Neil Diamond & Underage Football

Neil1I’ve been to many concerts in my time. When I was younger I had the musical taste of a much older person. I frequently looked around at the other patrons at these concerts and felt reasonably certain that I was the youngest person there who was not in need of parental supervision. Among the first few gigs I went to was Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Doors. I never felt out of place amongst the crowds. I felt like I was among likeminded friends who were there to enjoy the music and whatever that strange smelling smoke was. There was one gig however that I went to when I was younger where I felt slightly out of place. That gig was in Lansdowne Road. It was Neil Diamond.

You may be asking yourself why did he go to see Neil Diamond? Because he’s fantastic that’s why! And also my parents wanted to go see him. They were the reason I listened to him in the first place. I used to listen to him on a cassette tape that we had. It wasn’t any of his official albums. It wasn’t even a copy of any of his official albums. This was a taping of songs directly off the radio, LMFM if I’m not mistaken. The old-school, original way of pirating music. The simultaneous record and play button pressed at the point when you were sure the DJ had stopped talking.

Before I continue, let’s get something straight here. Neil Diamond has written some of the most recognisable and iconic songs in the history of music. ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ are his along with classics like ‘Sweet Caroline’. He’s a supreme songwriter and his career has spanned decades and decades. He is a true pop music titan…he also really makes me laugh. He doesn’t mean to, I just find him funny, but it’s joyously funny. It’s the best example I can think of where I’m not laughing ‘at’ him, I’m laughing because he makes me happy. When I hear the first notes of ‘Crackling Rosie’ I smile. Maybe I chuckle depending on how my mood is at the time but it always elicits a happy response.

There’s something so clean and clear about his songs. There’s no distortion or wild guitar solos, they’re succinct and inoffensive. I want to say they’re pedestrian but I also don’t want to be offensive because I’m aware of how calling someone’s music pedestrian can be seen to be slightly demeaning. So I mean that they’re pedestrian in a good way. Honestly.

The gig was odd for many reasons. It’s almost as if the pedestrian, inoffensive nature of his music translated to a pedestrian and inoffensive crowd. Which is fine of course, it just might have been the first and only time I was too young to appreciate the nature of the gig. I want all my concerts to be pedestrian and inoffensive now because I’m much older and generally don’t enjoy rambunctious crowds, but back then I was used to something else and this really caught me off guard.

We sat in the stand so we looked straight out onto the pitch which was an all seated area. Not much call for a mosh pit at a Diamond gig. I’m not entirely sure where in the stand we were sitting but I know we were far enough back that we could see a good chunk of the crowd and had a perfect vantage point to see a wonderful thing happen.

People, at incredibly random intervals, would get up from their seats and start to dance in the aisles of the pitch. Each one older than the last but each dance move exactly the same. When I say incredibly random intervals I mean that with 30 seconds left of a medium paced song, a couple would rise from their seats – it was always a couple – and move to the free space which seemed made for dancing and they would ‘Mom and Dad’ dance for the remaining seconds and then cheer and applaud before returning to their seats. It was magical, it truly was. But like Neil, whose magic makes me laugh, the sight of these people dancing in the aisles made me laugh. But the same joyous laugh that I get from ‘Crackling Rosie’. It truly was wonderful to see people enjoying themselves so much.

I may have been too young at 16 or 17 to appreciate the atmosphere at the gig but I was old enough to get a grasp of what the songs were about. By that time I was pretty much age appropriate for the content of his songs. When I was much, much younger and still playing football I have two crystal clear memories of how I played full matches with Neil Diamond songs in my head. Now I need you to imagine how strange that was. I was 10 and I was playing football while singing songs about a man having a sordid two day affair with an older woman. Not singing out loud, just in my mind. Not exactly what you expect from a 10 year old.

The first time it happened I was playing as a centre back, basically because I wasn’t afraid to head a ball and also my coach mistook my laziness for tactical awareness. Someone must have told me that a centre back needs to communicate with the rest of their team in order to be a great defender, a great leader. I hated talking during games, it felt unnatural to me. But on this day I decided I was going to talk for the entire match. I was going to bark orders at my team mates. I was going to shout at the ref. I was going to be the leader of this team and I was going to do it while ‘Desiree’ by Neil Diamond rattled incessantly around my head.

Maybe I was shouting so much to supress the music. It was bubbling under the surface and the only way I could stop myself singing about Desiree taking young Neil’s virginity was to shout instructions to my team mates. Basically anytime the ball wasn’t in my vicinity the song would start playing. It was like my mind was telling me “It’s fine, you can relax, the ball is at the other end of the pitch. Here, enjoy some lines from ‘Desiree’” and as soon as the ball would return in my direction, the song would cut out and I’d start shouting at people. It was an odd aural mix.

Oh and my constant bellowing was incredibly annoying to my own team mates and to the other team. When the game was over and we were shaking hands with the players in the opposing team I saw one of them spit on his own hand before reaching out to shake mine. He spat on his own hand. I saw it and I was shocked but my mind was still caught up in the song and all the shouty business so I just went ahead and shook his hand anyway. The kid laughed with his friends like I was an idiot. “He doesn’t know I just spat on my hand”. Well the joke was on him, I did know…I was just thinking about a Neil Diamond song and forgot to register what I’d seen.

The same thing happened again not long after but with ‘Longfellow Serenade’ being the song this time. In this one, Neil meets a lonely woman and makes her warm by singing beside a sleepy glade. At least this was a little less straightforward. It’s a little harder to find the sexual connotations this time. But make no mistake, a bunch of his songs are filthy. They’re just filthy in a pedestrian way.

There will never be another Neil Diamond. The star, the musician, the songwriter are all from another time and place. The world has become too cynical for someone like him. The popularity he reached from singing pop songs that were, on the surface, pure and sweet, isn’t something that happens very often to anyone.

Everyone on the planet knows a Neil Diamond song. I mean absolutely everyone knows ‘Sweet Caroline’ right? Maybe some people might not know the song by name but they definitely know it and know most of the words to the chorus. There might not be that many people who have run around a football pitch with one of his songs stuck in their heads though.

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