"Neil Has Left the Building . . ."

Friday, November 1, 2002:The Sidetrack Tavern, Lincoln, Nebraska

Okay, this doesn't really qualify as a gig. After all, it was just me-the band was back in Dallas throwing darts at the life-size Neil cut-out that I stole from the set of Saving Silverman. I had come to Nebraska to watch my Longhorns attempt to do something that only one team had done in the last 74 games in Lincoln-beat the Cornhuskers. Of course, that team was the Horns back in 1998. We ended the nation's longest home winning streak that year, and we were hoping to do it again.

I spent all day Friday flying, as it is really tough to get a direct flight to Lincoln. Instead, I flew to Denver and then into Omaha, where my sister Adrienne and her fiancée Dano were waiting for me. Dano is a Husker and one helluva good man (see my Who concert report for more info on the greatness of Mr. Holmquist). I met Dano for the first time four years ago when we played in Lincoln, and now we were all back again to enjoy another weekend of great football and even greater alcohol consumption.

Back in college, Dano managed a great bar in Lincoln called P.O. Pears. To this day, we find it is impossible for Dano to pay for a drink in this place. And when you are Dano's special guest from Texas, you don't pay for drinks either. We spent almost all of our time at Pears four years ago, and I knew we'd be doing it again. If you're ever in Lincoln (don't ask me why you might be, but I suppose it's possible), be sure to stop by Pears and grab a Jiffy Burger and a Boulevard Wheat beer. And be sure to tell Bobby (the owner) that you know that freaky guy from Texas whose team keeps kicking Nebraska's ass, and I bet your beer is free. Or perhaps you might be escorted immediately from the premises-I'm not sure which.

We arrived at Pears about 9:00 after checking into our five-star hotel (really) that only cost us $50 a night. Have I mentioned that everyone in Lincoln loves Dano? Walking through the streets of Lincoln with Dano reminded me of the scene in Godfather II when Don Fanucci strolls through the street festival and everyone is kissing his hand and giving him gifts. (Perhaps my sister is joining a bigger "family" then she thought.) Anyway, right after we came inside Pears, Adrienne got a strange look on her face and said, "I think that's Darin Erstad."

Now for you non-baseball fans, Darin Erstad is the starting centerfielder for the World Champion Anaheim Angels. He also used to punt for the Huskers back in the mid-'90s in addition to being an All-American baseball player. At first, we weren't 100 percent sure it was him-he's not as big as you'd expect. But once we got a good look at him, we knew we were in the company of someone who had just won sport's ultimate prize. Amazingly, Erstad was sitting with a large man in Longhorn gear that I immediately recognized as Brian Jones. Brian wore the coveted Number 60 at UT back in the late '80s/early '90s and went on to a long NFL career with the Saints, Raiders, and Colts. Currently, Brian does on-the-field work for the Longhorn radio broadcasts in addition to hosting a weekly Longhorn TV show. He can also drink like a madman as you will soon discover!

I was a pretty big Angel fan growing up, but I lost interest in them around the time I moved to Texas. Still, I wanted them to kick some Giants ass during the World Series and was thrilled when they won. Adrienne and Dano, who still live in Southern California, had of course fallen under the spell of the magical Rally Monkey. Dano's best friend Curt, who is also a Husker but unfortunately couldn't make it back to Lincoln this time, is also a huge Angels fan. Dano knew that Curt would be crushed that he had missed meeting Erstad, so he decided to do the next best thing: get Erstad to say "hi" to Curt on his cell phone. Now, how does one go about approaching a superstar athlete with a request to call someone he doesn't even know over 1500 miles away? Well, apparently all you have to do is buy him a Bud Light, because Erstad was soon on the phone chatting away with Curt back in Long Beach. I don't think Curt really believed it was him, until my never-tell-a-lie sister convinced him that he had indeed been speaking with one of baseball's best players. And we have the pictures to prove it.

As for the previously mentioned Mr. Jones, I am always happy to buy ex-Longhorns a drink when I get the chance. I said hi to Brian and bought him his next round, and what he was drinking certainly qualifies as a "drink." Three, if you wanna get technical. Three shots of Tanquerray with just a splash of some orange-colored (hook 'em, get it?) energy drink thrown in for good measure. I saw Brian drink four of these in a matter of an hour. He is a big man, but he is not that big. Things were getting a bit wobbly for Mr. Jones, but I believed him when he insisted we were going to kick some Cornhusker ass. And of course, he was right.

So what does all of this have to do with Neil Diamond? Well nothing really, but it's a cool story and it sets the tone for what happened later in the evening. After a few drinks and some great food at Pears, we thought we might venture out and check out some of Lincoln's other nightlife. I have heard stories of a bar in Lincoln called the Sidetrack Tavern-most of the time it's just a dive bar, but on football weekends, it becomes a pretty happenin' place. The main attraction is a band that plays just about every '70s song in the book, all in such excruciating fashion that you can't help but sing along and enjoy it. I guess they've been doing it for years and years, judging by the ages of the band members! We grabbed a beer and were soon treated to truly horrific performances of "When Will I Be Loved" and "Drift Away" (which used to be one of my favorite '70s tunes until I heard their butchered version). I ran into some Longhorn friends too-after all, there had to be 400+ people in the place. I noticed that Dano seemed to have disappeared, and a scary feeling came over me. I knew I was in for it. When Dano returned, I asked him where he had been.

"Nowhere," he said.

But I knew better. And sure enough, five minutes later the band was inviting "the guy from Texas who can sing every Neil Diamond song" to the stage. I didn't even try to argue because no one wants to look like a chicken-shit in front of his little sister. As I tried to reach the stage, I had some difficulty; after all, the stage was packed with gear, and there were hordes of people surrounding it. When I finally saw what I thought was an opening to reach the stage, I was virtually tackled by a large bald testosterone-fueled thing that we will refer to as "Mr. Dickhead Bouncer."

"Where do you think you're going?" asked Mr. Bouncer.

"They just asked me to come up and sing," I happily replied.

"No they didn't," replied Señor Dickhead.

"Ummmmmm.yeah, they did," I replied.

"Are you giving me attitude?" he asked. I probably was, but he deserved it. The whole time this was going on, the band kept asking where I was and if I wanted to join them-only this brain-dead fat-ass was too clueless to figure out what was going on.

"Look," I said. "They just asked me to come up and sing. Ask them!"

At this point, the band noticed the ruckus and asked if I was "Texas Neil Diamond Guy." When I said yes, Mr. Dickhead finally let me onto the stage. The nice lady at the keyboard (I think her name was Joyce) said, "Whaddya wanna sing, shug?" ("shug" of course being short for "sugar").

"What do you know?" I asked.

"We know it all, shug."

After hearing their version of "Drift Away," I knew that was a big fat lie. But oh well, when in Rome.

"How about "Cracklin' Rosie"?" I said.

"Great. What key's that in, shug?"

Uh oh. Now there's a question I can't answer. Let's just politely say that music theory is not my strong point. Just play it and I'll sing it if I can, but I sure can't tell you what key a song is in.

"I'm not sure," I said.

You could see the looks on their faces-the looks said, "This is going to suck."

"Well sing me a verse, shug." So I did, and she played a few notes.

"That's too low," said the guitar player.

"THAT'S IT!" After all, if it's low, it must be right for Neil.

So off we went. It was a bit like that moment in High Fidelity where Jack Black gets up on stage and everyone thinks he's going to suck, but then he croons an awesome version of "Let's Get It On." People stared for about 20 seconds, and then they went crazy. Four hundred people were singing along with me, and the band was beaming. I looked down and saw my sister grinning ear-to-ear, and I was happy. Out in the crowd, a bunch of my Longhorn friends (many of whom have never seen Diamondbag) rushed to the front of the stage to join in. The song was over before I knew it, and I was immediately mobbed by the friendly Nebraskans. People were giving me tips, for crissakes! Everyone wanted me to get back up for another tune, and I told them that I might later.

After making my way through the crowd, I wound up back with Adrienne and Dano.

"You rocked the house," said my drunken soon-to-be brother-in-law.

At that point, I felt a rough hand on my shoulder and was whirled around. Low and behold, it was Mr. Dickhead Bouncer.

"You've had too much to drink. You're outta here."

Now you know me-I like my booze. But I assure you that on this night, I was nowhere near drunk.

"What are you talking about?" I asked. "I've had half a beer since I came in here."

"Doesn't matter. You're gone."

Apparently Billy Crystal is right-you don't fuck with Mr. Zero. This guy was throwing me and my party out of a bar, simply because his dumb ass didn't want to let me on stage after I had been invited. I suppose the fact that the place went crazy when I sang only pissed him off even more. So as were being led to the door, Dano is letting him have it. Even my little sister chimed in:

"You're an ASSHOLE."

I couldn't have said it better myself. So here I was.kicked out of a bar at the age of 35 for the first time in my life. And what did I get kicked out for? Fighting? Nope. Lewd acts? Nope. Public indecency? Nope.

I got kicked out for (as Dano put it) "doing the best goddamn Neil Diamond this town has ever seen."

Ladies and gentlemen, Neil has left the building.

An hour later, Dano was still fuming. He must have apologized over 100 times, stating that Mr. Dickhead was an embarrassment to the entire state of Nebraska. I told him it was fine and that it would make a good story (which if you're still reading this, it must have). But Dano was irate. He didn't stop bitching about it until he passed out back at the hotel. And even the next morning, his first words were,"I can't believe you got kicked out of a bar for singing the best goddamn Neil Diamond."

The next day, a lot of people saw me on the street and said, "Great job, Texas Neil Diamond guy!" Everywhere I went, people recognized me and said hello. But that's Nebraska fans for you-damn, these people are nice. They buy you beers, give you food, and compliment you on your team's play. Nebraska rocks.

By the way, I almost stopped back at Sidetracks late Saturday night after the 27-24 Longhorn victory to rub it in Mr. Dickhead Bouncer's face. But I think his steroid-shriveled penis is probably enough punishment for him, don't you?

Hook 'em Horns!

Set One
Cracklin' Rosie

Goodnight Lincoln!

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