Neil Diamond in South Africa

At the risk of revealing too much about my age and tastes, I have to tell you that Noisette and I went to the Neil Diamond concert in Soccer City last weekend. As I’ve said before, the cool thing about being an expat in a big city such as Johannesburg is that you get a lot of concerts and events. And the cool thing about being in South Africa specifically is that many artists are appearing here for the first time ever, increasing the allure and making for a great atmosphere in jam-packed stadiums.

That’s how we got to see Jeff Dunham last year, and now Neil Diamond. We trekked towards Soweto and Soccer City early Saturday night, anticipating big jams reminiscent of the Soccer World Cup last year, but it went pretty smooth (expat tip: at the time of booking your tickets on, make sure you also book a parking pass for R50, otherwise you won’t be let through). “Corner Nasrec and Rand Show” was actually a choice in the Navi, which is always a gamble, so we knew which general direction to head for. At the last intersection we weren’t sure where to go and ended up in the wrong lane, but no worries, the traffic cop there stopped everyone else so that we could cross over to the left. When there actually ARE traffic cops at an intersection, they are usually great.

Noisette had the presence of mind to turn around after we had parked our car – I  usually always trudge ahead and later have no idea where in the world my car is – to try and remember some landmarks for our way back. I commented that there should be a phone app that remembers your location, and sure enough, upon going into his map app on the Blackberry, we could do just that. Very cool, we wouldn’t have found our car in the pitch dark without it. But now to the concert: Upon approaching Soccer City (it is always an awesome sight at night) we located the right turnstile and stood in line.

Unfortunately, this is where we hit a tiny snag: Our tickets wouldn’t scan, so we were sent to the ticket sales office, where a big crowd of people had started to gather. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with a problem, which was a good thing, or otherwise I would have panicked. We were informed that the scanner wasn’t working correctly – duh – and that they would fix it shortly. But of course this didn’t happen and the crowd got restive. We all demanded to be let in, since obviously we all had the correct tickets, but the two scared looking ticket agents weren’t budging. I was really fearing for their safety. Finally, after an agonizing wait, the manager was dispatched and reprimanded the two kids for not just letting us in right away. We were whisked in through a special gate and that was that. Interestingly, the two ignorant and slow-moving guys were white, and the dynamic and decisive manager was black. I’m just saying this because it goes against the stereotype we still adhere to so often in South Africa, and I always love when it’s the other way around.

I know this is a horrible picture but it shows you how far away we were!

After standing in another line for a warm beer we began our trek to our seats. The higher we climbed, the higher Noisette’s eyebrows rose. I was busy trying out and rejecting good comebacks to the inevitable “Where the HECK did you book our seats?” When we finally plopped ourselves down, we squinted a bit to spot the stage and regretted not having brought binoculars. We were so far away, I was envisioning the end of the concert, and how we’d be sitting there enthralled listening and watching while in reality the stage was already being dismantled with Neil Diamond clear on his way to the hotel. Sort of like you can see a distant star when it’s already flamed out, because the light is still on its way. That’s how far up our seats were.

One thing about the crowd: We were actually on the younger end! Given that Neil Diamond turned 70 this year, this is no surprise. But the other interesting fact is that it was 100% white, and from the snippets of conversation around us, 95% Afrikaans. I didn’t know there were actually that many white people to be found in Johannesburg, to be honest. I bet you none of the black ushers had any idea who Neil Diamond is. I assume this is partly due to the fact that in the 1960s and 70s, when Neil Diamond became popular, many young black South Africans had other things on their minds, like trying not to be shot during the Sharpeville Massacre or Soweto Uprising. But all those who came to watch were united in reminiscence of those olden days, swaying to I’m a Believer and Sweet Caroline. I was very surprised to hear that Noisette – who, let’s face it, can’t sing – knew the words to most of the songs. I myself am actually not quite such a Neil Diamond connoisseur. In fact, Zax had wanted to know who in the world Neil Diamond was when we were getting ready to leave our house. How do you explain that to a 14-year old? So the word “gospel” slipped my tongue, and I have not heard the end of that, both from Noisette and Zax.

Yep, that’s me (I will put any hair comments in the Spam folder!) in front ofNoisette’s old Golf conver- tible – note the brackets on top of the front wind- shield for the roof rack, on which we had strapped our surfbord, hoping it wouldn’t rain, since getting the entire surfboad on and off to get the cover up was a longer procedure.

I love how music brings back the past. When I closed my eyes on that beautiful starlit night at Soccer City, I could clearly see the coastal highway in Cannes, France, sometime in the late 1980s, with us driving along in Noisette’s first car, a light blue metallic Golf convertible, and September Morn booming from the speakers. I could feel the salty breeze in my face, as well as the Yop drink yogurt dripping on my t-shirt when Noisette hit the brakes (purposefully for that effect, I still recall after so many years) and the annoyance when some boy started washing our wind screen and then wanted 5 Francs (Francs, not Euros!) for it. How could we have imagined then that twentysome years later we’d have moved to Africa with four kids, via Singapore and America, while picking up American citizenships along the way?

Noisette, many chocolate bars of the same name ago, somewhere along the Mediterranean coast.

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