Hot August night . . . and the leaves hangin' down and the grass on the ground smellin' . . . sweet.
- From "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"
by Neil Diamond
Sweltering in my living room on a recent hot August night, I couldn't get "Brother Love's" opening lyrics out of my sweaty head. I took it as a message and went for an evening drive with my Neil Diamond CD.
I love Neil Diamond. He's one of my guilty pleasures. Bill Murray as the title character in the movie "What about Bob?" declares, "There are two types of people in the world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't."
My late husband was in the latter group. He was amused by my fondness for what he considered corny schmaltz and theorized that the only reason I liked Neil Diamond songs was that they were all in my key. Neil and I are both smoky baritones. Of course, he's much better at it than I. But that doesn't stop me from singing along whenever I hear his husky, earthy vocals. Fortunately, that doesn't happen in public very often.
Davy Jones will always be my No. 1 bubblegum idol, my first tweenybopper crush. But soon after I'd outgrown the Monkees, Neil was seducing me with "Sweet Caroline" and "Holly Holy." "Sweet Caroline" was released three days after my 12th birthday and it was one of my jukebox favorites at the old Aloha Lanes. Friday nights, while our parents bowled, we kids ruled the jukebox. Three songs for a quarter. Good times never seemed so good . . .
The "Hot August Night" double LP came out when I was a junior at Baldwin High. My best friend Barbara got it for Christmas, I think, and we listened to it on her parents' stereo console, over and over, while doing our homework. A good deal of study time was spent examining the album cover: Neil in skin-tight blue jeans, beaded denim shirt open halfway to his waist, his hands provocatively placed as though he were playing an invisible saxophone.
I don't know about Barbara, but whenever "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" played, I couldn't concentrate on anything, not even the album cover. Please, come take my hand. Girl, you'll be a woman soon. Soon you'll need a man. At 15, the last thing I needed was a man, but oh, how I wanted one, just like Neil, to take my hand and sing me songs sung blue.
A few years later, as an eager Top 40 radio rookie, I learned that several of my favorite Monkees hits were Diamond compositions. Besides "I'm a Believer," which any decent music trivialist knows about, he wrote "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" and "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" - both sung by Davy Jones. I felt like Cyrano's Roxane, discovering at last the true source of the words which had touched me so deeply. But Davy is still No. 1 in my heart, even if he didn't write any of his own songs. After all, not all of Neil's hits were original compositions: "Mr. Bojangles," "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)" and the one guaranteed to make me weep, Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time For You to Go."
This love of mine had no beginning, it has no end.
I was an oak, now I'm a willow, now I can bend.
And though I'll never in my life see you again,
Still I'll stay until it's time for you to go.
The first time I heard that song, I was too young to fully grasp the poignancy but it made me cry anyway. More than 40 years later, having experienced a good share of love and loss, it brings me to tears every time. As it did on this recent hot August night. Cruising along a deserted highway with the windows down, singing and sobbing along with Neil, it was the perfect distraction from the miserable mugginess brought by Gil and Henriette.
The drive-thru cashier must have wondered about my puffy eyes and sniffles as he handed me my Diet Coke, but I didn't care. "Song Sung Blue" was starting as I pulled away from the window.
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice,
And before you know it, y'start to feelin' good.
You simply got no choice.
I love Neil Diamond.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.