Recently, I’ve been picking at a thread that runs through the fabric of my life. Just like a loose thread in a snagged sweater, it seemed insignificant until I pulled on it and was reminded that it is an integral piece of the cloth. My particular loose thread is usually located in the periphery of my awareness; probably deep in my subconscious, but recent national events have given it a tug, and just like the sweater, I am surprised to learn that this seemingly irrelevant thread is long and tangled throughout many years of memories.
After the Boston bombings, one of the first signs of national unity happened on April 16 when baseball fans in Yankee Stadium sang a rousing rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a Fenway Park favorite, to show support for Boston citizens. The Red Sox have been playing “Sweet Caroline” at home games in 2002. Charles Steinberg, senior advisor to Boston Red Sox President says, “I believe the song has transformative powers. It would take a melancholy crowd and lift its spirits. We started playing it each day and the crowd responded beautifully. No one had asked the crowd to sing along, they just did.”
On April 20, only one day after the Boston lockdown and during the first Red Sox game played at home after the bombing, Neil Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway Park and led the Red Sox faithful in “Sweet Caroline.” I happened to catch the Fenway sing-along on television and instantly sensed it would be one of those defining moments of early 21st century American history.
“Sweet Caroline” is the loose thread that my mind continues to tug on. It is a soft pop hit that was originally released in 1969 as a single. Neil Diamond has re-released it several more times and it has never made it to the top of any chart. I doubt a critic ever praised “Sweet Caroline” for either its lyrics or music. For decades, it was simply an oldie that many Americans could hum along with until it re-burst into the national spotlight in 2011, when Neil Diamond announced that he had written it about a picture of nine-year old Caroline Kennedy that he had seen on the cover of Life Magazine.
Research shows that music affects memory by stimulating the limbic part of the brain, which is responsible for long-term memory. My very favorite songs are still those that I heard playing on beautiful summer days at the Wixom Quarry. I first heard “Sweet Caroline” there so it evokes special memories for me: the raft, the high dive, guys in cutoff blue jeans, girls in bikinis, and many teenagers enjoying the sun.
My next encounter with “Sweet Caroline” was as a member of the NBHS marching band. I remember how exciting it was to finally play a piece that we had actually heard on the radio as opposed to an old march or patriotic song. I still recall that the band members who played the trombone and baritone loved how much their instruments belted out the harmony in this arrangement of “Sweet Caroline.” It was our favorite song to play in the bleachers other than the Fight Song. In this way, “Sweet Caroline” also takes me back to memories of the cool, crisp autumn evenings of NB football games.
After high school, Neil Diamond and “Sweet Caroline” faded out of my life for a few decades. By the late 1990s, my young son was playing youth hockey and both he and my husband are avid Detroit Red Wings fans. As we have watched the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups since 1996, “Sweet Caroline” has became part of my life again. In a hockey game at Joe Louis Arena, once “Sweet Caroline” begins to play over the public address system, the entire crowd begins to sing along signaling that the game is safely in hand. “Sweet Caroline” is Detroit’s version of the fat lady singing.
As Boston heals from last month’s tragic bombing, “Sweet Caroline” oddly became the rallying cry for a nation to show unity. I immediately connected with the energy around a tired old pop hit because it is intertwined with so many good personal memories of the past 44 years. Based on the responses at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, many other Americans apparently share similar ties. Who could have predicted that this simple song could bind us together?
“Sweet Caroline! (Bah-bah-bah!) Good times never seemed so good! (So good! So good! So good!) I’d be inclined (Bah-bah-bah!) to believe they never would!”