Sunday, July 28, 2019

there ain't no grave can hold my body down

For many years now, I have been traipsing through cemeteries on a self-imposed scavenger hunt for graves of the famous, the not-so-famous and the nearly forgotten. On several occasions, I have dragged my family along, hoping they would share my interest in seeking out the final resting places of celebrities and those deemed "celebrities" by my own definition. More recently, I have found myself wandering alone among the headstones like a mouse hunting down the fermented dairy reward at the end of a laboratory maze.

Now, "grave hunting," as it is known among those within the hobby, is no easy task. It requires a lot of preparation including maps, route plotting, weather conditions, familiarizing yourself with landmarks. I have visited over two dozen cemeteries in various areas of the country, with different levels of success. In some of the largest cemeteries, I have come up empty-handed and just a bit frustrated. It has been my experience that most cemeteries are poorly marked and not accommodating for the living. But, armed with a map and a general knowledge of the headstone I am looking for, I have managed to find nearly all of the graves I have sought.

Except one.

I regularly scan, the indispensable resource for grave hunters worldwide. When planning a vacation, I always check to see if we will be within proximity of a cemetery where some famous folks are buried. In between trips to out-of-town graveyards, I check local cemeteries to see if there are any famous graves I can find without traveling too far. Curiously, I have only made return visits to two cemeteries - both within a few miles from my house in suburban Philadelphia. One is Ivy Hill Cemetery on Easton Road. The first time I was at Ivy Hill was in winter of 2011, just a few days after the funeral of boxing legend Joe Frazier. Ivy Hill is one of those unnavigable cemeteries and I had difficulty finding the former heavyweight champ's grave, as it was not yet marked by a permanent headstone. I revisited Ivy Hill a few weeks ago and happily encountered Smokin' Joe's beautiful black marble etched grave marker and I snapped a few pictures of the striking monument.

Northwood Cemetery, a mere mile-and-a-half from my house, has been my "white whale" for years. Relatively small and haphazardly arranged, Northwood boasts a few forgotten players from the early days of professional baseball, Eddie Griffin, the young NBA forward whose internal demons ended his life in a violent (and most likely deliberate) collision with a freight train and a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient. It is also the eternal home of the inventor of rock and roll.

"What?" you're probably saying to yourself. "Wait just a second! Little Richard isn't dead!"  [This story was written prior to Little Richard's passing on May 9, 2020.] Or maybe you're saying "Elvis Presley is buried behind Graceland in Memphis!" Or perhaps you know that Chuck Berry is interred in a stately mausoleum in St. Louis, Missouri. (Maybe you're saying nothing and just wishing I would get on with this story already!) All of these responses are fine, but none of those performers invented rock and roll. I'm taking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She is the true creator of the musical genre that we now call "rock and roll." How come you've never heard of Sister Rosetta, as she was affectionately called? Well, because she was a woman, she was black and she was a lesbian — so, as expected, she was unfairly crushed by history and misinformation.

Sister Rosetta
Sister Rosetta began playing guitar as a child, accompanying her mother musically and vocally on the gospel tunes she learned in church. She began to experiment and started infusing Delta blues and New Orleans jazz into the traditional spirituals. She introduced a unique distorted sound on  her guitar,. Although a female guitarist was a rarity at the time, Rosetta was favorably received by audiences and began recording in 1938. 1938!!! Her first record, "Rock Me," was a sly reference to the term "rock & roll," which was a euphemism among the African-American community for sexual intercourse. She released three more "rock & roll" selections and joined up with the Cotton Club Revue, teaming with Duke Ellington, The Dixie Hummingbirds and, later, the all-white Jordannaires, presenting a mixed-race performance that was unheard of at the time. In her technique, you can hear the obvious influence from which both Jimi Hendrix and Prince drew. Rosetta remained popular for years until the fickle public (just as fickle as today's public) moved on to the next sound. But, Sister  Rosetta's spirit weaved its way through rock and roll right up to the present. She was acknowledged as a favorite singer of Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin. The great Chuck Berry once confessed that his entire career was one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation.

I knew that Sister Rosetta was buried in Northwood Cemetery, after her untimely passing following a stroke on the eve of a recording session in Philadelphia in 1973. Her grave stood unmarked for decades until a fan-based fundraiser purchased and installed a headstone in 2008. 

A headstone that eluded me for over a year.

I drove through the narrow, winding paths at Northwood last March. I slowly passed the vast plots of graves, unrealistically expecting that elusive rose-colored granite marker to be enveloped in ethereal light, guiding me like the Star of Bethlehem. Of course, nothing close to that occurred. Instead, I circled that place a dozen times, reading the same names from the same path-side headstones on each subsequent lap. I finally gave up... only to return a few months later and re-enact the exact same procedure. I left that time feeling just as defeated. However, this week, while scrolling through Twitter, I came across a post — a retweet, if you will — from someone I do not follow. This person, @jeopardista, showed a picture of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's grave marker along with a sentiment from British singer-songwriter Frank Turner. The photo seemed to taunt me and I swear I heard it say "You can't find me!" in a high-pitched, sing-song voice. I immediately typed out a reply to @jeopardista, asking for some direction or at least an identifying landmark to help bring my quest for the grave of Sister Rosetta Tharpe to a successful close. My new Twitter acquaintance replied within a few minutes, directing me to the proper cemetery entrance, which way to turn and the approximate location of the rose-hued monument near the wrought-iron fence that skirts nearby 70th Avenue.

I hopped in my car and quickly drove over to Northwood. Following @jeopardista's instructions, I made the first left inside the 15th Street entrance. I traversed the rolling expanse of grassy areas until I spotted some familiar trees and then I saw the sign identifying 70th Avenue peeking though the posts of rust-speckled iron. I parked my car and walked with a determined gait towards the edge of the cemetery ground, the gleam of rose-colored granite just ahead. Excitedly, I approached the front of the headstone and, as I readied my cellphone's camera to capture photographic provenance, I read the sand-blasted inscription. It said something other than "Rosetta Tharpe." I frowned. I looked around. To my left. To my right. Behind me, two or three rows away, I noticed the back of another, similar-looking stone. I headed in that direction. This time, the block letters — Rosetta Atkins Tharpe Morrison — proclaimed this to be the correct grave. The end of my pursuit. My mission accomplished. I snapped four, almost identical photos, changing my angle ever-so slightly with each ensuing shot. But I did stand and look at the grave and marker for a good long time before heading back to my car.

I posted one of the photos to Instagram, along with a fairly lengthy explanation as to Sister Rosetta's significance. Over the course of the day, the photo attracted 29 "likes" including several members of the Philadelphia (and beyond) music community. That made me happy.

Plus, @jeopardista started following me.

(Here are some of my other cemetery adventures.)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

no one fights like Gaston

Disneyland is the original, self-proclaimed "Happiest Place on Earth." But recently, it was anything but. A cellphone video taken by a recent theme park guest went viral when it was posted to YouTube. It was immediately exploited by every local Los Angeles news broadcast and then — through the power of social media — it spread nationally. As chronicled by the amateur video several adult members of one family are shown arguing... arguing loudly enough to garner attention from other Disneyland visitors. Suddenly, the argument escalated to shouting which, in turn, explodes in violence. A man is seen striking a woman in the face several times. Then there's some spitting, followed by another man throwing hard punches. Then, another woman is thrown to the cement ground by one of the men after she surprisingly abandons her electric scooter. The whole episode lasts just under minute, but it is very unnerving and upsetting to watch. A few brave onlookers attempt to intervene. Eventually, park security arrives on the scene and handles things in a proper manner. They were all escorted off of Disney property and into the waiting hands of the Anaheim Police Department.

Happiest Place on Earth
The video is difficult to watch for a few reasons. One... it's Disneyland, for goodness sake! Not only that, the melee took place in the Toontown section of the park, an area that is geared towards younger guests. Seeing these folks smacking each other around in the shadow of Goofy's house, complete with its whimsical cartoon mailbox just a foot or two away from the fisticuffs, was, among other things, surreal. Second... aren't these people on vacation, where all of your troubles and anxieties are put on hold? Third.... as my son pointed out, there are so many cheaper places to fight with your family than at a Disney theme park. Each one of those guests easily paid around one hundred dollars to beat on each other. They could have done it for free out on Harbor Boulevard.

The entire episode, unfortunately, is not uncommon. In hot weather, in stressful situations with sensory overload, tensions mount and emotions explode. As a veteran of many Disney vacations (in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World), I have personally witnessed instances of this behavior. On every trip we have taken to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, my wife, my son and I stroll through the various themed lands looking for people who are very obviously not enjoying themselves. "Oh, that guy really wants to be here." we'd quietly point out to each other, singling out an angry Dad with a scowl across his face, arms tightly folded across his chest, leaning on a stroller that is unsuccessfully trying to contain a crying infant. The mouse ears hat atop his infuriated head is the crowning glory. We've often seen family members screaming at each other. An agitated father yelling about how much this trip is costing him. An exasperated mother throwing up her hands in surrender and children of varying ages, their faces smeared with dried remnants of ice cream, stomping their little feet or escalating a tantrum to rolling uncontrollably on the ground (and blocking the path of other guests).

As I watched the YouTube video (along with, at last count, over 4 million other viewers), I was reminded of a few episodes similar to the brawl depicted in the video — one dating back to 1986. My wife and I drove to Walt Disney World in December 1986 along with a friend of ours. Mrs. Pincus was three months pregnant and this would be our "last hurrah" before the responsibilities of parenting took over as top priority in our lives. At the time, Disney property boasted only four resorts and all were way out of our price range. We opted, instead, to stay at a small motel on I-192 in Kissimmee, just a mile or so from Disney World and not far from where Mrs. P and I spent our honeymoon two years earlier. Upon check-in, we were given keys (yes, actual metal keys on a big plastic fob) to a room at the rear of the parking lot. We unpacked our car and and readied ourselves for a week-long vacation. We headed out to Walt Disney World Village, the small shopping area at the crossroads of Apopka Vineland Road and Hotel Plaza Boulevard. (This little distraction has since been expanded several times and is now known as Disney Springs.) We ate dinner, browsed some shops and then retired to our room for some sleep before our first day at the Magic Kingdom.

wah wah wah
We were awakened early the next morning — not by an alarm or a prearranged wake-up call — but by a muffled sound coming from beyond the adjoining wall of the room behind ours. Almost as soon as it began, the sound increased in volume. They were obviously human voices, but actual words were not determinable. It was closer to the sound made by adults and teachers on the Charlie Brown animated television specials — that "wah-wah-wah" supplied by a trumpet player skillfully applying a mute to his instrument's brass bell. The sound got very loud very quickly, sounding as close as though the folks were in our room. Actually, there were some words that we could make out. Four words, as a matter of fact. Four consecutive words that stood out, clear as a bell, among the other muffled words coming through that six-inch thick drywall barrier. Among the unintelligible vocalization we distinctly recognized "shut the fuck up" being repeated by both parties as though each monosyllabic word was intoned by a diction coach. The gist of the disagreement was unclear, but "shut the fuck up" that punctuated nearly every sentence rang out each time like a church bell on Sunday morning. As the week went on, we were awakened by this same muted dialogue from our neighbors every single morning. We were in a motel, so we knew we were on vacation. We could only assume that the "Shut The Fuck Up" Family (as we came to affectionately refer to them) were on vacation, as well. If this was how they behaved on vacation, we couldn't imagine what their interaction was like at home.

I'll show you a Laughing Place.
Years later, my wife, my young (at the time) son and I found ourselves in the Magic Kingdom in the summer — a particularly volatile time for stress and emotions and our extended family was no exception. My wife's brother and his wife were also along on this particular trip and we met up with them in the queue line for Splash Mountain. The line was unusually long and we were inching our way towards the actual ride entrance (which, if you've ever been to a Disney theme park, is nowhere in sight from this end of the line). With a park filled with people and a concentration of hot, sweaty, uncomfortable folks surrounding us, my brother-in-law and his wife broke into a very loud, very heated disagreement that very quickly blossomed into an angry and raw shouting match. Their caterwauls stopped passing groups in their tracks and elicited judging side looks from our fellow queue-members and we genuinely were afraid that the two of them would soon come to blows. (Seriously!) Suddenly, my sister-in-law spat out a final word and stormed off, disappearing into the crowd swarming in and around nearby Frontierland. My brother-in-law, looking forlorn and helpless (he's six-foot-four and was bedecked in a particularly gaudy Disney-themed shirt), asked his sister if she thought he should go after his spouse. This did not really require an answer and he reluctantly left the ride line in search of his wife and possible reconciliation. Although we were all staying in the same hotel, we never saw them again for the remainder of the week.

The scene of the crime
In 2009, we were told of an almost fist fight that was squelched by a quick and attentive Disney cast member. My family and I were finishing up our dinner at the Rose & Crown Pub in the United Kingdom pavilion in EPCOT. As Linda, our waitress for the evening, cleared our table of the dinner dishes, she made friendly chit-chat. Actually, she was quite friendly all evening. We seemed to have been one of the last guests remaining in the restaurant's dining room, as most other diners had moved to the outside patio that overlooks World Showcase Lagoon for an optimum view of the IllumiNations nighttime spectacle (which sadly ends on September 30, 2019 after nearly 20 years). We had marveled at the signature fireworks and lighting display many times before, so seeing it through the large glass windows of the dining room was just fine for us. Linda took a seat at our table and began to relate some "insider" stories of being a Disney cast member. She told us that she rarely waits tables and usually works the bar in the front part of the pub. One evening, she explained, two gentlemen were throwing back beers while their families were checking out the quaint offerings of the UK pavilion. It seems their intake of alcohol was more than they could handle and they began to get loud and unruly. In the heat of a disagreement, on of the men poked his finger a little too close to the other man's face. The pointee stood and uneasily leaned into his tormentor. Linda told us how she leaped over the bar and wedged her small frame between the two men and into harm's way, using her slight arms to separate them. "Hey," she shouted, "remember where you are, guys! Disney World! Y'know Mickey Mouse and all that!" Linda's efforts were successful and the two men left separately and under their own recognizance. She continued to tell us that this was only one of dozens of fights and near fights she witnessed during her employ with Disney.

So, if you are planning a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World.... remember two things: Try not to fight. But, if you feel the need to fight, make sure you know where your camera is. After all, are stress levels going to be high on family vacations? Of course they are. Is fighting in a Disney theme park anything new? Not at all.

It's a tale as old as time.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

get back to where you once belonged

Although we pay nearly three hundred dollars a month for cable service from the good folks at Xfinity, giving us access to a wide variety of entertainment options in the privacy of our home, Mrs. Pincus and I sometimes do venture out to a good old-fashioned movie theater. While I certainly love movies, I don't care for people. And that's exactly what we encountered last Saturday.

My wife and I made plans to meet my brother Max and my sister-in-law (no, not that one... the other one) for a rare "double date" night, My sister-in-law purchased discount tickets at a local Costco and was surprised by the "pick your seat" option that was available. From my recollection, movie theaters never offered reserved seating, but it certainly makes sense. Reserved seats are available at almost every other venue where public seating is offered — Broadway theaters, concerts, sporting events, you can even throw airline flights into that mix. Actually, now that I think of it, we previously purchased reserved seating for movies on our several, ill-fated visits to our nearby Movie Tavern. So maybe other movie theaters are just catching up. And it makes perfect sense, too! With reserved seats, you don't have to rush to the theater and scramble for choice seats — especially if you need to find more than two seats together. (That is, if you don't want to split up your party.) With reserved seating, your seat will be waiting for you when arrive, no matter what time you arrive.

My sister-in-law scored four seats at the end of a row, selecting a location midway up in a theater that offered stadium-style seating. Perfect! We could meet early for a leisurely dinner and then make our way to the theater at our own pace and not worry about the hassle of scanning a crowded theater for four seats together. Our chosen movie was "Yesterday," the latest Danny Boyle-directed fantasy tale of a young, struggling musician who, after waking from an accident, realizes he's the only one in the world who remembers the Beatles. The movie, after receiving a modest amount of pre-release hype, had opened the night before our little "family night at the movies" and the suburban multiplex would likely be crowded. But, we had no worries. At least not yet.

We met at a Ruby Tuesday's* that occupies a pad site in the parking lot of the theater. After dinner, as we exited the restaurant, my sister-in-law distributed the tickets and I tucked our pair safely in my wallet. We got in our respective cars and drove over to the larger lot nearer to the theater. We met at the front of the theater and entered. We determined which of the twenty-two auditoriums was our destination and headed down one of the long hallways that branched off from the main lobby. My wife and sister-in-law excused themselves for a quick visit to the ladies room, leaving my brother and me to meet them at our pre-determined seats.

Max and I entered the semi-darkened theater. The enormous screen was alight with commercials for the concession stand and other commerce-enticing information. We took note of the large, prominent aisle designations affixed to the base of the end seat of each row. We mentally ticked off each one until we arrived at Row H. The end seat — Seat 12 — was empty, its padded cushion in the upright position waiting to afford comfort to its rightful ticket holder for the 7:30 showing. The next three adjoining seats, however, were occupied by three women. As showtime was fast approaching, there were only a few single seats scattered throughout the near-capacity theater. My brother and I exchanged puzzled glances. He had an expression on his face with which I was very familiar. It was a combined expression of exasperation and annoyance. I had seen it regularly in our youth — and I was usually the cause.

I spoke first. I said to the woman closest to me, "I believe you are in our seats." I tried to have no inflection of anger or accusation in my voice. Perhaps it was an honest mistake. Perhaps they were not aware of the reserved seating policy. After all, we were not greeted by an usher of any kind. We were not asked for our tickets and then guided to our appointed accommodations for the evening. The woman furrowed her brow and, with a raised, sweeping hand, gestured to the rest of the theater. "Oh, you can just sit anywhere," she bluntly stated in reply to my indictment. I think I could hear my brother's blood actually boiling in his veins. I could feel the anxious adrenaline coursing through my system in anticipation of a confrontation I did not wish to happen. I hate confrontation. I'm not good at it and I would rather remain silent. My brother, on the other hand, has never been one to stand idle while shit is forced in his direction. Perennially athletic and physical, he has always stood his ground in a calm, authoritative, and somewhat menacing, manner.

I told my brother that I was going to speak to a member of the theater's management. I started down the steep steps with my destination being the lobby. I tracked down a man in a mismatched suit gripping a comically-large walkie-talkie that looked as though he filched it from the set of "M*A*S*H." He sported a name tag engraved with "MANAGER" pinned to his too-wide lapel. I explained the situation transpiring right now in Auditorium 3. He assured me that a security representative would be there to assist momentarily. I felt no sense of urgency in his promise and no authority in his authority. Unsatisfied, I reluctantly returned to check my brother's progress.

Not actually my brother.
Again, I entered the theater and ascended the steps towards Row H. There was my brother, my sister-in-law and Mrs. Pincus sitting in Seats 9 through 11... with Seat 12 on stand-by for my derriere. I took my seat and leaned over to ask Max to fill me in on the chapter of this story that I missed. In a totally unaffected tone, he said, after I left, he went back to the woman and calmly stated that she and her friends were in seats that they did not belong in. "I asked you once nicely," he said, most likely in a slow and deliberate timbre and through clenched teeth, "You need to get up and go to the seats that are printed on your ticket. These are not your seats." After a few seconds, the three women rose and pushed their way past my brother, not offering any sort of apology or even glancing in his direction. 

Mr. Movie Theater Manager's security never showed up. We didn't really need them. 

We brought our own.

*I still have not published my rant about my awful Ruby Tuesday's experience that I wrote four years ago. Maybe someday...

This is the 500th post to this blog. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

song sung blue

Let me preface this story by saying I really dislike "tribute bands." While I certainly am a fan of live music, I draw the line at bands that feel it's okay to ride the coattails of an established and beloved (by some) act by imitating every last move, note and lyrical inflection for a few bucks (actually way more than a few bucks). Even if the object of "flattery" is a band I like, I feel angered by and embarrassed for the performers, as well as the actual band. A few years ago, Mrs. Pincus and I were given tickets to a Queen tribute band — the "ultimate" Queen tribute, if I recall correctly. We broke our promise of staying until the end of the show. I loved — loved — Queen in my youth and still hold a soft spot for them (except for my recent contempt for Brian May). However, I couldn't stomach any more of their "America's Got Talent" caliber of prefab presentation. A former co-worker regularly cajoled me to see a Genesis tribute band that plays almost monthly at a nearby venue. He constantly sang their praises, to which I constantly rebutted. "Not only wouldn't I go to see them," I would explain, "but the fact that they performed Wind and Wuthering in its entirety, my least favorite Genesis album, was absolutely not helping the argument." He eventually let up when the company let me go.

Let me also preface this story by saying that I will rarely turn down free tickets to anything. Case in point: my wife and I have seen Donnie and Marie, Tony Orlando and suffered through numerous bad experiences at the now-notorious (by way of this blog)  Movie Tavern — all for free. But, free is free and, as a good friend likes to remind us: "If it's free, it's for me." Words and sentiment couldn't ring truer.

Let me offer one final preface to this story. I love..... no wait..... let me rephrase that. I marvel at people's public behavior. I think since the advent and prevalence of social media in people's everyday lives, most folks have forgotten simple rules of public decorum. They have forgotten that there are other people in the world and sometimes their pursuit of a good time can impede on other's pursuit of a good time. Also, I believe that nobody owns a mirror anymore.

That said....

Mrs. Pincus obtained two tickets to Jay White's performance at the Xcite Center showroom in Parx Casino, a gambling venue just outside of Philadelphia. Parx's showroom has surprisingly attracted some fairly big names. Not the current superstars that could easily fill a stadium, but headliners in, what I would call, the "twilight" of their careers. Acts like Air Supply, John Fogarty and Reba McEntire — all recognizable, but perhaps no longer at the height of their popularity, yet still popular enough to fill a 1500-seat venue. Well, fill it three-quarters of the way anyway. Between the actual name acts, are scattered several "tribute" acts, including the noted Australian Pink Floyd Show, allegedly blessed by the remaining members of Pink Floyd (Hmm, there's one thing they can still agree on.) and the aforementioned Jay White. (I also saw ads for something called "Ian Anderson presents Fifty Years of Jethro Tull." I'm not quite sure in which category that show falls.)

Jay White calls himself "America's Diamond" and performs songs made famous by popular (dare I say "legendary") singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. (Technically, this moniker makes zero sense as the real Mr. Diamond was born in Brooklyn, New York... and you don't get more American than that, baby!) Not only does Jay White sing with a very, very close approximation of Neil Diamond's imitable Sprechgesang style, but he looks uncannily like Neil Diamond to boot. I can just imagine White marching into the office of a record executive and belting out a few tunes, only to be halted with suspect scrutiny. "Mr. White.... you're okay, but we already have a guy who sounds and looks like you." "Fuck it," I imagined White's growling retort, "I'll do a goddamn tribute show then!" And that's exactly where Jay White's career has brought him, playing such illustrious towns as Gulfport, Mississippi, Kokomo, Indiana and a week-long residency in Delavan, Wisconsin.

I was a little apprehensive about going to this show, but, as I said earlier, I won't turn down free tickets to pretty much anything. And this show had all the promise of "pretty much anything." Mrs. P and I had nothing to do and the venue was air-conditioned, so... what the heck! Besides, Neil Diamond has announced his retirement from the stage, giving Jay White the opportunity to perhaps fill a void that I was not aware needed filling.

...and then there's this guy.
(That's Jay White on the right.... or left.
I'm not sure.)
We drove the twenty or so minutes to Parx Casino and located the venue at the rear of the bustling gaming floor. We were a bit surprised by the configuration of the showroom. It was flat, not sloped at all, and was reminiscent of my elementary school auditorium, except the stage seemed to be built unnaturally high. (A Trip Advisor reviewer seems to agree with me.) The pre-show music piped in over the PA was a standard mix of songs that would appeal to the decidedly older crowd. (classic light rock and a smattering of country). Just before the lights dimmed, however, Lee Greenwood's chest-pounding, flag-waving, heart-stirring "God Bless the USA," came blasting through the venue speakers, offering just the right blend of nauseating, rabble-rousing, redneck faux-patriotism and faux-religion to an all-white audience, all of whom apparently had checked their handguns and MAGA hats at the door. A woman a few rows in front of us stood at her seat and dramatically waved her arms at the audience as though she were the choirmaster at a school recital. The room erupted in thunderous applause at the song's conclusion — a recording from thirty-three years ago by an artist who was not in the fucking room!

The crowd loved it... especially the old guy
 with the two-foot braid
In the darkened theater, I could see a number of musicians filing in and tuning up. Still in the shadows, they launched into the opening bars of "Soolaimon," a popular, but lesser-known song from the Neil Diamond canon. Jay White, clad in a sparkly shirt and high-waisted tuxedo pants, his helmet of hair fashioned into the signature Neil Diamond 'do, strutted and posed and pointed his finger for the next ninety minutes, as he bounced around from "Cracklin' Rosie" to "Cherry Baby"  to "Holly Holy"... all executed with the dead-on precision of the respective recordings. The band was comprised of obviously talented musicians and White is definitely in possession of a strong set of pipes. But, there was still something that didn't sit right with me. While I do love and appreciate cover versions of songs, someone making a career out of someone else's act is no different than an artist duplicating the Mona Lisa or a writer plagiarizing Hemingway. If you have talent and creativity, then use it and be creative. Don't sell yourself short and take the lazy route. I know I was in the overwhelming minority. The crowd that evening, much like the audience gathered at the "Ultimate Queen Tribute," was eating it up like candy-coated candy. They thought they were actually seeing Neil Diamond at a fraction of the cost of a Neil Diamond concert ticket. They stood. They swayed. They sang, They cheered. One woman was welcomed stage-side while the pretend Mr. Diamond offered a personal and seductive serenade with "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." It was greeted with palpable adoration. I found it embarrassing.

The evening closed with a participatory "Sweet Caroline" punctuated by the recent obligatory "so good so good so good" chorus that has ruined that song for me. Thank you Red Sox fans. I hate you even more. The last song was an epic rendition of "Coming to America" from the soundtrack of the 1980 version of "The Jazz Singer." My wife noted that if the crowd realized that this song was about a Jewish cantor emigrating to the United States, they may not be singing along with such gusto.

The house lights went on and the audience filed out — some still dancing as out of rhythm as they were clapping.  Jay White was in the lobby, cheerfully posing for pictures with his adoring fans. We passed.

If I learned anything from this experience, I realized that I know a lot of Neil Diamond songs. More than I thought.