Can it really be a Neil Diamond ghost story?

I remember when this song hit the AM airwaves.
Wasn’t sure of the date, so I referred to Wikipedia and learned that “Song Song Blue” was written and recorded in 1972, the same year it spent 12 weeks on the Billboard Top 40. Ouch.
Nothing spells Old like musical remembrances that are shrouded in antique cobwebby novelty to anyone listening now.
To put it in perspective, most Big Band music was about 30-years-old during my preteen years. The same age that music from my youthful era is now, in 2010.
Music indelibly etches its mark on your psyche and memories, doesn’t it? Isn’t it natural?
A song that you listen to repeatedly is absorbed into your memory and psyche, and while the rest of your life unfolds, the two become intertwined in a mutual existence. If you are particularly attuned to these types of things, listening to a specific song 5 or 10 years later will elicit vivid memories of the period during which the song was popular.

Music’s ability to draw me into antique realities isn’t quite as powerful anymore. Sure, the right song can still conjure old memories, and in some cases, leave me with the sensation that I am experiencing much of the inner voice and sensations of the time the song first filled my head. However, for the most part, music doesn’t quite unlock the vividness of memories it used to.

If there are memories to be recaptured by listening to “Song Song Blue,” they would have to be a few sporadic glimpses of time back when I was 7 or 8. See in those days, there were no child murderers or kidnappings or Amber Alerts. Well that’s what some might lead you to believe when they speak fondly of the glorified and idyllic past when bad things didn’t happen, especially to children. So it was 1972, 1973; children were still sent to school on foot at 7 years of age even though the school was a good 3/4 of a mile away. No worries!

God I loved walking to school. It sat on the corner of an area gridded by straight streets and rectangular blocks. I would walk and daydream, occasionally interrupting my journey by marveling at the insect life I passed, or entertaining the random stray dog or fellow student on his way to school. I carried my books and I loved reading and life was slow-paced and everything seemed so “manual.” Technology’s greatest gift is its repudiation of hard labor, of rudimentary concepts and rituals. I loved singing to myself, not out loud batshit crazy, but quietly to my own ears, humming the song of the day. Singing songs that issued from fuzzy speakers of the day. One of them was “Song Song Blue.” I was too young to appreciate sadness. The song was just sad, a bit of a lackadaisical downer, not gloomy or pessimistic or suicide-inducing like some later doom and gloom Goth. No, this song was just about a bad day, it was about waking up on the wrong side of the bed, it was about the passing of a storm whose grayness you knew would soon be remedied by the eventual emergence of a sunny day. It offered lighthearted sadness. Nothing else. But I was 7 and I loved humming it on the way to school about 20 minutes away.

Some of my most vivid memories from that time involved Nana, my babysitter. She was in her 60s and was the mother of a family friend. She was my stand-in grandmother (as my maternal grandmothers had both been dead about 20 years). I spent more time with her than any other adult in my young life, she fed me and clothed me and nursed me when I was sick. She cooked for me, listened to me, allowed me to sit behind the curtained nook in the living room where I burrowed into the base of the wall below the glass windows and read. She was the grandmother I never knew. She babysat me until I was 9. Not sure of the circumstances, but she and her husband moved from their house to an apartment and I remember walking away one morning as I headed to school. It was the last day she would ever watch me walk away, and she cried from behind the screen door. I walked on courageously, not sure how I was affected in my young heart. Probably humming “Song Song Blue” to myself. The song conjures images of sidewalks and lawns and Nana’s lush backyard with its sharp-smelling Geranium plants. Of the kitchen where she cooked fresh spinach and I credit her with instilling excellent eating habits in me, for I never shied away from vegetables unlike other kids my age. I still have one photograph of her which I must have taken, one of those old, yellowing photographs whose color is washed out, the kind we used to develop at Fotomat, that crazy little shack you could take your film for developing. In the photograph, she was wearing her standard gardening robe and her hair was detained by a transparently black hairnet and she held a hose as she watered the lawn. Apparently, she caught the photographer in time to stick her tongue out foolishly, the stream of water frozen in air by the rapid camera shutter. Circa 1971?

And that is what “Song Song Blue” meant to me.

Listening to the song now, I experience a tinge of nostalgia but it is blurry and unfocused and nearly impossible for it to evoke vivid sensations of 1972 now. The memories are old and muted. Nana is a hazy and indistinct murmur, and when she died in 1976, just days before I turned 12, I was saddened and crushed. Much of my childhood has always seemed framed around the music of the times. I hear “Fernando” from Abba and it reminds me of that dark November day I learned she died. How I wish I could listen to “Song Song Blue” and experience even a trace of the innocent and youthful lushness of the time. I would feel the roar of childhood fill my ears and my soul and Neil Diamond’s deep, sentimental voice would lure me back to younger days I can no longer get a sense of.

But it is gone.
Unrecapturable. Artificially constructed words that fill in so well to dictate impressions.

There was a night, around 1980, I guess…so much of our past is a mess of indistinguishable dates and periods and we can only estimate rough calendar approximations by gathering all the environmental recollections possible and somehow deconstruct (or construct) a place in time by backing into the props of our life at that very moment. 1980, give or take a year, or two… I was living at home. In the new room addition. Nana was dead already. That adds to the supernatural aura of the story.

1980.

Oh, we had a dog, I’m positive it was Cookie, which definitely affirms my early 80s estimate.
My room was in the rear of the house, next to the backyard.
I would listen to the clock radio while I drifted off to sleep with the help of the “sleep” feature. Music lulled me into peaceful oblivion.
One night after I’d turned the lights out and buried myself beneath the sheets, the radio played while I drifted toward sleep. My mind must have scraped the borderline state of consciousness while it left the remnants of earthbound alertness behind.

And the radio began playing “Song Song Blue.” Here in the dark room as sleep began to overtake me. Still bordering on the sleep state, the remaining portion of my mind which was still alert began concentrating on the song while it played and slowly shook out old memories from my sleeping mind. Reminding me of Nana. Of those walks to school. In this position, this state of waking meditation, the realism and sensation of my past was acute and powerfully realistic. I allowed myself to sleepily descend into the consuming pool of memories and my descent was so steep I felt as if I was 7 again, as if I could smell the Geraniums and hear Nana’s voice scolding or reprimanding. 1972 was real, if only for those few shapeless dark moments as I buried myself in bed while Neil Diamond played on the radio. A dead reality, long since dissipated into the fog of the recent past, re-formed, like air giving shape to a slack balloon. My intense recollection of Nana prodded and fueled by “Song Song Blue.” In a brief moment of sheer conscious abandonment, I felt as a flickering schism had flown by, offering the vision of a different plane of reality…lulled not into sleep but detoured to another location somewhere along the surrendered path that leads to sleep.

And at that exact moment Cookie began howling outside my window.
No other dog in the neighborhood barked or howled; there were no sirens. Silence, the night, ruptured and aroused by Cookie’s mournful wails.

Cookie was a friendly Dachshund mix someone gave us in 1969.
Eleven or twelve years later…it was, if not the first, one of the few, times she howled.

Her howl, eerie in its timing, fractured my semi-consciousness. I quickly silenced the radio and the howling stopped abruptly.
I’m not mystically or supernaturally inclined, but the timing and circumstances of Cookie’s unsolicited howls have always remained a nagging puzzle. As a boy I was constantly reminded by the avowedly superstitious older Catholic women in my life that dogs howled when they saw ghosts.