Neil. If it weren’t for P.T. Barnum, I’d say he was the greatest Showman. But at seventy-six years old and still selling thousands of tickets to sold-out arenas in 2017, he’s definitely (in my musically expert opinion) one of the greatest performers of all time.
I say I’m Neil Diamond’s Number One Fan. There are probably fans much more fanatic than me. (Yikes.) I’m not crazy, just plain weird and dorky for loving Neil Diamond. And I’m ok with that.
I must’ve started liking Neil when I was eight years old or so listening to tapes in my mom’s Jeep Cherokee, toting us to dance, acrobatics, and Wednesday night church and back home. People have always asked me why I like Neil Diamond. As a middle schooler and high schooler, I pretty much couldn’t name a singer or band until Dave Mathews came around. (Of course I knew Nirvana was popular because I did, after all, have eyeballs and could read all the popular concert T-shirts.) But the game of “Who is playing on the radio right now?” scared the bejeezus out of me.
So I blame my love of Neil on two things: 1) My mom probably listened to Neil Diamond while she was pregnant with me. 2) I became enamored with records and our record player that sat behind my dad’s rocking chair in our den. It was a way of digging into the past – shuffling through dusty old records of John Denver, Neil Diamond, and Chicago. But Neil was the one that stuck.
My first concert was the Beach Boys but that was just because they played at the end of a Brave’s game one time. My first actual ticket to a concert was Neil Diamond “In the Round” at the Omni in Atlanta when I was fourteen years old. My sister would have been sixteen then and probably had been to New Kids on the Block at least twice as well as seen George Michael at least once by that time. I have never been to a New Kids concert in my life. (Although I did dress up as Danny once because my sister and her friends needed a fifth person to replicate a New Kids pose which I’m sure got opened and looked at and admired by all five New Kids.)
At that concert in 1993, there were more gray haired people in the audience than young people and everyone sat most of the time except for in a couple of songs. It was the era of the Bill Cosby Sweater, so picture Neil not in a sweater, but an equally flashy button-down. And he changed those button downs at least five times until at long last he was donning one of his infamous sequined shirts (I read once that they are actually made of rhinestones.) Fast forward to 2016 when you could finally pay a VIP price (on the Internet!) to get a floor seat – hell yeah! And what color was the hair on these big money, floor seat audience members? Not gray! In 2017 most of the audience was under age fifty and we stood for more songs than in 1993 (but not all because let’s face it, if your performer is seventy-six years old he deserves the spotlight at least for part of the night!) And another awesome thing about the later tours?? The audience wearing “matching” sequin attire! Comeoneayeahah!!
Despite the constant harassment from my friends and family about my love of Neil, they have all been equally subjected to his music. For Christmas one year my mom got me the double cassette of “Greatest Hits.” My dad said, “awe, too bad you got blank tapes.” He has attended at least one Neil concert with me and my mom. For a short glorious while there was a Neil Diamond cover band called The Hot August Knights. They played Halloween and Valentine’s Day for several years. So I made my sister, my friend Katie, and my then fiancé go with me … to the Clermont Lounge, the basement bar of the Clermont Hotel on Ponce. It was epic. It was Halloween, so I was dressed as a diamond. A diamond girl. I wore a shiny diamond-shaped cardboard cutout while my loving friends rolled their eyes and ordered alcohol to see themselves through this event. Blondie or one of her dancer colleagues led us to the snack table along the wall near the restrooms. We smiled and gave an emphatic, “thanks!” then Chris turned away and declared that more or less there was no way in hell he was eating anything off of that sketchy table in the dark, basementy nudy bar. My sister went for another beer and bumped elbows with someone at the bar who ended up becoming a life-long friend.
While I’m sad that there are no more concerts to look forward to, I’m grateful for at least a half a dozen amazing concert memories. Not only sweating in sequins on the FOURTH row with my mom, or screaming from cheap $100 tickets, “you’ve still got it, Neil!” to which he replied, “thank you!,” but dragging the hubs on his birthday to a Neil concert, seeing Black Diamond in Nashville with my friend Karla, treating (“treating”?!) my friend Shanna to his concert in Chicago… and at least I’ve got my CDs, itunes, and T-shirts. One for every day of the week. And my bumper sticker, which when it loses its stickiness, will be framed that reads, “I’d rather be at a Neil Diamond concert.”