NEIL DIAMOND: 50 GOLDEN YEARS
If indeed the soul of an artist is best revealed in what one creates, then the work of singer/songwriter/performer Neil Diamond speaks volumes. An illustrious career spanning five decades has earned Neil a place amongst music royalty.
Labelled by his millions of fans as their king, he has carved out a legacy that few other performers can match. However, the history of this “anonymous” star is fraught with contradictions, he is an enigmatic character, a dichotomy, at once the world renowned celebrity, who has sung for presidents and danced with princesses, and the quiet, fiercely private loner, the self proclaimed Solitary Man.
As Neil Diamond celebrates fifty years of hit making this year, he is embarking on another gruelling World Tour. A schedule that would leave younger artists burned out, but this is the norm for Neil, who has taken his songs around the world time and again. Yet another opportunity for his fans to see their idol in their home cities. A fact not lost on Neil, he was recently offered the chance to do a season in Las Vegas, but declined, stating, that as a performer it is his responsibility to go to his fans, and not the other way round. An honest and no nonsense ethic which has held him in good stead throughout his career, and reason why he is so beloved by not just his dedicated, almost rabid fans, but respected throughout the music industry.
Neil Diamond, it is claimed, is the Marathon Man of music, he just keeps going, long after many acts have been and gone. When asked about his longevity, Neil, as humble as ever, puts it down to his fans still wanting what he provides, and yet he is an immensely talented individual, which cannot be overlooked, particularly in an age where image overcomes substance.
Neil Diamond has never been hip, or at least says the great man of himself, and yet he continues to inspire. His music is still a mainstay on radio, TV, and film, he even delved into acting, most notably in the movie 'The Jazz Singer' where he was employed to not only appear in the film, but write the soundtrack, an immense task by any standards, especially for a man who had no prior knowledge of the world of film acting, he has appeared in low budget American TV shows, and made cameo appearances in other movies, Saving Silverman/Evil Woman, playing himself, alongside Jack Black who was part of a Neil Diamond tribute band. That alone is a massive tribute to Neil, to have a film centred around him and his work. Neil Diamond is also responsible for the soundtrack to the movie of the cult novel, 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull', the allegorical story of the life of a young seagull, I cannot think of another artiste who could have carried that off with such aplomb, it was inspired and the album still rates as one of Neil’s best sellers.
In the decades since Neil Diamond first appeared on the music scene, he has enjoyed a myriad of hit albums and singles, he has toured the world over and again, breaking attendance records, and garnering rave reviews, from fans and critics alike.
Neil Diamond has been a constant in our lives, for me at least, his music has been the soundtrack to much of my life, I can find a Neil song to suit any mood, and can immerse myself in his music without ever tiring. Do I have a favourite Neil Diamond song? That is an impossible question, considering Neil has written some of the most memorable songs ever, by any artist, spanning all genres, Pop, Rock, Gospel, Country, Jazz, he has even had a go at Rap.
Neil Diamond’s story is one of perseverance, strength of character, and dogged determination, he is not only a brilliant performer, he is a model of the archetypal rags-to-riches American success story.
It is claimed the Neil Diamond phenomenon was born on the stage of the Greek Theatre in 1972, when that series of concerts were to catapult Neil into the music stratosphere. The critics raved, Frank H Lieberman of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, stated, “Until Monday, Neil Diamond appeared to be just another top flight contemporary artist on the Greek Theatre summer line-up .... at about 10:30pm Monday, following a couple of encores and standing ovations by the audience, he became number one, having presented the finest concert, in artistic and production sense, in Greek Theatre history, one particular night of the series of concerts was to be captured on record, Thursday, August 24, 1972, where Neil delivered possibly his greatest performance ever. It was to be known as Hot August Night, a mesmeric, dynamic and hypnotic performance, one only has to read the sleeve notes of the album to understand what Neil had achieved, Hot August Night is still regarded as possibly the finest “live album” by any artist or group.”
Neil Diamond has continued to “pack them in” whenever he tours, his shows are an event. He gives everything, musically and of himself, he defies his age, and still possesses that strong deep baritone voice, instantly recognisable. I have seen Neil on tour many many times and he has never disappointed, I had the great pleasure of speaking to him, instigated by my impulsive nature, where Neil was passing my (aisle) seat having just left the stage at Birmingham’s NEC Arena, as it was known in 1992, I stood up and thrust out my hand in a handshake gesture, Neil reciprocated, I said “Great show Neil, to which he replied, “Thank you, we love coming to England, we have some of our greatest fans here, it is a pleasure to present our show to you, thank you again, and hope to see you at another of our performances.” At which point he was quickly escorted to the confines of the dressing room(s), to a man who had been a fan of Neil Diamond since being a young boy, this all too brief encounter cemented my belief that my support was justified, that this world famous icon and my music idol had deigned to stop and speak to me, was beyond all expectation, and certainly elevated him further in my esteem.
These more recent years have seen Neil become more recognised as the great talent that he is. He has garnered a whole new group of younger fans, no doubt taken kicking and screaming to his show by admiring parents, only to leave as believers. There is no set Neil Diamond fan demograph, obviously, there are those who have been there at the beginning, and then those who latched onto him early on, and the new generation of fans, who I respect purely because they recognise Neil’s standing in the music landscape. I am always amazed how the “kids” of today think Neil Diamond is cool, where stories of how their mum and dad brought them up on his music. Look around at the audience when attending his show, and you will see a whole spectrum of age groups, this is highlighted fabulously by the DVD of his Hot August Night/NYC concert at Madison Square Garden 2008, the camera pans around the arena, and you see all the “young things” shaking their booty and all in time to the music, it is fantastic and a sight to behold.
Recent albums 12 songs, Home Before Dark, and Melody Road, have seen Neil rediscover his muse, personally I don’t think he ever lost it, buried beneath the demands of output above quality, lyrically, these albums contain some of the finest songs Neil has written in a long time, 'Hell Yeah' can sit alongside
'I Am ... I Said' as modern autobiographical song. 'If I Don’t See You Again', is a masterpiece of not just songwriting, but storytelling as well, and 'Nothing But A Heartache' from his most recent offering is one of those majestic Neil Diamond power ballads.
As Neil Diamond plans and contemplates this latest tour, no doubt he will reflect on his life and career, and what it has bestowed upon him, the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens. He is a perfectionist. In a recent interview he stated, nothing will be left to chance, there will be no song unsung, these concerts will be worthwhile, for myself and for the fans, we are still on this (musical) journey, where anything is possible.
If this is to be Neil’s last hurrah, he will make it memorable, that’s for sure, for me, as a fan, I would say it has been a wonderful ride, and thank Neil Diamond for making us all believers.