Neil Diamond’s middle name is Leslie. It’s true, but it doesn’t add up.
How could the rugged sing-songwriter who belted out: Home, to a new and a shiny place/Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace/Freedom’s light burning warm/Freedom’s light burning warm, in his song “America,” have the middle name, Leslie? It’s like putting sushi between two pieces of bread — you can call it sandwich, but it just doesn’t work.
For 29 years, I’ve had the distinct privilege of answering, “Neil Diamond,” whenever I’m playing a round of that game, What was your first concert? I was 11-years-old, and to quote my diary entry on February 25, 1987, “Well I can say the Neil Dimond concert was totally awsom! I really, really enjoyed it.” I attended this concert not because I was a fan of NLD, but because my parents were superfans. On any given weekend, you could hear “Heartlight,” “Song Sung Blue,” or “I’m A Believer,” blasting from my father’s elaborate stereo system in our living room. On the traumatic day when my house was burglarized, my mother sprinted past the cops to make sure her Neil Diamond concert tickets were still safe atop her dresser. (They were.)
To this day, when I hear a Neil Diamond song, I always picture my mother — dressed in her work clothes and franticly running from her car to the house — bypassing me and exhaling with relief as she clutched the concert tickets to her chest. But there is one song that takes me to another place, that never conjures an image of my mother practically making out with ticket stubs, and that’s “Sweet Caroline.”
Just last week as I was having my teeth cleaned, “Sweet Caroline,” pumped through the speakers of my dentist’s office. And right on cue, a bar scene from the movie Beautiful Girls appeared at the front of my mind. It’s the scene where almost the entire cast is gathered around the piano, as one of the gang plays “Sweet Caroline,” and everyone sings along. As Brenna, my hygienist, flossed remnants of my everything bagel from between my central and lateral incisors, I wondered why I never liked Micheal Rapaport in anything except Beautiful Girls and his short-lived role as Phoebe’s beau on Friends; and what is he doing now and could he possibly be related to Neil Diamond’s mother whose maiden name is also Rapaport?
Next my memory produces a scene of me and my friends in a bar, “Sweet Caroline” playing over the jukebox (my pick), and all of us singing along, making sure to add extra volume and emphasis to the bamp, bamp, bamp, like they did in the movie. But when Brenna gets to my first and second bicuspid, a terrible fear comes over me. I worry that “Sweet Caroline” is not enough of a classic song to make it to the bar scenes that my children will one day be in; that my boys will never stand in a clumsy circle of friends and shout, “bamp, bamp, bamp,” before breaking into, “good times never seemed so good.” Sure, they’ll have their Sweet Home Alabamas and your Devil Went Down To Georgias, but it’s just not the same.
I couldn’t keep up the mental aerobics needed to maintain a picture of my 7 and 8 year old children as adults, clinking beers with their 20-something bros, so I broke quick from that screen and reminded myself that Neil wrote “Sweet Caroline” for Caroline Kennedy. But no — wait a minute — that was an urban legend. Which is a relief, honestly. Because what kind of perv writes a love ballad for a child? The song was an ode to Mrs. Diamond, who actually never went by that name since she kept her birth name, Marcia Murphy. Why someone would not want to make a dinner reservation under Mrs. Diamond is beyond me. I would call the restaurant and make it clear that I would like my name to be pronounced Dy-AH-mond when my table is ready. But who am I to judge what Marcia Murphy does or doesn’t do when she eats out? I’m just a woman having her teeth cleaned — which I am reminded of as I try desperately not to swallow the miniature puddle of saliva that is taking over my mouth.
Reading my facial cues, Brenna uses her tiny shop vac to save me, and as my awareness snaps back to the dentist chair, I hear “Sweet Caroline” softly trailing off as the chorus repeats. She was gone, and I hadn’t really listened. No sooner had the song evoked excitement in me, than it became background noise. But this is my way, a tragic neurological trap. One small thing — a word, a feeling, a song — produces a butterfly effect in my brain, and the moment, the real thing that is actually happening, is already turning into something my mind will reference in the future.