The story behind the story

Another chapter in my long-running obsession with this song... Word on the street is they rehearsed this performance only once, over the phone. I'm not sure if I made that up or if I actually read it somewhere, but I like it to be true.

“Flowers” was never intended to be a pop song, let alone a duet with legendary singers. Diamond first wrote it as the theme song to an ill-fated ’70s soap opera spoof. When the tune was no longer needed, he and his co-writers turned it into a pop song — which Diamond released in 1977 and Streisand covered in early 1978.

But if a DJ in Kentucky hadn’t created his own mashup of the two versions, splicing them together to create a “divorce present” for his wife, it probably never would’ve become such a hit. Word got out after the mashup was created, creating enough buzz that Streisand and Diamond recorded it as a proper duet in late 1978. The song spent a few weeks on top of the Hot 100 chart. Perhaps its message held special poignance for those caught in the throes of the ’70s divorce revolution.


p.s. Neil Diamond

p.s. Neil Diamond was "the bomb," as they say in 2008. There was an overlong (and frankly unwelcome) bird interlude somewhere in the middle, staged to a video loop of swooping pigeons 'neath azure skies, along with some number I'd never heard before about a bunch of random people whose only connection to each other was that they were "done too soon." This was essentially a worse version of "You Didn't Start the Fire," itself one of the worst songs in the history of the world, only Neil's list included, for some reason, John Wilkes Booth.

Now "done too soon" is the sort of nonsense tautology that could apply to literally every person who has ever walked the earth (you seldom hear "he lived exactly the right number of years" when somebody croaks), except for someone like Hitler or Idi Amin or, of course, John Wilkes Booth. It wouldn't even occur to me that this was debatable. At first I thought perhaps I misheard a lyric, but there was JWB's face in the corresponding montage video, which actually made it worse.

And then I wondered why nobody has ever pointed this out to Neil. It made me concerned for him a little, that he hadn't realized what he was putting down in song was strange and unwise, and that nobody around him thought to mention it. In the end I guess I don't care about it all that much, except for being a thousand percent sure I don't need to hear any of those songs ever again.

Me shouting to Groucho during the bird segment: "This is like a Christopher Cross video."

Groucho shouting back to me circa John Wilkes Booth: "This must have been a low point in his career."

Here's where our faces tell the story of joy, followed by concern and confusion:

I realize I sound pretty harsh, but there was an entire row of very drunk forty-something folk sitting right behind us who were enthusiastic about Neil Diamond in all the wrong ways, and even though Groucho and The Old Man and I were appropriately behaved, it sort of colored my enjoyment of the whole affair. The lesson here is okay, have your fun, but also don't use that fun in an oppressive and encroaching way—through kicks in the back of the head and non-stop chatter and the repeated middle-aged screeching of the made-up word "beautimous"—to fuck it up for others. I can't even believe I have to type that out loud, but there you have it. 2017.

He did sing all my faves, though, and wrapped it up with "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," which I hope we can all agree is a pure and unfettered force for good in the world.

Rock on! Enjoy your diamonds while you can! etc.

Sweet glory

Everything I love about the world is right here: the hair and the mock turtleneck (!) jumpsuit and the Jonathan Hart tuxedo and the rhinestones and the lipgloss and the soft focus and the schmaltz and the earnest, up-close face singing. Not to mention the circa-Solid Gold battery-pack hand mics, or how deeply invested the audience and I are in the long-term prospects of this fictitious relationship, and of course the stars. Oh my lord THE STARS.

Neil Diamond @ Madison Square Garden!

It's common knowledge that my father has terrible taste in music. If you are stuck in a car while he is driving, you will likely be treated not only to an extemporaneous speech on the glory that is his Toyota Prius, but also to a few German polkas and something called the Ray Conniff Singers. I can't tell you what they are, but you would probably jump out the window at your first opportunity, and perhaps while the car was still moving. You would leave all your worldly possessions behind and just stroll on up the road, whistling to yourself and shaking your head to clear out your ears. Oh! He also likes to sing along, and conduct himself while he's singing. And couldn't find a beat if it walked right up to him, stepped on his toe, spit three times in his face, and then punched him in the nose.

But most of all he likes happy music, and he likes it loud. And Neil Diamond. "Forever in Blue Jeans." He used to play this—from the VINYL, on the HI-FI—for Kyle and me when we were little, and he would spin us around the living room, and we would clap and clap and stomp our feet and dance and dance and dance. And I can't hear that song today without thinking about him.

I'm also pretty sure he never listened to the words.

Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through the show tonight, Neil Diamond sang "Forever in Blue Jeans." And I got up on my feet and clapped and clapped, and hooted and hollered, and danced and danced and danced, and people, THERE WAS JOY ACROSS THE LAND. Maybe you could hear it. Just the faintest little ringing bell of cheer that was in fact me smiling wide and bright, and maybe wiping just a single tear away. Actually, it was a little like Nelson Muntz seeing his hero Andy Williams sing "Moon River" in Branson, Missouri, in the Simpsons episode "Bart on the Road." That is: slightly unbelievable and almost too good to be true, and not a thing words can capture with any kind of effect.

But ladies! He looked fabulous! Anniemcq, you will be glad to know that the glitter of his black dress shirt matched the glitter of my charcoal flats, and I don't have to tell you that it takes a special kind of man to pull off that kind of trick and really sell it. You've gotta believe in the glitter, baby, because otherwise you just look like an asshole. And he looked very sexy. Besides, what would Neil Diamond be without glitter? It's not Neil Denim, or Neil Leather, or Neil Khaki Dockers with a Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Button-Down Shirt. Right? Also, I could feel there was some kind of connection between us, even though I was in Row O close to the top and he never once made direct eye contact. Maybe he's shy? But I could tell he knew I was there.

He opened with "Holly Holy," which we heard from the hallway since the bus was late, and also did "Kentucky Woman," "Cherry, Cherry," "Solitary Man," "I'm a Believer," "Pretty Amazing Grace" and "Home Before Dark"—both from his latest album, cleverly titled "Home Before Dark"—"Hello Again," "Song Sung Blue," "Play Me," You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," "I Am...I Said," "America," "Sweet Caroline," and "Cracklin' Rosie." I'm missing some, but it was everything you could ask for, really, except "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," which perhaps he thought we couldn't handle, since it got pretty late and most of us are getting old.

But not so old that we couldn't still raise high the roof beams, carpenters! And clap and clap, and dance and dance and dance.