We had the pleasure last night of doing something we have not done for a long time–going to a popular music concert. We were treated by friends to a Neil Diamond Concert at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center (a very nice treat indeed!).
Neil Diamond was definitely a blast from my past. As something of a loner as a teenager, I identified with his early hit (1966) Solitary Man (one he didn’t sing at the concert). There was that string of hits that followed: Cherry, Cherry, Kentucky Woman, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, and, of course, Sweet Caroline (long before it became popular as the theme song of Red Sox Nation, and a fixture at sporting events across the country).
We heard all those songs as well as newer ones I wasn’t familiar with including Pretty Amazing Grace and a love song off his most recent album, dedicated to his third wife. Diamond was on his game all the way to the end when he sang his anthem, “America”. It was a walk down memory lane, as we thought about where we were when we heard these songs first, and sang them again in our minds or out loud (amazing how you can remember these words).
What also struck me from the moment we were lining up to enter the arena was, compared to my concert memories, this crowd was by and large, much older. Then to my chagrin, it occurred to me, so am I! I look like these people.
I’ve seen this phenomenon before, mostly on all those PBS shows bringing back performers from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to sing their big hits. And — you guessed it — the audience looks like me. And one thinks, how did this happen — weren’t we just twenty-two? Truth is, I think many of us still think of ourselves this way at times, only to get rudely awakened in the mirror, or when our bodies remind us that twenty-two is way in the rear view mirror.
I found myself musing at points about what this is all about and I had several thoughts:
- This is simply a wistful trip down memory lane.
- It’s one more chance (in my case my first chance) to see a music idol from our youth.
- It’s an inspiration to see someone as old or older than we are (Diamond is 74) looking and singing and moving so well. There’s hope for the rest of us.
But I was also struck that for both him and for us, there is an element in these concerts of tracing the arc of our lives and summing them up. One of Diamond’s songs traced his childhood roots back in Brooklyn (complete with video from old family movies), the sweetness of youth, and the sense that many of these places are no longer what they once were. His songs trace a life of love, and heartbreak, and hope and sometimes, alienation (I am, I said), and redemption. As we listen to the arc of Diamond’s life, it prompts us to think of the arc of our own. And with all the ups and downs, I found myself thinking as we responded to Sweet Caroline that it has been “so good, so good, so good.”
And that is a gift that will endure beyond this evening.