So my physicist buddy Stoner Doug finally managed to construct an actual time machine and was like, “Where should we go?” And we looked at each other and without even having to think about it shouted in perfect sync, “Hot August Night!” Because who wouldn’t have wanted to be at The Greek Theater on that historic August night in 1972 when Neil “Beautiful Noise” Diamond put it all out there in an orgiastic celebration of cosmic shlock?
Forget Elvis! Forget Chuck Berry! Forget Jesus Christ! This was NEIL at his Forever in Blue Jeans best, giving it his all! The Greatest Concert Ever! You don’t hear about it much because the story got suppressed by Neil’s record label, but 15 people died on that sultry August night! Steamed to death by sheer joy!
And Doug and I wanted to be two of them. So we climbed into his primitive time capsule made out of aluminum siding and flattened Dr. Pepper cans with a big sign on a stick reading “We LOVE you Neil!” And following a dramatic WHOOSH and the shriek of the time machine’s 350 Small Block Chevy engine there we were, sitting in Row Three beside a 50-year-old woman from Reno who told us she owned 13 cats all of whom were named Neil (if male) or Diamond (if female).
And there he was! Neil in the flesh! Just like on the cover of Hot August Night on which he appears to be jerking himself off! And why not? If anybody has the right to stroke his shtupper in front of an audience of thousands it’s Neil, who is THE songwriter of our time! The Brill Building savant who came up with such master strokes of pop brilliance as “Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Song Sung Blue”! To say nothing of the deep philosophical meditation that is “I Am, I Said,” in which an existentially alone Neil complains that nobody will listen to him, not even his chair!
There are those amongst us who would accuse Neil Diamond of being pompous and pretentious and even full of himself, but by the time Neil has finished singing “Crunchy Granola Suite” and “Porcupine Pie” every last Doubting Thomas at the Greek Theatre is convinced that Neil also has a playful side and is the consummate all-around entertainer of our time or indeed all time.
But not even Neil can convert everybody. Village Voice scribe and nattering nabob of negativity Robert Christgau wrote of Hot August Night that “From the first guitar riff, it’s obvious that this man is some sort of genius rock entertainer, but for the most part the great entertainer is striving for bad art and not even achieving it.”
Ouch! Unfair! Neil is NOT striving for bad art and missing, he’s striving for bad art and scoring a bull’s eye! The man’s very backbone is made of frozen treacle and as it melts beneath the hot stage lights on that hot August night said molten treacle literally oozes across the stage floor and drips onto the feet of the fortunates in the first row, who eagerly lap it up! To the envy of the rest of us!
It was at about this point in the show that Doug broke out his cool red Pokeball pipe, packed it with a hairy nug of primo OG Kush, and lit up. The guy to his right said, “What’s that?” and Doug said, “It’s pot from the FUTURE! And it’s 30 times stronger than that shitweed you’re smoking!” And he proceeded to pass the guy the pipe and soon the entire third row was zonked out of its collective gourd and a long-hair in an America t-shirt is moaning, “Dear Zeus’ bladder! I’m molting!”
As Neil segues from “Shilo” to “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” it becomes apparent to all in attendance that Neil isn’t a flesh and blood man–he’s Mr. Show Business himself! N.D. doesn’t just OWN the stage; he built it himself and carries it around on his back! And he has carried it on his back the whole way here, to the glorious end of the road–the Greek Theatre! Which Neil in a very portentous one minute and 22 seconds of “dialogue” calls “the place that God made where performers come when they die.”
And he’s right! The Greek Theatre is a Temple! The Temple of Neil! And there’s some very serious worship going on! Over there–a fat guy is rocking back and forth to “Solitary Man,” eyes rolling back in their sockets! And over there–another fat man has ripped his t-shirt off and is waving it over his head in a deranged striptease to catch Neil’s eye! Which he does! And Neil, in a show of complete soul recognition, promptly sends a couple of goons to toss the guy out on his ear! What an honor! To be given the bum’s rush by none other than Neil himself! As the lucky guy’s being dragged away he screams, “Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much!”
And he’s right! It’s too much! The crowd is giving off enough Universal Good Vibes to levitate the roof of the Greek’s stage high above Griffith Park! Every single person in attendance is smiling! Every single coyote in the Santa Monica Mountains is smiling! And singing along! Have you ever heard 1,000 coyotes sing? It’s a celebration! The cosmic feel-good! The grooviest Lovefest of all time!
By the time launches into “Holly Holy” every man, woman, child, rabbit, fox, vulture, coyote, squirrel, eagle, dog, cat, and giraffe in the greater Los Angeles area is dancing! But it’s not over! Here come the pounding drums of “Soolaiman”! During which Neil is joined on stage by an impromptu choir of baying stray dogs who have beckoned to his call! And next up comes epic show closer “Brother Love’s Traveling Show,” which has us all shouting “Neil!” and clapping along with pure revival tent fervor!
When the show ends, Doug and I clap until our hands are raw. Our ecstatic cries mingle with those of the others and rise into the scented California night. We leave the Greek Theatre changed men. A profound spiritual experience will do that to you.
Afterwards we bounce giddily across the parking lot, climb back into Doug’s spiffy silver time machine (which is parked in), twist the time-space dial to Newark 2018, and promptly find ourselves at a Kajagoogoo concert in Frankenmuth, Michigan on a frigid December night in 1982. I can’t even begin to describe the haircuts we see. As of this writing we’re still in Frankenmuth while Doug looks for a new alternator belt. There isn’t much to do here. The weed is for shit, our cell phones are useless, and the time machine radio plays nothing but Asia. And our Neil Diamond buzz is wearing off.
Graded on a Curve: