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Have a trot, a Neil, a Coke and a smile

A brief history of mankind

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The Fernbank Museum of Natural History opened the 2002 season of its Martinis & IMAX happy hour last Friday. Here's how they work: You show up around 7 p.m., order some food and drinks, lounge under the enormous skeleton of an Argentinosaurus huinculensis (that's the trendy Latin American dinosaur in the reception area), then you watch an IMAX movie. It's very genteel, but in a business-casual sort of way.

Lots of couples were there on dates, prompting me to watch them and take notes from my table. With a little hindsight, it's clear that the notes reveal a lot more about my competitive male sprit (translation: ego) than they do about the dates. "Much hotter than her date" and "khaki slacks man talking on his cell phone the whole time -- he doesn't deserve her" are but two examples.

The IMAX movie I saw was called Majestic White Horses. It's about the famous Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, who -- big shock -- are majestic and white. The movie begins with a single horse galloping across the screen before narrator Stacy Keach establishes the campily self-important tone of the whole film by declaring, "The story of mankind could not have unfolded as it has without the horse."

I suppose that's true. But you also could substitute "horse" with "paper clip" or "glazed ham," and it'd still be true.

Keach is a fantastic narrator -- even though every time he says "horse," it sounds like "whores." The film itself is a fascinating look at the history of the riding school and the ritualized training of the Lipizzan horses. The only bad thing about the flick is the letdown you feel upon realizing that, through all those years of grueling training, the only thing the horses are taught is how to trot in place and drool. It's like waiting for Harry Potter to get to Hogwarts and then finding out that they only teach card tricks.

Neil zirconium: Later that night, I went to Smith's Olde Bar to see Hot August Knights, a Neil Diamond tribute band that derives its name from Diamond's classic 1972 live album, Hot August Night. I've probably been to two-dozen shows at Smith's, but I've never seen it that packed; they were turning people away at the door.

The band plays rocked up versions of Diamond classics. Singer SoolaiMan -- who takes his name from the title of a bizarre 1970 quasi-Afro-beat Diamond song -- doesn't so much imitate the superstar as channel his spirit. He's not over-the-top about it, but he's got Diamond's showbiz-yet-sincere shtick down pat.

At one point, SoolaiMan even stepped off the stage mid-song to commune with the ladies in the crowd. Most importantly, though, he sings just like the real Neil. The crowd -- myself included -- was too young to remember Diamond's heyday, but everyone still knew every song. My favorite was "I Thank the Lord for the Nighttime," perhaps because if it weren't for nighttime, I wouldn't have a job. One thing is certain though: The history of mankind could not have unfolded as it has without Neil Diamond.

Who moved my cheese?: On Saturday night, I attended Griot's Groove at Studio Central, a downtown industrial space turned club venue. The event was supposed to be a showcase and contest for amateur musicians, but it was marred by a sound system so shoddy it cut out on the same performer three times. And when it wasn't cutting out, it just sounded bad. The sound guy also was the DJ, and unfortunately he excelled equally at both jobs. His skill as a DJ was typified by his decision to warm up the crowd at this hip-hop/R&B show by playing Pat Benatar and Phil Collins records. Nice.

The artists were talented amateurs -- but for the $10 admission, an audience deserves rehearsed professionals and a working sound system. Singer FARA has a lovely voice. Male rap duo Secret Society performed a song stressing the importance of women getting their own cheese. In rap, cheese isn't a dairy product, but rather a slang term signifying money (e.g., "That girl's always trying to get her hands on my cheese.")

Subterranean homesick blues: Mayor Shirley Franklin held a series of inaugural celebrations last weekend, among them "Family Day," held Sunday at Underground Atlanta. Entertainment included musical acts. The best I saw was a teenage girl group in matching sweats called Cherish, who, despite being derivative as hell (think Destiny's Grandchild), could sing beautifully.

Later, while eating lunch in the Underground food court, I was approached by a young man trying to sell me "Polos." When I politely declined, he was incredulous. "Don't you like Polos?" he demanded. Another "no" and off he went to pester some other people.

I also went to the World of Coca-Cola museum (admission was free in honor of the inauguration). If you've been there, you know that it's not a museum of Coke, but rather a museum of Coke ads. "Even a Coca-Cola sign can be refreshing," says one display. German tourists love it. They must realize that the history of mankind could not have unfolded as it has without Coke ads.

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