Retrospective, Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night (1972)

The first Neil Diamond song I ever heard was “Sweet Caroline” from 1969, so I can say that I was literally listening to that man before my wife was born.

Hot August Night should be on one of those lists people are fond of on the Internet, in the Top 5 of the Best Live Albums Ever Made for instance. I have good memories of this LP, it was in my Dad’s record collection when we were living by ourselves in the 1970s. there’s four of those records now, but I’m only going to be looking at the first.

My wife and I saw Neil Diamond in Seattle, around 1996. It was paid for by our mother-in-law, which was one of the few good things she ever did for us. There was a good vibe running throughout that concert. “America” is a song that’s best appreciated live; everyone was holding hands, including us, during “Sweet Caroline”.

Neil Diamond is a consummate performer, and on this double LP he’s at the height of his powers. It’s hard to believe that man was shy in high school, although that seems to seep out in the times he shares dialogue with the audience. It’s an astounding performance captured  at one of his favorite venues, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. It was the first record released on the brand new label MCA, which came about from a merging of the Uni, Kapp and Decca labels.

Apparently it was a quick turnaround from performance to release, as the concert was recorded, naturally enough, on August 24, 1972, one of ten sold-out concerts at the Greek that month. It was in record stores by December 9.

It has its share of deep cuts, lesser known songs like “Porcupine Pie”, “Soggy Pretzels” and “Canta Libre”. We agree, my wife and I, that this slowed down version of “Red Red Wine” may be one his best renditions of that song. And there are the hits–“Solitary Man”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Shilo”, “Play Me” and live cuts from what was then his most recent LP, Tap Root Manuscript. My wife always cries when he does “I Am… I Said”, and I’m pretty sure Neil was deeply affected, too. The show closed with the inevitable “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”.

The album sleeve is one that has to be seen. One wonders if Neil ever looks back at that cover and asks, ‘Wow, did I ever have THAT much hair?’ Here’s to you, Neil Diamond, and may you have many happy years to come.

The Festival of Navaratri 2020

This is my first venture into the realm of Hindu festivals. What I’m about to provide will be a gross simplification, I know, an outline of its meanings at best. There is much to learn, and I’m only beginning. Well, here goes.

The Festival of Navrati is celebrated in India and all over the world over nine nights in the autumn, post monsoon season. Also known as Durga puja or Sharada Navrati–nav (nine) ratri (nights)–it comes in the Hindu calendar month of Ashum, roughly in September or October. The festival honors Goddess Durga, who defeated the buffalo-demon king Mahishasura in battle, and to honor the feminine power. The goddess rides a tiger or a lion, and each of her many arms carries a weapon–a conch, bow and arrow, a sword, javelin, a noose and a shield.

Over this holy week each day is dedicated to one of her nine avatars. The nine forms of Maa Durga are:

-Goddess Shailputri, considered the most important manifestation of Durga; she contains the aspects of unconditional love, mercy and knowledge;

-Goddess Brahmacharini signifies love, affection and fidelity, and is also a symbol of toughness. By worshipping her with pure love and devotion, she will bestow immense stamina to hold on while you fast. She is represented as one who loved to walk barefoot;

-Goddess Chandraghanta is worshipped as a goddess of peace and forgiveness, with the power to eradicate evil. While she is ready to destroy the wicked, her devotees see her as a compassionate mother;

-Goddess Kushmanda is credited with creating the universe with her divine smile. She is believed to improve health and to bestow spiritual fulfillment

-Goddess Skandamata grants knowledge and wisdom to her devotees;

-Goddess Katyayani, a warrior divinity who fulfills the wishes of those who worship her with a pure heart;

-Goddess Kaalratri destroys ignorance and spreads light. It is also possible she was a precursor of the diety Kali;

-Goddess Mahagauri fulfills the desires of her devotees. This form of Durga represents purity; and

-Goddess Siddhidatri, the final form, fulfills all the divine aspirations of Maa Durga.

Short Fiction: Taking Down the Cameras

This was the day I’d always dreamed of, since that first afternoon I saw those spycams on their spindly metal rods posing over our traffic signals. Only a few appeared at first but as time moved on, they began to multiply like fleas at every traffic stop. I fumed every day, even sped past those electronic signposts screaming “Speed Limit Exceeded”, just to be contrary. Maybe it was cowardice not acting on our frustrations sooner, but the generations pass, new voices arise with the balls of the young, and I was proud to be invited to stand with my grandson as we tossed a tow cable around the spycam’s neck and yanked hard.