August 15, 2011 § 7 Comments
Years ago, the media fueled a fierce rivalry between Tom Jones and Elvis, but anyone who knows much about one or the other knows they were part of a “Mutual Admiration Society.” Only in more recent years has Jones become more public about their friendship. A great place to read up about their relationship and see fun photos and videos is through a popular Elvis fan site (www.elvis.com.au; search “Tom Jones”).
My mother, oldest sister, and myself found ourselves driving in one of the worst rainstorms southern California had seen in 1972, all for the sole purpose of seeing Elvis in concert at the Long Beach Arena. As we left for the concert, it felt like we might float away because the rain was so deep you could no longer see the curbs on the sidewalks. No rain, wind, thunder, or lightening was going to stop us from seeing the “King,” and as we arrived in Long Beach, the clouds began to open up and we could see a twinkle of stars way into the heavens.
It was a thrill to actually be part of an Elvis concert. ELVIS, for heaven’s sake! The crowd was excited and energized to be there, even if a little wet and bedraggled from the stormy weather. It was amazing to see someone so influential to multiple generations. Elvis was gifted with looks, talent, and a beautiful voice, but it was only five years later that his life came to a sudden and early end. We were so grateful we were able to see and hear Elvis live in concert, as there will always be only one King, and I can only imagine the legions of people who feel that Elvis’ music “saved” them.
However, “Don’t go to Vegas to see Tom Jones when Elvis is in town,” was my sweeping generalization back in 1973, when I was hoping to score some backstage time with Mr. Jones. I had gone to Caesar’s Palace with my other sister for a weekend of fun, sun, and my necessary TJ-connection. Everything worked out beautifully for the room, pool-time, and being up front and center at Tom’s shows, which were – it’s not unusual – packed to the gills and fantastic. I was hoping to see him backstage, but for the first and only time ever, my plans did not work out.
What? Was I too vague? Did I beat around the bush too much? I didn’t go directly to my buddy, Mr. G. Was that my big boo-boo? I thought I’d skip the midnight show and go to my hotel room and primp and prime, get myself all dolled up, and wait for the call to hear the words, “Come on down,” a la Bob Barker. I lay on top of the hotel bed in my beautiful dress with my false eye-lashes a-flutter, and while my sister retired in her jammies and got lost in her paperback romance novel, I thought about the dinner show from which I had just returned.
The man whose voice kept me going during the bad times, and now, as I was maturing, some good times, had been singing his heart out just a few feet in front of me. The mere sound of his voice lifted my heart and carried my emotions to whatever sentiment was intended by the lyrics and the vocalist. Was that part of the attraction? His voice always allowed me to feel the gamut of emotions that welled-up inside of me. Feelings, feelings, feelings… And each song I’ve heard, whether on a TV show, a radio, a record album (believe it or not, that’s how we older folks used to listen to our music in the old days), a Vegas show, or concert, carries a memory attached to it. A time and a place where I heard that song and it fulfilled some type of emotional feeling or need.
Maybe that need was simply to hear a fun song, like “She’s a Lady” and dream of being that lady. Maybe it was about putting into words the depths of feelings of someone who doesn’t feel worthy, and understanding those feelings as heard in “I, Who Have Nothing.” Or the poignant feelings derived from the story told in the song, “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Elvis Presley understood those feelings that you get when listening to a singer who moves you, and “told Tom a touching story: When your record ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ was issued here, the boys and I were on the road driving in our mobile home. Man, that record meant so much to us boys from Memphis we just sat there and cried.
“Then we called the radio station and asked them to play it again – they did, four times! We just sat there and sobbed our hearts out.” (New Musical Express, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones: Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, April 6, 1968).
Feelings, feelings, feelings – the singers save us through their expression of feelings in the artistry of the music, the lyrics, and the sound of their voices. At a live, intimate setting such as Vegas, I would get to enjoy the combination of all three, heightened by the close proximity to the performer. I would also get to participate in some on-stage banter and that was, in my youthful immaturity, all of the acknowledgement I needed to feel a connection, whether it was real or not.
There I was, just lying there on Caesar’s bed, waiting for the phone to ring so I could dance the light fantastic down to Tom Jonesville. “Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising/ Higher higher/It’s burning through to my soul.” (“Burning Love” written by Dennis Linde, sung by Elvis) Lord have mercy, I was getting feverish, as the clock tick-tocked on and on and on, one hour turning into another hour. I wondered why my call wasn’t beckoning me backstage, beckoning me to Tom, beckoning me to what I later learned was my object of transition, my object of transformation.
What I didn’t know, during those longsuffering moments of waiting for the call that never came, was that there was an Elvis sighting. It was way far, far down under the many little hotel rooms below mine, and all the way through the gaming casino, and into the Circus Maximus showroom where Tom Jones was performing. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… Elvis Presley was with… the singer who saved me.