The night I see Neil Diamond in concert is the first time I've ever wondered if I've inadvertently made a deal with the devil.
On the way to Valley View Casino Center, I pick up my friend, Kip, from Tiger! Tiger! He's been celebrating a co-worker's birthday. "I'm pretty lit," he says.
We stop for more booze at Target across the way from the concert venue, because that feels like an American—and therefore Neil Diamond—thing to do. Kip talks about the facts he's memorized from Neil Diamond's Wiki page. "He's sold more than 125 million records," he says. "More than Bruce Springsteen. I would say that makes him at least one of the 10,000 richest people that's ever existed." We go with Jim Beam.
There's a sign at Valley View that says: "Parking: $20." That's how they get you, I think, but roll up to the parking lot attendant anyway.
"Excuse me sir, is this parking for the concert?" I ask, as if unsure that I've arrived at the right massive amphitheater.
"Yes," he says. Then, unprovoked and with a dramatic dash of covertness: "But don't worry, wait here and I'll get you in for free." He turns his back to us and we wait. Minutes pass. I begin to say, "Excuse me," again, certain that I misheard him. Kip shushes me. Finally, the attendant moves the barricade. We drive to the far end of the parking lot and nestle between two large cars to pound the Beam.
"Why do you think he did that?"
"Maybe Neil gave explicit directions to let anyone under the age of 40 in for free," Kip says. By this time, we're on a first-name basis when talking about Neil. "I like how you used the old-person word for show," Kip says. "Concert."
No one is standing outside the venue. The muted bass emanating from the looming arena exposes our lateness; Neil is a punctual starter. We see a guy exit a side door, which remains open.
"Let's go in there," Kip says.
"I have press creds," I say. There's no need to sneak in, but the distance between this side door and the main entrance is, like, 100 extra steps, so the protests die on my tongue. We enter. Nobody asks for tickets. There's a woman standing at the entrance to the stadium (and only now am I connecting Valley View's layout of interior rings with Dante's Inferno ), and I'm certain she will ask for tickets.
"Is this will call?" I ask, not really aware that my eyes are doing the point-in-different-direction-thing that happens when I drink whiskey.
"C'mon," Kip says, pushing me past her, into the lounge, before I can narc us out any further.
The lounge is an exhibit of sad sacks whose significant others are in the stadium, enjoying Neil—who we haven't yet seen and whose music has become a foreboding background soundtrack to the evening that has afforded us so much access. And it's that moment when I first consider our inadvertent deal with the devil.
Only the devil would allow the sole night where everything goes my way to occur at a Neil Diamond show.
Just then, two dudes and a lady enter the lounge, each wearing a homemade Neil Diamond-style, silk shirt. The lady's shirt has "ND" bejeweled across the back, off-center. Another shirt has tiny red pom-poms glued on, formed into a heart and located over a couple lines of pebbles. "Love on the rocks!" the dude says, and then: "These rocks are from my driveway. I picked each one out of my shoe." I've never seen anyone so stoked to be adorned with detritus.
We finish $12 beers and—in the fashion of the evening—we're ushered into the stadium. I make eye contact with security, and he nods. Right this way, good sirs. Neil breaks into "Cherry, Cherry." Excited fans rush past. Kip pushes me forward. We end up a mere 30 feet from one of the 10,000 richest people who've ever existed.
On stage, there's a giant, diamond-shaped screen behind the band, because of course there is. There are also two stands for his water glasses. The secondary one is located at the back near the drums, which is useful for when he walks around, introducing his band. He needs that hydration after shimmy-traversing the stage to "Cherry, Cherry."
One hundred twenty-five million records and two fucking water glass stands. I cannot shake this fact.
The song ends. He goes into a slow jam and the crowd moves back to their seats. We don't have any so we go to the back and sit on the floor. Security guards allow us to do this because there's a guy near us, wobbly-drunk and pinching the bridge of his nose to ease the spins. Kip talks loudly about how Neil looks like his landlord and the drunk guy tells us to "keep it down."
I've never been shushed at a concert before.
When the synth violins of "America" start, an American flag fills the diamond screen, and that's how we know that the terrorists haven't won.
"This is, like, the least punk thing ever," Kip says. "Sweet Caroline" plays and old folks dance in the aisle. It's sweet.
The show ends at 10:30. There is no encore. Kip buys a "Honk If You Love Neil Diamond" bumper sticker, which I kind of just want to stick to a piece of paper and turn in for this column.
"You know, we could've killed Neil Diamond tonight," Kip says, afterwards, in my car. "We were that close."