Ralph hung himself in 1969. I was a junior in high school, and he a senior. I barely knew him. Can't remember if I ever had a conversation with him. He lived on the "aristocratic" side of town. People with old money. The clique he ran with was the kind of guys who partied suavely and were members of the country club. They considered themselves innately cool. That general attitude -- conceited, smirky -- struck me as alien and dreadful. They were the kind of guys who would make fun of poor people. They were bored bullies. Maybe Ralph wasn't that bad but just ended up running with those of his station in life. Who knows?
Rumor was that Ralph hung himself and died as a result of auto-erotic asphyxiation. So maybe an accident. The principal let anyone out of school who wished to attend Ralph's funeral service. I barely knew him, but I went. Any excuse to flee the soul-crushingness of that scholastic prison for an afternoon. The service was at the large, surreal First Baptist Church. I sat in the balcony. That church had, for me, an oppressive Gothic vibe. It contained unknown rooms beyond rooms beyond rooms. A muted pathological labyrinth. And the light was "funny" there. The whole place creeped me out, with its architectural too-muchness and its metaphysical wrongness.
After the funeral service, I drove home while listening to the car radio. Neil Diamond's song came on. I liked this song, though I could never make heads or tails of the lyrics. But ever since that day, the song has been associated in my imagination with how weird I felt at Ralph's funeral service, in that freaking large church. The song does have a quasi-religious feel to it, and the melody seems to have some black-spiritual inflections here and there.
It's actually a damn good song. I think it's a paean to a female whose presence in his head gave him a transcendent sense of life. That life, because of her, contained a quality of the magical-sublime. And because she existed he was inspired to crawl toward the light of experience. And then fly.
Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun’s gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man, he’s gonna fly
And I fly
And I fly