April 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
We returned to Vegas in spring of 1972. This time Tom Jones was at Caesar’s Palace. The hotel was dripping with gauche golden Roman decor, and men and women running around the casino wearing togas. Former fighter, Joe Louis was Caesar’s formal “greeter,” wandering around the hotel welcoming the guests. There were often comedians, such as Don Rickles, Norm Crosby (he toured with Tom and his malapropisms teased about “the fringe on his benefits”) and football stars, such as Deacon Jones, and many other football players whose names I’ve forgotten, hung out in the casinos or by the pool.
This trip was just me, Mom, and Tom (forget the several thousands of others there to specifically see TJ). This trip to Vegas wasn’t something I had to earn, so it was all about seeing Tom Jones and loooooking goooood. I spent a lot of time preparing just the right clothes, sewing most of them, because during that time period, there weren’t a lot of clothese to fit my 6’2” frame. If, I wanted to wear pants, I had to make them myself to fit my 36-inch inseam; if I wanted to wear jeans, I had to buy them in the men’s department, and let’s just say, there was always just a little too much fabric in the crotch area.
Despite all of my clothing challenges, Mommio and I were dressed to the nines from arrival to departure in Vegas. Yep, while I had a distinctly spiritual side that prayed and thought about how to be a good daughter, a good person, and a good citizen of the world, I had this flip-side that focused trying to make myself look good in order to make Tom Jones fall in love with me. Because if Tom Jones fell in love with me, I would feel beautiful, right? Because, “I leaned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens…At seventeen I learned the truth/And those of us with ravaged faces lacking in the social graces/Desperately remained at home inventing lovers on the phone/Who called to say come dance with me…It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.” (“At Seventeen,” lyrics by Janis Ian)
At almost nineteen, something very strange began to occur. Boys who used to be really mean, were suddenly looking at me in a different way. I was still just as skinny, but any ounce of fat that I gained went to what judge Len Goodman, on Dancing with the Stars, refers to as the “chesticle” area. Instead of being told, “You’re so skinny you look crippled,” (yes, someone had the gall to say that), boys, and even men, were suddenly saying, “Hey baby, hey baby,” (imagine Gwen Stefani singing the chorus). But the change was too fast. It was confusing. What I was beginning to hear, didn’t match the internal dialogue inside of my head that said I was different and I wasn’t good enough.
As Mother and I enjoyed two fabulous days of fantastic Tom Jones’ shows, she had figured out how to get us seated at center stage. There would be no more viewing from afar – uh-uh, oh no. From now on it was up close and personal. From now on, Jesse the maitre’d was the man to get us close to our man. Jesse and Mom spoke a special language called Greenback, and I think it took about 50-60 greenbacks to get us to that center-stage, touch-TJ’s-boots seating.
One thing we found fascinating was, how many men end up at Tom Jones’ shows, especially in Vegas. These dear husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends who love their women so much that they are willing to sit around a bunch of women who are prime to go crazy and throw some panties at a man singing “What’s New Pussycat.” The men are always won over by his voice. Always. That is the power of The Voice. Despite the singer’s sexual antics and all of the wild women, The Voice is always the most important presence on the stage.
At our first show the music played, and the words announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones,” and I found myself literally sitting at the feet of the man who had been singing my teenage pain away, singing my adolescent heart to beat, and singing my youthful soul alive. I knew the rhythm of his show (i.e., he sang two upbeat songs, then took a break to say hello to the audience and have a drink, before singing a slow song). Suddenly, after the second song, I found myself standing, and this shy, awkward girl who was afraid to walk to the mailbox or go to school became determined, brave, and womanly, with a glass of water in her hand reaching out as an offering. I heard him say to the band, “Well, looky here, there’s long, tall Sally.” Jones was referencing the song, and the first of two nicknames he gave me over the years:
“Long tall Sally has a lot on the ball
And nobody cares if she’s long and tall
Oh baby, yes baby, whoo-oo-oo-oo baby,
I’m having me some fun tonight…”
(Long Tall Sally, by “Little” Richard Penniman, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, and Enotris Johnson)
We had a mini on-stage chat, during which I lied about my age. My spiritual side which told me to always be truthful, was always at war with my need to make contact with my object of transition, but there was no way I was ever going to voice the word “teen” in any conversation I ever had with Mr. Jones. That could seriously jeopardize his ability to fall in love with me, which was, after all, my ultimate goal. Remember too, I looked far more mature than I actually was. And then it happened. Tom Jones leaned over, put his arm around my back, and kissed me. This was not a little peck on the lips kind of kiss. This was a man kissing a woman kiss. This was my first kiss ever, with any man. How lucky can a tall, skinny girl who was bullied and teased and felt nervous and anxious and terrible about who she was get? My first kiss was with… the singer who saved me.
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 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
If I close my eyes, I can remember the Hotel International venue, with vertical rows of tables branching out from a small horizontal stage like sunbeams, and then rows of booths cupped the edges of the table rows like ruffles, followed by a large number of scattered dinner tables. I’d been to a Philharmonic symphony led by Zubin Mehtah, seen the Monkees at the Hollywood Bowl, and Herb Albert at the Greek Theatre, but I’d never been to a Las Vegas dinner show.
Mother tipped the maitre d’ to get us into a center booth at the end of a center row, and we four ladies were excited to see Tom and get the show on the road. But first we had to wade through a meal, and then laugh through the comedians – The Ace Trucking Company. (Remember them from the early TV shows, with Fred Willard being the most recognizable member from that crazy sketch crew?)
The intermission seemed interminable. While my mother and sisters enjoyed people watching, I was counting the minutes, and then the moments. But finally, finally, those words I heard so many times on television, those words that I was willing to climb an emotional Mt. Everest to get to, stated, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is Tom Jones!”
The moment he took the stage everything and everyone disappeared. I saw only him. I heard only him. Was it a typical teenage crush on a singer superstar? Was it The Voice working like synapses in the hypothalamus of my brain, sending neurotransmitters of sound and the thrill of good feelings throughout my body?
To borrow from Katy Perry’s “Firework” lyrics, (Teenage Dream CD), Tom Jones was a human firework, and he made me go “Oh, oh, oh,” and left us all in “awe, awe, awe.” We were all giddy with delight. My heart danced through the night. The Voice electrified. The man magnetized. The Voice was really real and I could really feel. It didn’t seem like a teenage dream, because the singer saved me… and made my heart sing, sing, sing.
February 20, 2011 § 2 Comments
At 17, I spent months preparing to see Tom Jones live in Las Vegas. I pushed myself to the limit just to accomplish my mother’s bribe to get me out of the womb tomb of home. I was nervous about leaving my safety zone. Whenever I wasn’t home, I felt like a modern-day Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, running though an obstacle course of insecurities and just wanting to click my heels to get home.
While I had the support of my family and a lot of prayerful support for all of my free-floating anxieties, as I look back as an adult, I wish someone had been able to talk to me realistically about my fears. Like a typical teenager, I thought I was the only one on the face of the earth who had these weird feelings and thoughts. I didn’t even know there was a name for panic attacks. And there were no Lucinda Basset infomercials at 3 am in the morning to identify symptoms and share successful solutions that gave birth to her Midwestern Center for Stress and Anxiety.
One thing I wasn’t nervous about was the fact that we three sisters and Mom would look good in Vegas. We were all into fashion, and Vegas in the 70s was not the Vegas we know now. It was not the “family place” it has become; it was a place where adults went to gamble, see the shows, and enjoy the hotels. No schlepping around in ratty t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops. You dressed up when you went to Vegas. You wore your best jeans or “pantsuits” or mini-skirts during the day, bikinis with cute little cover-ups at the pool, and lovely cocktail dresses, gowns, or sophisticated pant outfits for the shows.
And so we loaded our luggage into “ Sea-foam,” Mother’s big ol’ Cadillac with a white-beige leather top and gorgeous aqua bottom that looked like a wave on four wheels, and hit the road. We were all really excited, which helped get us through the flat four-hour ride through the desert from Newport Beach to Las Vegas. Once we got there we decided to eat lunch at The Flamingo Hotel, because – duh! – even Mom had listened to the Live from Las Vegas album a gazillion times and wanted to check it out.
We arrived at the Hotel International and it was huge and gorgeous and modern and Vegas beyond our imaginations.
Our bevy of beauty and the ugly duckling, (I am now able to identify this as a distorted belief, but at the time, it was my tiny world view), explored the hotel and took advantage of the April sun and pool. Later we played the slot machines. My sisters were well over 21, and while I was still a teen, my height and quiet manner feigned maturity, allowing me to appear to be of age. I was able to pull down a few slots myself, and I felt like such a grown up! I think we spent a whole $35 in quarters, and someone won back about $25.
To tell the truth, however, the only thing running through my adolescent head was that Tom Jones is here. He is in this hotel. I am going to see him. I am going to hear him sing. Like a calming mantra slowing my breath, I was breathing in Tom Jones… Breathing out Tom Jones… Breathing in Tom Jones… Breathing out Tom Jones… Calming my nerves and soothing my anxious soul… I was only 17, and waiting to see… the singer who saved me.
February 16, 2011 § 6 Comments
Did Tom Jones feel special at a very young age? From what has been written and quoted, singing and girls came easily to him from lad to lothario. You have to have confidence to succeed in the entertainment industry. Confidence is reinforced again and again if you have the talent to “bring it” each time it is called upon. You also have to have confidence to keep chasing it when you are told you aren’t quite good enough or what they want at the time.
I certainly didn’t feel special or confident. In fact it was quite embarrassing that at times I could barely walk to the mailbox without becoming breathless and getting the shakes. If I spotted anyone outside, I would wait until they were gone before I’d go out.
So while Mr. Jones was married and with a young son, building a successful career recording albums, touring, and taping TV shows, building a huge base of fans, there I was, hiding in my bedroom, placing my stereo needle receiver on those big ol’ round, black, vinyl albums and gazing at those gorgeous album covers. I would get movie magazines, the old fashioned version of People or OK Magazine, in order to get news of the singer.
One random day, Mother, came up with a scheme – a trick, a plan, a plot – to get me out of the house. We all knew it wasn’t healthy for me to stay home day and night, even though it felt like it was the only safe place on the face of the earth, but no one ever really verbalized it. So this was it, Mommio’s 3-part scheme:
“If you will
(1) Go back to high school for just one class
(2) Go to John Robert Powers modeling school for a basic modelinge class
(3) I will take you and the girls to Las Vegas to see Tom Jones.”
WHAT??? Be still my teenage heart. Go to Las Vegas, Nevada? Turn the Tom Jones Live from Las Vegas album, which I had memorized word for word, including his in-between-song chit-chat with audience members, a reality?
“Oh yes, Mommio!” I made a decision that I would do whatever it takes to make this happen. Despite overwhelming anxiety, I was determined to walk through the halls of high school hell to make this happen. I would pretend I had the ability to walk the model walk like Twiggy, (Tyra wasn’t born yet), even though I couldn’t walk to the mailbox.
I chose a class that was the closest to the school parking lot, because I figured that if I panicked going to the mailbox, it was going to be more than a challenge to walk through school again. So I chose a sewing class that would, due to stereotypical roles of that time period, not include mean boys, and it would be only a hop, skip and a jump from my car. Condition # 1 accomplished.
Making John Robert Powers modeling class happen was more difficult, because it was a freeway drive into Santa Ana, near Bullocks Fashion Square in Orange County. Having become so homebound, and also having physical problems with severe headaches and at times losing part of my vision, I had become extremely fearful of driving… especially driving freeways.
And the Dark Ages of the early 70s we weren’t even thinking about wireless telephones in our homes, let alone cell phones to take in our cars for matters of safety. I had to depend on all of my family members to drive me to John Robert Powers. Despite all of my fears and multiple panic attacks prior to the modeling classes, the TJ motivator was strong enough to push me through. Condition # 2 accomplished!
Mother booked the trip to Kirk Kerkorian’s hot, new Hotel International in Las Vegas for Tom Jones’ spring 1970 show! The International was known for Elvis’ invasion into Vegas. I always wondered if Elvis’ eventual move to sing in Vegas was fueled by Jones’ incredible success there. I wondered if the Colonel had thought Vegas wasn’t “big enough” for the legendary Elvis until, perhaps, he recognized how Jones was able to fill large stadiums like the LA Forum and Madison Square Garden, and still successfully utilize the more intimate setting of the Vegas lounge system like the older crooners, such as Sinatra.
The trip was months and months away. I was going to see and hear the object of my affection sing live. I would go into my 8’ by 10’ bedroom, listen to The Voice, and have a little, itty, bitty spark of hope. I had something special to look forward to, and in those moments… the singer saved me.