It is a cause of great frustration that Neil Diamond was struck with Parkinson’s Disease at a time when he was finally being regarded as an artist to be considered alongside the other luminaries of the industry,
Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra to name but two, and more supposedly
“Hip” artists, Dylan, Bowie, etc...
The issue that always affected Neil Diamond, is the fact he believed that he didn’t fit in, and also he would never be regarded as “Hip”. He isn’t the
Mount Rushmore monument kind of artist like Johnny Cash, nor has he ever been spoke of in the same tones of Bob Dylan for example, Diamond had always tried to be Gershwin, where he regarded “Hipness" as something that frivolous people had time to be, “hip is bullshit” Diamond claimed, and yet, Neil Diamond has now acquired the “Hipness” that so eluded him.
Neil Diamond is a throwback, the last of the great Tin Pan Alley songsmiths, his kink was that he aspires to be Beethoven, but sinks into self-doubting despair when he writes, his autobiographical hit, ‘I Am... I Said’ testifies to that, where he talks of not belonging anywhere in particular, a solitary and introspective soul.
The time is about right for a spot of critical reappraisal, particularly as we will never see his showmanship on stage ever again, although the powerhouse performances of yore are long gone, Diamond still held an impressive aura during his 50th Anniversary World Tour, attendees who had never seen a Neil Diamond concert in their life up until then, were in awe of the man stood on stage. It takes a special kind of talent to garner such unabashed reverence, some were noticeably genuflecting in his presence.
Neil Diamond always wanted to be a crowd pleaser, his shows were dynamic, and geared towards that very aim, he always wanted his audiences to have fun, and to leave his show with the knowledge they had been royally entertained. As Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times observed, "All too often major pop music figures seem to approach a concert as if they are going on stage only to take bows for what they’ve already done on record. The concert is to them, it seems, just a way to pick up a little (actually a lot of) change or to perhaps accommodate the fans who want to see them in person. Diamond, however, wisely thinks of a concert in a different, more productive light. From the care in production (including quadraphonic sound and elaborate, lighting/stage effects) to the intensity of his own performance. Diamond takes advantage of the live encounter with the audience to prove he is even better than you thought he was."
His shows are sold out within hours of going on sale.
Since the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, there has been very little coming from the Neil camp, and one could be forgiven in thinking whether Neil has retired fully from the music industry, it is five years since his last original album, usually a time where new music is in the pipeline, and yet, nothing...
In being fans, we can become rather selfish with our fandom, forgetting that our hero is human, we believe he is superhuman, and can go on forever, alas not, his retirement from touring is testament to that, where he finally not only succumbed to his condition, but possibly the rigours of touring around the world, for someone half Neil’s age of 78, such a schedule would take its toll, so it is remarkable that Neil was able to continue touring at such a level.
So, what now for Neil Diamond...? The upcoming Broadway stage musical based on his life and career will no doubt have his input, but what then? Will that reinvigorate him to write new material, and in doing so, will
Neil Diamond himself be content in not being able to present such songs in
a “Live” setting? After all, that was always what he was about, allowing his fans to judge new material. I would like to think Neil has at least one more great album in him, to believe that ability to tap into his muse still exists, and allow himself at least one great last hurrah.
"Pray for spring, but face the winter..."
"Now the leaves are falling, I guess they didn't have much more to say, and with the winter calling... It's gonna be a long and lonely day...."
Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his invaluable and informative contributions