Saturday, December 10, 2011

Neil Diamond Taken Literally

In 1971, Neil Diamond gifted humanity with “I Am... I Said,” a metaphysically complex song about a supernatural being seeking to recover from loneliness and partial amnesia by enlisting the help of sentient furniture in modern day California.

While the first two verses of the song are commonly misunderstood to be about a New Yorker feeling out of place in LA (L.A.’s fine but it ain’t home / New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more), a quick comparison to Exodus 3:14 (This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me onto you) reveals a more intriguing and likely possibility: the narrator (hereafter referred to as the Diamond Prophet) is in fact an embodiment (or at least an emissary) of God, a kind of messianic figure sent to minister to the entertainment industry.

Given that most profanity takes the form of some kind of blasphemy, this hypothesis fits quite well with the Diamond Prophet’s unwillingness to engage in colorful language (And I’m not a man who likes to swear). Yet the narrator’s repeated need to remind himself who he is (I am, I said… I am, said I) hints that he is suffering from partial amnesia, perhaps even a kind of identity crisis brought on by his transference from divinity to the shortcomings that accompany mortal form. That would also account for his problematic and incomplete grasp of English grammar.

Perhaps most fascinating, though, is the Diamond Prophet’s repeated pleas for help from clearly sentiment furniture: “And no one heard at all / not even the chair”. The possibility of the furniture (hereafter referred to as Sentient Chair) possessing auditory abilities clearly indicates some kind of supernatural intelligence; more intriguing, though, is the question of WHY the chair refuses to listen… and just what kind of consolatory abilities does Sentient Chair have in the first place?

Here, as should be expected of such fine storytellers as Neil Diamond (he says the song took four months to write), the lyrics are tantalizingly silent. Yet subtle clues persist.

The fact that this song was published by Prophet Music Inc. (loosely associated with MCA Records) indicates that the songwriters and performers therein are casting their lots not with Sentient Chair, but with Diamond Prophet instead… which might even hint at a previously unknown cosmological tension broiling between gods (or god-like beings) and sentient woodwork. As such tension can often be the seed of greater conflict, we can further speculate that further Neil Diamond songs might have chronicled the approaching civil war.

And since woodwork obviously can’t carve itself, we might even theorize that the Diamond Prophet (or others like him) actually created the Sentient Chair—perhaps as a kind of cosmological plaything—and now desire a more meaningful relationship that Sentient Chair is unwilling to provide.

But there is more to this story than the conflict between Diamond Prophet and Sentient Chair. In a later verse, Diamond Prophet actually addresses the listener:

Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king
And then became one
Well, except for the names and a few other changes
If you talk about me, the story's the same one

If we assume for a moment that the Diamond Prophet achieved his supernatural nature simply by wishing, we are left to ask what he was before his transformation. Since the song only makes mention of one other being, we are left to ponder an alternate theory: that the Diamond Prophet was himself f a piece of furniture (perhaps a table) and his complex relationship with Sentient Chair reflects hard feelings stemming from their different paths in life.

1971 was a big year. The U.S. ended its trade embargo with China. Cigarette ads were banned on TV and radio. Jim Morrison was found dead in a bathtub. It was a very confusing time. But we can say with certainty that our great musical artists were there, as they have always been, to raise the bar and help shepherd us through.

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