Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who in the Hell is Tom Jones?

I’ve just finished reading a book called Slimetime by Steven Puchalski, a catalogue of the worst bad-taste movies ever made. Amongst titles like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, I Dismember Mama and Return of the Killer Tomatoes is Tom Jones in Las Vegas (1981). The author notes: “Tom Jones moves across the stage with all the grace of a gazelle with a brain tumour, sweats like a chunk of rancid pork, keeps his shirt unpleasantly unbuttoned down to his navel, and has a hair perm...”

Jones’s particular brand of cheesy, hip-thrusting, balladry has never been to everybody’s taste. In fact, there is a stellar cast of naysayers. Scott Walker, between shows in Cardiff in 1968, infamously dissed TJ comparing him unfavourably to Sinatra. The Manson Family didn’t like him either – they put him on an assassination hit-list.

Another in the ‘anti’ camp was cult writer Charles Bukowski. In his book Hollywood (1989), a roman à clef about the making of the movie Barfly, Tom Jones is transformed into a thinly disguised Tab Jones. Henry Chinaski – Bukowski’s alter ego – attends a Jones show in Vegas and is suitably appalled. In a brilliant extended demolition of the Welsh singer he observes: “His shirt is open and the black hairs on his chest show. The hairs are sweating. He wears a big silver cross in these sweating hairs. His mouth is a horrible hole cut into a pancake. He's got on tight pants and he's wearing a dildo. He grabs his balls and sings about all the good things he can do for women. He really sings badly, I mean he is TERRIBLE.”

Bukowski also wrote a poem Who in the Hell is Tom Jones? which, although not directly critical of the Pontypridd crooner, implicitly suggests (via its title) that Jones, as an ageing stud, is less potent than Bukowski himself. Here it is:

I was shacked with a
24 year old girl from
New York City for
two weeks- about
the time of the garbage
strike out there, and
one night my 34 year
old woman arrived and
she said, "I want to see
my rival." she did
and then she said, "o,
you're a cute little thing!"
next I knew there was a
screech of wildcats-
such screaming and scratch-
ing, wounded animal moans,
blood and piss. . .
I was drunk and in my
shorts. I tried to
separate them and fell,
wrenched my knee. then
they were through the screen
door and down the walk
and out into the street.
squadcars full of cops
arrived. a police heli-
coptor circled overhead.
I stood in the bathroom
and grinned in the mirror.
it's not often at the age
of 55 that such splendid
things occur.
better than the Watts
the 34 year old
came back in. she had
pissed all over her-
self and her clothing
was torn and she was
followed by 2 cops who
wanted to know why.
pulling up my shorts
I tried to explain.