Cracklin' Rosie, make me a smile

When Neil Diamond grows up, I’m pretty sure he wants to be an evangelist.

He tends toward sparkly clothes.

He writes lyrics like this:

Hot August night
And the leaves hanging down
And the grass on the ground smelling sweet
Move up the road
To the outside of town
And the sound of that good gospel beat

Sits a ragged tent
Where there ain't no trees
And that gospel group
Telling you and me

It's Love
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
Grab the old ladies
Everyone goes
Everyone knows
Brother Love's show

And, let me tell you, the man can draw a crowd. And no one in that crowd needs converting. Each considers himself or herself Neil’s No. 1 fan.

(I’d like to point out that I actually am Neil’s No. 1 fan. I am, for example, the only person I know who named her car Neil Diamond.)

When I went to Chicago to see him perform this summer, I was sure it would be my last chance. After all, the man is 67 years old.

When he added Milwaukee as an afterthought to his tour schedule, I was thrilled. Getting to see Neil twice in six months was unfathomable for a performer who usually breezed through town once every five to seven years.

It was the early 90s when I bought tickets for my mom to go see Neil in concert at the Bradley Center. I was praying she wouldn’t make me go with her. I was about 18, and the last thing I wanted to do was attend a Neil Diamond show with mom.

But I’m a good kid; I went.

On that tour, Neil’s stage was in the center of the floor and there was seating on all sides. The stage rotated 360 degrees, so every seat in the house was a good one. The lights sparkled off Neil’s sequined shirt – white with an American flag appliqué. Next to me sat an elderly man who was as excited as the teenagers in the crowd to be singing Sweet Caroline. He attempted to clap along to the beat – attempted and failed – and appeared so happy that everyone around couldn’t help but smile at his smile.

It was after that experience that I understood. I was converted from a nonbeliever to a devout Neil Diamond fan.

It was really quite simple. Neil is one of those musicians whose songs you know without realizing you know them. Remember those road trips when mom and dad wouldn’t switch the car radio off the AM channels? And those picnics when someone would have a transistor radio scratchily blaring from atop a picnic table? That’s when you learned the lyrics to more Neil Diamond songs than you ever realized.

Song Sung Blue
I Am I Said  
Kentucky Woman
Love on the Rocks
Solitary Man
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

And my favorite, Forever in Blue Jeans.

If only I didn’t have so many of Neil’s song lyrics rattling around my head, I might have more room in there for something more important. Like math.

But then again, the lyrics are important. They give me hope. They give me faith.

As I sat – OK, who am I kidding, I didn’t sit, I jumped, shimmied and danced – at tonight’s concert, my fourth time seeing Neil perform, I was filled with excitement and glee. (What? Glee is a great word.)

Listening to Neil croon reminds me to have compassion for strangers, to have faith in friends, and, perhaps most importantly, to have hope for love.

Money talks
But it don't sing and dance
And it don't walk
And long as I can have you here with me
I'd much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

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