The Redemption of Neil Diamond

(Originally ran on January 27th, 2003)

Last Friday evening I was taking a late night cruise, enjoying a mild winter night, and listening to a little Velvet Underground. "Sweet Jane" was always a good song for such drives, and Lou Reed had never sounded better. As I drove, I mulled over the prospects of the young semester: new classes to teach, new classes to take, new angry letters to write to Jay Leno…

As I headed home on 4th north, I noticed a familiar figure ambling up the sidewalk. There was an enthusiastic gait to his walk, and as I pulled up alongside him and rolled down my window, it was indeed my good friend and mentor, Dr. Venison Skidmore.

I hadn't seen him in two months, and last word was that he'd been imprisoned by Mexican authorities for an undetermined period of time. Apparently none of his well-crafted excuses had justified the fact that he'd run down a member of their national soccer team with his Winnebago. You just can't reach some people.

Whatever had happened since, the good doctor was still on edge. When I pulled up next to him, his first reaction was to dive into a nearby clump of bushes. After a tense moment during which he made threats against several members of my extended family, I managed to coax him out of hiding and into my car.

When he realized who I was, the doctor was actually quite excited. "Good to see you, son!" he said, "good indeed!"

Dr. Skidmore explained that he'd arrived in town that night, and was near the point of exhaustion. Apparently he'd escaped prison in Mexico with the help of a skilled organization of office supply smugglers that had connections throughout northern Mexico and the Southwest USA. After nearly two months on the inside, the doctor was smuggled out of prison disguised as a jumbo tape dispenser, and from there was connected with a delivery truck destined for Cache Valley. He'd have arrived home sooner had his group not run into a rogue band of Elvis Impersonators in northern Arizona. The doctor had traveled the rest of the distance hitching rides with various truckers, locals, and Arsenio Hall.

"But nothing could have prepared me for what I'd find when I got back, Joel." He remarked with admiration.

"What happened, sir?" I implored.

"Well, son," he began, "for some time now I've been losing my faith in the young generation. Sure, Joel, I know you have taste. I've never doubted that. But while I was in prison, I reflected on the general state of modern media, and it made me sad. It was bad enough that your peers were forsaking TV and movies for studying, but when they do watch, they watch garbage! Can you tell me why people are so fascinated with 'reality programming?'''

I agreed, "Since Seinfeld went off the air, things just haven't been the same."

"I wish television were the only problem, Wayne," sighed the Doctor, "but the music! That's what crushes me! When the New Kids on the Block vanished without a trace, I thought we'd seen the last of a terrible period of world history. But these days they listen to N'Sync! Britney Spears! Jennifer Lopez! And they think that Adam Sandler is funny!"

"It's tough to take, sir," I nodded, "I'm sorry you had to come back to that."

The Doctor leaned forward and gripped my right leg. "That's what's so great! That wasn't what I came back to!"

"Sir, please let go of my leg."

The doctor leaned back and continued. "As I was walking home, I found something that restored my faith! A group of young women were throwing Neil Diamond a birthday party! Neil Diamond!"

"That's great, sir. How was the party?"

"Fantastic, son. Pure bliss. It was all Neil, all the time. Not a bum note the entire evening. No Aguliera, no Nelly, and no Dave Matthews Band. Nothing but that fine American icon that no one heard, not even his chair. Wayne, do you have any idea what it feels like to leave a Mexican prison one day and walk into a party where they're playing 'They're Coming To America' the next? Thanks to those young ladies and Dreamy Phil and the Diamond Dazzlers, I still have hope for your generation."

"That's great, sir." I remarked. "Maybe someday they'll throw a party for Tom Jones?"

"Jones is Welsh, Warren."

I gazed out the window at the waning moon. "Yes he is, sir. Yes he is."