Neil Diamond – “The Jazz Singer”

Some posts on Life in the Vinyl Lane are more about me than they are about the music per se, and this will almost certainly be one of those. Personally I prefer blogs that include personal elements from the blogger as opposed to a more purely analytical approach to a topic, and I suspect I bring a lot of that preference to Life in the Vinyl Lane – it’s what I like to read, so it’s also what I write.

I wrote a few weeks back about my dad passing away and the “bureaucracy of death”. Well, we’re through with a lot of that stuff, my mom is back in her home and no longer living with friends, and we’re all drifting into what will eventually become the new normal. We were busy with so many things that for a while everything just sort of blended together – work, take care of personal business, sleep, repeat. But over the last few days as things have calmed down a bit I find myself dreaming about my father every night. Now, I’m not a particularly spiritual person in that I don’t believe that the spirits of the dead somehow speak to us in our dreams. But I do think that dreams are at times powerful signals from the unconscious mind, a sort of Freudian view except without all the constant attempts to link everything to sex. It’s clear that my mind thinks my dad is trying to tell me something, but in the dreams we have trouble clearly communicating, much as we did during the last six months of his life when his speech was extremely limited.

There was only one time during that period when he tried to say something specifically to me. He was in a wheelchair in his room, and he kept looking outside, laser focused. I was trying to figure out what he was looking at, and eventually I asked if he wanted to go outside. He nodded yes, and since it was cold and damp as it tends to be in Seattle during the fall I wrapped him up in a blanket and a quilt and rolled him out to the courtyard of the nursing home. We sat out there for a while. It was pretty quiet, a still day, so you could hear some cars, and oddly enough the occasional crack of a rifle at the outdoor shooting range a few miles away. He was looking off in the distance and tried to say something. I got my ear right up to his mouth, but I couldn’t make out any of the words. It was frustrating for both of us.

When I think of my dad, any number of things come to mind, and one of them is Neil Diamond. Diamond was his favorite when I was a kid, and we even went to see Neil live in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1980s, a time when I was old enough to know I wasn’t supposed to like my parents’ music, but young enough to not actively rebel against it. It was a great show, though I resisted buying any Neil Diamond of my own until I picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer last year. And perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the movie The Jazz Singer is about, in part, the relationship between a father and his son.

Neil Diamond’s voice sounds like smooth whiskey, a little smoky, textured, ranging from hot the cool much like the first sips of that drink on the rocks as it gradually loses its alcohol heat. And it’s not surprising given that description that “Love On The Rocks” is my favorite of his tunes, a song with two meanings in the title and the lyrics, both the traditional concept of a relationship that is rocky and the idea of a relationship as being like a glass of whiskey with a couple of cubes of ice.

Love on the rocks.
Ain’t no surprise.
Just pour me a drink,
And I’ll tell you some lies.


Yesterday’s gone,
And now all I want is a smile.

Sometimes when dad was having a bad day and didn’t want to interact my mom would put some earbuds in his ears so he could listen to the music on his phone. He couldn’t operate it, so he got whatever came out of the speakers, but it was his playlist, the same one he used to listen to at the gym, so I like to think that was comforting – it was his music, not whatever he was stuck with on the TV because he couldn’t work the remote. I wonder if there was any Neil Diamond on there. I honestly don’t know. Maybe he heard “Love On The Rocks” or “Hello Again” at some point during those final months.

I wondered if listening to The Jazz Singer was going to make me sad. It didn’t, though it wasn’t super uplifting either. Perhaps more pensive, more centered. For most of us, when we’re young parents are those constants, the people who make decisions and ensure that everything more or less works out. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work, though I know plenty of people who never got that at home. And by the time you reach the age I am now the idea of losing a parent isn’t as crazy as it seemed in younger years. But the loss is still profound, knowing someone that had always had my back (and trust me, I screwed up plenty) and would continue to do so is gone now. And now I’m the adult who has to make decisions and ensure that everything works out. It’s not so much scary as it is sobering.

I’ll bet Neil felt that way at some point in his life too.

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