supported me 100% in the long maturing road that included… the singer who saved me.
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.