Peering into the darkness from my designated position next to the pianist who would accompany me for my two songs I had to sing for the four vocal judges sitting in the audience that were my jury and would determine my final exam grade in my voice class, I was unable to see the judge who had asked me about my attendance at the Neil Diamond concert that night. The bright spotlights directed to the stage to simulate actual performances blinded me.
“I heard you on the radio this morning,” he continued as I tried to melt into the floor from embarrassment. Surely not one of these classical music teachers had even heard of Neil Diamond and would think pop music was the last rung on the ladder of musical hierarchy.
“Congratulations on winning the two tickets to the concert – and the backstage pass. That’s quite something,” he said.
“Thank you, sir. I rarely listen to that radio station,” I lied. “I was just trying to relax for the jury today. Lucky,” I mumbled and then tried to regain my composure to sing the Italian and German songs I had prepared.
In 1969 I was a twenty-three-year-old lesbian struggling to find a girlfriend and the meaning of life – but mostly a girlfriend. I was a displaced Texas girl living in Seattle, working for a local CPA firm doing taxes and bookkeeping, and looking for love in the only comfort zone I had: the Mercer Island Baptist Church which had been introduced to me by a straight woman I worked with at the CPA firm.
I came from six generations of Southern Baptists and was thrilled to know Seattle even had a Southern Baptist church out there in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. In my flight to escape my family and my “passing” as straight in the Houston area I drove 3,000 miles to a place where I didn’t know a single person except my lesbian friend who traveled with me, a girl who turned out not to be a lesbian (much to my disappointment) and left me two months after we arrived to move to California with a man she met at a bar. I hadn’t really made a plan to find friends.
Enter the Mercer Island Baptist Church with mostly other displaced southerners whose religion made them feel that they were strangers in a foreign land, biblically speaking. That church became my lifeline to community with the unintentional bonus of developing my own personal “gaydar.” Without delving into specifics, let’s just say that lust and hormonal longings became so intertwined with my religious understandings at the time that I answered a clear call from God to move back to Texas and enroll in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The “call” came in the form of a rejection by a married woman in the church that I was madly in love with but a woman who was older, wiser, had three very young children, and identified as heterosexual.
My mother wept when I called her to tell her of my career change and told me she believed I was following the path predetermined for me at my birth when she gave me to God for Christian service. Unfortunately, my voice teacher at the seminary seemed to disagree with my mother’s euphoria. As a matter of fact during one of our lessons, she abruptly asked me why I had decided to pursue a career as a church music director when I had such wonderful opportunities in business as a CPA. Church music directors were mostly men, she went on to tell me as I sang the scales with less enthusiasm.
My music teacher was right on all fronts, but I’m not a quick learner so I stayed in the seminary for two years after switching my major to theology which didn’t require standing in front of four teachers singing words I didn’t know the meaning of. After two years at Southwestern, I left with a girl friend I had met there which in my mind at the time proved that God truly answered prayers.
My new girlfriend was my date for the Neil Diamond concert that night in Dallas, and we did go backstage after a fabulous concert to meet him. He had long hair at that time (circa 1971), appeared to be exhausted, was shorter than I expected, but shook hands and spoke to each of us with a slight smile. I seem to remember a female guitar player who left with him…
Yesterday I heard that Neil Diamond is retiring from touring as a result of Parkinson’s Disease, and I had a flood of memories of that night in Dallas so long ago. The world has lost a great performer, but thankfully we have his concerts preserved for posterity via new technology.
Today is Neil Diamond’s 77th. birthday, and I would like to sing Happy Birthday to him, but alas, I’m worried that it might be slightly off key. Instead, I will simply thank him for the music he wrote and performed during the past 50 years of his life -and mine. His songs have brought joy to millions of people who will remember them with their own feelings, but not everyone will remember the privilege of meeting him backstage.