There’s an antique barn in Fowlers Corners, ON which is one of my favorite places to shop for records. Every few weeks, when I browse through one of the dealer’s discounted $5 record bin, I come across the same copy of Tommy Page’s self titled debut album, and my heart bounces for a second. Something about Tommy Page always gets to me, but I’ve owned the album for years, and have no need for another copy. But what dismays me is that week after week the album is still there, and nobody ever buys it. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised because most people have sort of forgotten about Tommy Page. In fact, I sort of did too…. for awhile.
When I was doing a music project in 2005, I came across Tommy Page’s 1990 hit “I’ll Be Your Everything,” which opened a flood gate of pop music memories. Honestly, over the years that I hadn’t heard it, I kind of forgot about the song, and forgot about Tommy Page as well. But when it hit my ears, I remembered “Damn, I really really liked this song a lot.” But at the time I first heard it, I probably was quick to push it from my memory. I was a fifteen year old boy and “I’ll Be Your Everything” featured members of the New Kids on the Block singing backup for Page. It may sound dumb now, but at fifteen years old there was no way in hell I was going to tell anybody at school that I liked this song. It was bad enough kids laughed at me for listening to The Monkees. I wasn’t going to admit that I liked any act associated with the much-reviled NKOTB! When the song hit me fifteen years later it was a different story. I wasn’t hung up anymore about who thought what about the music I listened to, and I recognized a long forgotten great song. It made me remember Tommy Page for the first time in a long time and I went into a deep dive to find out who this guy was, and just why was he forgotten. In the process, I became a Tommy Page fan.
Born in New Jersey, Tommy Page and his brother started writing music as teenagers for their band Broken Promises. While attending New York University, Tommy got a job at a trendy Manhattan night club called Nell’s as a cloak room attendant. Making friends with the club DJ, he’d slip him tapes of his music which the DJ would work into his mixes. Well one night the unfamiliar tracks caught the attention of Sire Records executive Seymour Stein. Now Stein, as a record executive, was a heavy hitter, having signed The Ramones, Madonna, The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Talking Heads and Ice-T to his label. He saw something in Tommy’s music, and thought he was a good-looking young man, and Sire Records could use a heart throb on their label. Seymour took a chance on Tommy and his debut self titled album was released in 1988.
The album had moderate success in the US Billboard charts with two singles, “A Zillion Kisses” and “A Shoulder to Cry On.” But where the album hit big was in the Asian market, primarily in Thailand and Japan. In fact, Tommy Page got so big in Thailand that when he eventually fell into obscurity in North America, he continues to be a pop icon in that country to this day
Well, back in the US, Sire was happy enough with the chart placement of his first singles, but they felt that Tommy could get a lot bigger on the teen market. So,for his next album titled “Paintings in my Mind,” they teamed him up with the biggest teen idols in the world, The New Kids on the Block. Tommy sort of jived with the boys from Boston, and their collaboration, “I’ll Be Your Everything” went to the top of the charts. But in a sense, it was a matter of perfect timing because the NKOTB were at the zenith of their popularity and anything they put out was going to go to the top.
That summer Tommy became a supporting act on the New Kids summer tour, and he began to get featured heavily in teen magazines. The teen magazines marketed Tommy as being a boy for the older sisters of the New Kids fans. A boy who was more sensitive and sophisticated and was a master at romance. In reality, Tommy was gay, but it was a well-kept secret by the management for obvious reasons. He even appeared in one of the stupidest episodes of “Full House” ever where he sang an original song to Stephanie Tanner for her birthday. Look – every episode of “Full House” was stupid, but the Tommy Page one was especially dumb. But with good looks, some truly good songs, and with some superb marketing and heavy hitters backing him, it didn’t really pan out for Tommy and he never managed to top the charts again. If he had the best of everything, why did Tommy Page fall into obscurity?
I have two theories.
Well, first is that while he was being marketed to the older girls, so were two far more formidable rivals for teen idol attention – Luke Perry and Jason Priestly. “Beverly Hills 90210” made its debut the same year as “I’ll Be Your Everything” was at the top of the charts, and the show was a mega hit, and their stars were mega hot. Luke Perry and Jason Priestly were marketed in such a similar way that they wore similar fashions as Tommy and fulfilled that specific fantasy the teen market wanted. Tommy Page didn’t measure up to Perry and Priestly, and thus sort of got pushed out of the niche that the record label hoped he’d fill.
The second is that while his association with The New Kids on the Block catapulted him to the top of the charts, it also dragged him down just as fast. Bottom line is that a boy band only has an initial shelf life, and eventually their fan base grows up to other things, and the oversaturation of the boy’s band becomes annoying to the public. Within the next two years the New Kids popularity was declining fast, and so was anything associated with them. Tommy Page hadn’t made enough of a foot hold on the US record buyers independently from the New Kids to maintain any sort of popularity, and after one major hit he slowly faded from the public’s mind.
But it wasn’t the end of Tommy Page in the industry. Tommy moved behind the scenes and became an A&R man for Warner Music where he helped mold the images of artists like Green Day, Alanis Morrisette, Ashley Tisdale, Josh Groban and Michael Buble. I find it interesting that, in the case of Groban and Buble, Page had them dressing and cutting their hair in very similar styles as he had when he was in music with much success. Perhaps Tommy was just ahead of his time.
Of course, as previously stated, Tommy Page continued to be popular in Thailand, which became the only country that he continued to tour and release music to. They still love him there today.
By 2017 I was following Tommy’s career, and also reached out to him multiple times for interviews, but I never got responses from him, and he always seemed to be very elusive about his life and whereabouts. So, you can imagine how shocked and saddened I was when I read the news that on March 3, 2017, Tommy Page had committed suicide. He was only 46 years old. Little details were ever given about his death – not how, why or what happened. In fact, the press barely acknowledged it. It was not a major news story. It was a shock to everybody….or were we too busy not paying attention. Perhaps there were warning signs. Its possible that Tommy was reaching out to us in 2015, but nobody was listening.
In 2015, after years of inactivity and no new album in the works, Tommy cut a stripped down rerecording of a song from “Paintings in my Mind” titled “I Break Down.” A song about the inner anguish within a man, and his inability to show emotion or reach out to others, the song revealed a possible look into Tommy’s mind that was both painful and tragic. Along with the recording, Tommy released a video of himself, emotionally distraught, and isolating himself in his sorrow. Although he wrote the song twenty five years earlier, perhaps Tommy was sending a message out to his fans:
“I try to go on, I try to be strong
I try to be the one to stand tall
I try to impress you, try to make you think
Nothing can hurt me, I can take it all
When the sky turns grey and the clouds bring thunder
I hold up a shelter for you to hide under
When the rain begins to fall and my shelter hits the ground
Then I’m the one
I break down.
They say in the world to make it
You’ve got to be strong
Day after day gets harder
To hold on
But sometimes I get sad
And my smiles turn to frowns, then it’s my turn
To break down
When you reach out and cry to me
I hold on, internally
But sometimes I get sad
And my smiles turn to frowns, then I’m the one
I break down.”
What was going on? What was Tommy going through, and why did he choose this song, at this moment in time, and present himself in such a bleak and brittle way? I guess it doesn’t matter now. We’ll never know. He struggled for two more years, and then took his own life.
Still today I have no idea what happened to Tommy Page, and it has sort of haunted me. He was successful and respectful in the industry. He was married and had a family. He had an adoring fan base in Asia who loved him. So, what kind of pain could he have been in to make him take his own life? We’ll just never know.
I think about these things every time I come across that $5 copy of his album when I’m record shopping in Fowlers Corners, and it makes me pause. Tommy Page deserves so much more fan appreciation, and to be remembered far more widely than he was. I really hope soon I’ll go back, and it won’t be there, and I’ll know that I’m not the only one who remembers Tommy.