I am writing this testimonial to simply put straight all the rumors, lies, and fantasies that have been written, spoken, and sung about me. I have been the fodder for the creative poverty population who are stricken with the disease of self importance and are self appointed experts and rank strangers who claim to have known me, loved me, and befriended me. I keep a very tight circle so all who have claimed ownership of the knowledge are simply owners of either exaggerated falsehoods or the deluded companion bankrupt searching for some land or parcel to call their own.
I have been in the public spotlight for the past 50 years, give or take a year here and there. I have been called a genius, a drug addict, rebel-rouser, asshole, and a “has been” more times than I have been called my own true first name. I have graced the cover of magazines, newspapers and an infinite amount of websites. They call me the “American Bard” of the 20th Century, yet I have been writing and performing for the past 18 years during the 21st Century and if you ask me, which I would never say publicly, my best writing has been since 2002.
I am a poet, a songwriter, and the author of essays. My style is inspired by each and every word ever communicated — no one specific person or thing has inspired me more than another. I have inspired generations of imitators who have taken my style and found success. I consider that a compliment and have befriended the best of them. I have been accused of theft by the ones who consider themselves the literary elite.
I am typing this testimony on my laptop as I travel through towns in the Midwestern part of the United States of America. Moline, Carbondale, Dolton, Saginaw — we play them all. I remember some stops more than others. In Carbondale, I met Laurie who lived on the outskirts of the Shawnee Forest. We kept in touch for about 30 minutes or so after our brief romance — she came backstage at some stops and we stayed in some motels together. But when her old man called her to come home, she said goodbye without a tear and with a crooked smile. I closed my mouth and put the pen to paper.
This was back in 2002 when I wrote what the self-described experts called, “his comeback album.” It sold over three million records and I won a couple of Grammys so the record company was happy. Having millions of people experience your own personal failures in words and tune can feel like an internal nuclear war. But after a while, what inspired the words, the tunes, the musical arrangements become just another person’s experience. You see we are not who we think we are — we are expansions of who we once were, what we once experienced. We respond to life based on our prior experiences, flinch when the hand goes up simply because in the past we should have flinched to protect ourselves, but didn’t know better. We have fears because of prior experiences, not because the future is warning us. We think we learn and sometimes we do learn, but most times we are simply putting up layers to protect ourselves from one feeling or another once again.
I know I must be going on and on — that works in my songs — not sure how well it works in a sort of autobiography. This is not a typical autobiography — I am not starting at birth and ending at my current state. Who knows where or who I am as you read this?
You must understand these paragraphs filled with words describing situations I have been through are not some sort of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe or John Irving prose. As I said before, I am not a novelist. I am simply telling you some stories that some of my past selves have experienced. Some of those selves are still inside of me and some of them have long been dead, so the memories and how I relate them to you, have changed with each day that has passed to make them more tolerable to recall.
Chapter One — Most of the Time
Marie was a gypsy eyed, dark skinned woman with a cropped black hair style and lips filled with her venom. She had that way of looking at me which made me feel exposed and revealed. No one had ever put that spell over me as she did.
She held my hand as we walked onto the street, temperature was around 85 degrees at four o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday in late August. As we walked, I noticed some people glancing towards us — it was humorous to me because they were actually glancing at my companion without even a simple acknowledgement of the “celebrity” beside her. Admittedly I did look like crap — open shirt with a baseball cap and unshaven along with sunglasses, jeans and boots to round it off.
We walked on Fifth Avenue as the people around us were hurrying to get to wherever New Yorkers seem to be rushing to and barely said a word to each other. Not in an angry way, just as in a “lets just walk and clear our heads,” way. We glanced at each other several times, she gripped me tight and loosened her grip, and we each pointed in different directions. We ended up outside the Plaza Hotel and walked towards Central Park. There was a bench occupied by an older lady holding a leash that was connected to her bulldog. We sat beside her and Marie put her head on my shoulder.
“When do we say goodbye?” She asked me in a whisper.
“The summer always have to end?”
“It’s August, we ran this as far as we can,” She looked at me, “Don’t you think?”
I sat there staring at nothing in particular as families, couples, and children walked past us. Time passed and the lady to the left of us stood up and walked away, her bulldog leading her home or perhaps somewhere else.
I am unsure if I spoke these next words or thought them to myself:
“Sometimes we try and extend the times in our lives we enjoy and then things fall apart. The memories we enjoy become polluted by the future and then become dreadful memories we tuck away in some drawer or burn in an incinerator.”
“Right now, when we both think about our summer, we smile — should we extend this, whatever we call it, into the fall…” I trailed off, not wanting to lose Marie, but also understanding the shit would hit the fan as soon as the summer ended. I was due to go back on the road at the end of October — that was my reality. This whole thing was fantasy. Or was it the other way around?
“I like you most times and once in a while I do believe I am in love with you,” she whispered.
“Most of the time…” I didn’t know what to say. “Most of the time I want to hold you, but I also know that once the north wind comes up it will bring a chill that I don’t think I can handle anymore.”
“I don’t understand what that means.” She lifted her head from my shoulder. I stared into her eyes, those fucking eyes…
“I am not made for long term love — I will ruin it somehow. Maybe a stranger on the road, or a past acquaintance will distract me and you’ll be left in tears for me. I am not worth the tears, no one is.”
“I know who you are, Tom.”
“You do? ’Cause I have no idea.” I didn’t and I still don’t. “Let’s go back to the apartment, it’s hot and I am tired.”
“I’ll meet you there, I want to spend some time on my own, think about things.”
“Marie. Most of the time I really love you. It’s those empty moments that take away any sense of clarity that scares me.”
“I know how you feel, Tom.” She kissed me, “I won’t be long.”
I stood up and I began to walk to my place of residence. I’ve known life to have its ups, downs, starts, endings, births, deaths, walks and runs, openings and closings. I know that there is love, hatred and that thin line that separates them. Passionate sex and passionate fist fights are one and the same. Marie is someone I love and I also know I can get tired of very quickly. But there is something within her that is beguiling to me that has yet to fade and to be honest, it’s not most of the time that I want her by my side, it’s all the time.
I tell myself that I have felt this way before, this is not my first time in love or a soulmate Hollywood story. She is right for me, right now. But I know I will hurt her soon enough. I’d rather hurt her now than let her down when she least expects it.
I looked up at the street sign and noticed I was at 18th Street; how had I walked so far so quickly? I looked at my watch and saw that an hour had passed. I was thirsty and I was sweating. I saw a bar down the way and went in to cool off.
The bar was kind of empty, I walked up to the bar and sat on a stool. The bartender greeted me, recognized me, smiled, and asked me what I would like. I ordered a beer to cool me down. It did the job and then I realized I should call Marie.
So I asked the bartender if there was a payphone and he pointed me to the back, as I walked back I realized I didn’t have any change on me. I turned around and the bartender instinctively handed me a quarter.
“Thanks.” I smiled.
I put the quarter in the slot and dialed my phone number. No answer so I hung up and took back the quarter.
I got to my house and it was dark. There were some papers on the kitchen counter, some things to sign here and sign there; some articles from periodicals from around the world mentioning my name. On the table was my cell phone — some emails and some text messages but nothing from Marie. I had ended a love affair in my past after a summer of love — I had yet to get over that one yet the memories of Kara were still sweet — no lawyers, contracts of separation or heartache accompanied them.
I never like to carry a cell phone, I leave it in my house or wherever I stay in whatever city I am in. I don’t want to be available 24 hours a day. I have several assistants and offices filled with people who handle every detail when it comes to bills and everything other than my own day to day purchases. For that I have a couple of credit cards and some cash. Anything music or publicity related, the record company works with my management company to coordinate. When it comes to all of that I am out of touch. I have never held a job much less owned a business. Put me in a music studio or on stage and I am at home — so I stick with what I know. I write songs and I perform them, getting paid a ton of money each time. How much? I have no idea.
I sat on a recliner, bottle of water in my hand and my shoes on the floor. I closed my eyes and felt a sense of adrenaline inside of me. This happened to me when I wasn’t touring, especially about the time when I would normally be getting ready to get on stage. It was seven o’clock and this was the time I would be checking the tuning on my guitars, blowing into my harps and warming up my voice and fingers on a piano. I still got the butterflies prior to taking the stage — it would disappear once I walked on — but until that point I would feel jumpy.
I heard a key turn in the door and I stood up to see Marie walking in.
“Hey where’d you go?” I asked her.
“I went for a walk and then went to visit my mother across town.”
I took a deep breath and began the destruction of the memories we had shared for the past several months.
“It’s not ‘most of the time,’ Marie. For me, it’s not ‘most of the time.’”
She bit her lip, her eyes moistened and she whispered.
“Is it a little more or a little less than ‘most of the time’?”
I put my arms around her, put my lips to her ear and whispered, “It’s all of the time.”
Chapter Two — One more Cup of Coffee
I sat in a place called, “Henry’s Cafe” in a Midwestern city called, Maple Grove. I was traveling on my 2016 tour promoting the songs I had released earlier in the year. It was early in the morning, around 6 AM or so and they had just brought out some freshly baked bread. I had been here before and I remembered the aroma of the bread and the coffee. When I saw the place through my window on the bus, a Pavlovian response came over me and I felt my stomach growl.
We travel throughout the country on the road — they give me this bus which is like a luxury apartment. The band travels on their own bus with the equipment in several other trucks. Again, I don’t get involved with the other stuff — I come to the venue, play my songs, leave the venue and do it all again the next stop. I used to want to control everything and that led to too much stress and illegal ingestions of the worst kind. I wasn’t ever an addict and I only used cocaine and marijuana during my 20’s and 30’s. I stopped when a doctor told me that if I continued on that current pace I would be uninsurable and therefore would not be allowed to perform. I thought about Keith Richards and I smiled. Most of the old gang had mellowed but had to keep up the persona for the public. If they truly kept up that lunacy do you think they would still be able to put on shows night after night at 70-years-old? Maybe I am wrong. All I know is I feel much better being clear headed than I ever did stoned or coked up. Anyway, I digress…
I was sitting in a table in the back of Henry’s when a ghost from my past walked in. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes and I thought I must be mistaken, but when I heard her speak I knew who it was immediately.
“Kara?” I said and she turned around.
“Tom…” She hurried towards me. I stood up and we embraced.
Way back when I was another Tom, sometime in the 70s, Kara and I spent a summer together. I had met her through a friend who introduced her to me at a dinner at his house. I had just gotten divorced from wife number two and was feeling reckless and angry. When I walked into the home there was something calming, peaceful, and well, homey about it. I felt at home.
Kara was six years younger than myself; when we were introduced she didn’t hide the fact that I was “famous.”
“I’ve seen your picture here and there.” She laughed. Her laugh was true and had a quality that was instantly endearing. She had auburn colored hair which fell upon the sides of her face revealing freckles lightened by time, soft blue eyes, and high cheekbones. She was not tall, stood around 5’2″ with a nice and healthy build.
I brought us a bottle of homemade sangria and we sat on the front porch talking for the next two hours.
She had also recently divorced and had two children, both girls, under ten-years-old. She was an Irish girl from the outskirts of Albany, New York, who had moved to New Orleans to attend LSU. After graduation, she stayed and married a local businessman.
“So what happened?” I asked her.
“Ha, well, what happened with your marriage?” She asked me.
“Number one or number two?”
“Let’s work backwards, what happened with the more recent?”
“Let’s just say, listen to my latest record and you’ll understand.”
“What’s it called?”
“Oy, doesn’t sound good.”
“My husband, my ex-husband is Jewish, so he got me saying all these Yiddish words.”
“I am Jewish too.”
“Yeah, I knew that. He is a big fan of yours, has most of your albums and sings your songs in the shower.”
“But we don’t like him, right?” I asked her with a smile.
“No, we don’t, but we don’t let the kids know that.” She laughed and nodded.
We spoke about our marriages and the endings; we spoke about our childhood and our musical tastes — both contrasting extremes — it didn’t matter. We struck up a relationship that evening, meeting for dinner a couple of times after that until that summer when she told me that her daughters would be living with her husband for the summer.
“Move in with me — if we get tired of each other you can always just leave.”
“What if you get tired of me?” She asked.
“Don’t worry, you’ll know. I have no filter on my feelings.” I laughed.
“That’s right, I have been listening to ‘Mors Amoris,’ you don’t hold back much.” She laughed.
That summer we spent on the road; we drove across Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to my other home in Malibu. We stayed there for a couple of weeks and then took a flight back.
The summer was special, yet once August was half over, reality hit. My tour was set to begin September 15 in Detroit and would run through December in New York. Then in late January, I would be on a European, Asian and Australian tour until the beginning of March. My album had gone a little flat, so the tour would be a boost to take it from gold to platinum. I was scheduled to be interviewed and photographed for the cover of the Rolling Stone end of summer double issue. The interview and photographs took place over two days at my Malibu ranch, in one picture you can see Kara reading a newspaper in the background. I had that framed and kept on the wall in the den of my Malibu home — it’s still up there.
Her girls returned home as did she and the tour began. We promised to stay in touch but it was hard; so she wrote me a “dear john” letter and we ended it as friends. That was all I heard from her although I thought of her often. She was the basis for my songs of lost love more than my ex-wives were. I guess the point was we had ended it before it could go sour — and that’s why our memories stayed sweet.
“You look amazing, Kara. How are the girls?”
“The girls are married, they have two brothers now; all married with kids.”
We sat there speaking over coffee catching up with each others lives. She had gotten married, moved to Minneapolis and stayed there after her divorce. All her children lived in the area and she was picking up bread and donuts to bring to her son’s house.
“You look amazing. It’s as if time has stood still for you,” I said.
“Well, look at you, Tom, you’ve done pretty well for yourself — how do you keep it coming? One album after another, touring all the time — you are still so relevant after all these years. Are you happy?”
“Happy?” I was silent for a minute. I could sense she felt uncomfortable with her question.
“I have to leave, it’s getting late.” She began to get up.
“One more cup of coffee, please?”
“One more. I am sorry — I didn’t mean to ask you that. That’s not my place…”
“It’s ok. I am happy right now with you across from me.” We laughed.
“By the way, I loved your last album — ‘Lies and Truth.’”
“Thanks — it came to me very quickly. I wrote and recorded it in under three weeks.”
“Wow — is that fast?”
“For me it is.” I laughed.
We spoke about some of the songs and I answered her question with another question.
“I called you from London, back after our summer.”
“Yes, but when I heard your voice, I hung up. I didn’t want to waste your emotions or your time. I was not to be tamed back then — but just know that I never stopped thinking about you.”
“Is that why you wrote the song, ‘Kara Mia’?”
I laughed and she took my hand.
“I saw your show a couple of years ago in St. Paul. You were pretty good — it was one of your ‘on’ nights.”
“Why didn’t you come see me after the show?”
“I was married at the time — it was actually 10 years ago, come to think of it.”
I stared at her and looked away. There were pictures on the wall of Elvis, Me, Marilyn, Elton, Prince, Bogart and Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and I thought about how far I had come from when I first left home. I was up on the wall with these people I had worshipped growing up. They all played tragic roles or went through them in real life. I met most of them, missed out on James and Bogie, but otherwise I had met them all and had performed with them. I felt a sense of time flying on past me and thought about the lady sitting across from me and her question. Was I happy?
“Kara — I have never allowed myself to accept the fact of how far I have come in my career. Whenever I pause and think about it, it’s as if I am a passenger on a cart driven by wild horses and I cannot take control. The fear of falling off is too great for me to stand still.”
She was silent.
“I don’t know why I even blurted that out, I must be growing old and getting the verbal runs. Please wait for me, I need to use the bathroom, I won’t be long.” I went to the bathroom. Washing my hands, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I had none of the Tom Walter costume on; no earrings, I was clean shaven and sunglasses were in my pocket. I was old, had gotten old somewhere along the years, but in my mind I did not feel my age or anything close to it. I was “Tom Walter,” hell, I was Tommy Goldstein; but to the world I was Tom Walter. I had sold over 30 million records, had homes on all four corners of the country and two overseas. I was a cultural icon…
I splashed my face — I cannot think of that now, it’s like being swept up into the sky and then looking down with no power to keep on flying. Like those Looney Tune shows, when they say, “Uh oh.” I cannot permit myself to say or think, “Uh oh.” I might just fall.
“Sorry I took so long. I know you have to leave but can we just finish this last cup of coffee?”
“Yes, I texted my son that I would be late — no rush. I didn’t mean to ask you if you were happy before–”
“It’s ok — what’s happy anyway? Emotions change with the wind. I see an old photograph and I am sad; I hear a joke and I am laughing. Emotions are fleeting, right now I am happy sitting here and speaking with you. You are still so beautiful, as if time stood still in the past 30 years.”
“Yeah right, right now you are delusional.” She answered with a smile.
“In general, yes I am at peace with my life and I am proud of what I have accomplished. I just don’t feel comfortable thinking about it too much; it’s overwhelming.”
“You done good Mr. Goldstein.” We both laughed. “Are you due anywhere right now?”
“Not for another several hours, I need to be at the gig at 4 PM to run a sound check; otherwise I am free.”
“Good, spend the day with me.”
“What about your son?”
“We’ll drop off the stuff and then we’ll spend the day, you and I together. OK?”
“Are you kidnapping me?”
“More like, ‘oldmanknapping’ you,” she said.
“Thanks, old lady.”
We both laughed and walked to her car. She drove a silver Prius and inside the car was spotless. We drove through Maple Grove and ended up in front of a quaint home in a pretty neighborhood.
“Come in with me, you’ll blow his mind,” she said laughing.
“OK. I love doing that to people.” I did it often; I would go into a store in the middle of nowhere and just start talking to people. At first they would ignore me or give me one or two word responses. Once they saw me and recognized me, they would be silent for a long time.
We walked to the front door where a child answered and gave Kara a big hello and hug.
“Hello.” I said to the five- or six-year-old girl.
“Hi.” She ran back inside and yelled, “Daddy, Grandma’s here with some old dude.”
We laughed and when Gary, her son, came to the door he kissed his mother, looked at me, put out his hand and said, “Please come in.” Leading the way to the kitchen. As he walked he slowed and turned around. He looked at me, looked at his mother, who nodded and then he smiled and said, “Holy shit.”
We spent an hour there speaking with Gary, his wife, and children. A beautiful family and some great coffee. I got to know them very well and loved them right away as real people with no pretense. This made me feel homesick for my own family; I have chosen not to mention them in my testimony out of respect for their privacy.
We drove off and headed to the Coon Rapids Dam; no reason why other than to have a destination where we can speak uninterrupted. I pulled on my baseball cap and we walked out of the car. We walked on a trail along the river and we spoke about the people who made up our lives throughout the past 40 years.
“I cannot believe it’s been 40 years since we were together.” I said.
“So much has happened, yet it flew on by. Can you remember when we drove across the country? That was my favorite time of my life.” She smiled, looked down and then looked at me. “You don’t have to agree with me — it’s my favorite time. You have lived a different life than I could ever imagine.”
“It’s the nuts and bolts in life, Kara. My kids and grandchildren, the real friends I have, my home, my dogs. The fame is just a job; yes I get to see and meet people and places most people can only dream of, but in the end it’s just another me. Once I leave the spotlight I am back to being the me that not many people know other than my family and some friends. You knew the real me back then. You are seeing the real me now. I don’t perform off stage anymore.”
“I never thought about it that way. I have watched you through the years and I was worried for you when you went through some hard times. I bought all of your albums and I watched you on TV whenever you were on.” I took her hand and held it as we continued to walk.
“I have thought about you a lot over the years. I have a picture of you on my wall from that time Rolling Stone came to interview me. You are in the background but to me it screams out your presence.”
“Wow, I remember that, the summer was winding down at that point and we were flying back to New Orleans the next day or something.”
“Yes; I couldn’t drag you through the bullshit that comes along with my fame or whatever it is.”
“I would have gone through it all with you Tom.”
“Well, at that point in my life I wasn’t able to be… I wasn’t able to understand how to deal with everything. Now I understand how to compartmentalize my life; how to separate life from fantasy.” I took a deep breath because I realized it’s easy for someone like me who has somehow inspired millions of people, for better or worse; to talk about compartmentalizing my life. I don’t live in the reality of the average human being, no matter how hard I try to pretend I do.
“It’s a different world the one you live in and the one the rest of the world lives in. You don’t deal with the same reality as most. Electric bills, unemployment, feelings of insignificance — existential questions. It took me until I was in my 50s to accept that I had, indeed, lived the life I wanted to live. It could have been easier had I made different choices, but then, it wouldn’t have resulted in the person I am, right now.” She spoke those words and I believed her because it was her truth. She was surrounded by love which had all sprung from her lives and loves. The years that had passed had been filled with living not just going through the motions.
“I have no idea where the time has gone,” I said, “the love I spent and the wasted arguments. Life, for me, has been as if thrown into these rapids in front of us. I was thrust into a rushing reality and it has swept me forward, left, right, crashing into rocks, down waterfalls — all unexpectedly. But I am also aware of how blessed I have been to be in the right place at the right time.”
“You are talented, beyond talented. You will be remembered forever, Tom.”
“My words will be remembered — the myths of who I am, who I was, what I did… none of it, most of it is untrue will outlive my true self. Once you are gone you are either immortalized or demonized.”
“I cannot relate to that, sorry. To me you have created a life that will be immortal.”
Silence, I didn’t know what to say, feel, or think. So I held her hand and I looked into her eyes. I didn’t realize it but my eyes began to well up. She embraced me and I felt an overwhelming sadness which I could not understand. We stood there, like that and then she pulled me by my hand and led me back to her car.
That night I played my best show in years as Kara watched me from the front row along with her children. I dedicated a song to her, changing some words prior to leaving my lips to match the mood and the sentiment I was trying to convey. I couldn’t see her clearly as the lights were bright — but when I saw her after the show, along with her children, she whispered into my ear that she was touched by my gesture. I didn’t even remember the lyrics I changed and I was surprised to learn that she knew my songs well enough to notice.
“Let’s not lose touch this time, Tom.” She told me as we said goodbye.
“My tour ends next month in New York City, can you meet me there?”
She smiled, “Who will you be?”
“I will be in the process of metamorphosing back to myself again, whoever that will be.” I smiled.
“It will be nice to meet him, tell him to hold me a seat front stage center. Here is my cell phone number, use it.”
“I guess I’ll begin carrying a cell phone more often now.”
She kissed my cheek and turned around to leave.
“Kara?” I called out.
She turned around. “Thank you.”
“See you in the city.” She smiled and walked away.