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It was a year ago. The air was thick and hot in Los Angeles; typical Southern California summer weather. Perfect for outdoor activities. But all the attention was focused on one particular outdoor event. The billboard had gone up several weeks before in a prominent Sunset Strip location. It said, “Neil Diamond In Concert 10 Days Only At The Greek Theatre.” Within a few short days after the board went up, it was slagged (?) “Sold Out”. But then that was to be expected.. For few people in the music business command the widespread respect and admiration that befalls Neil Diamond.
This is Steve Marshall. In this program we’ll be taking you back to that concert on a Hot August Night. We’ll be talking to Neil Diamond as he reminisces about one of the high points in his career, the Greek Theatre concert.
In a few short years Neil Diamond has progressed from a moderately successful songwriter churning out hits for The Monkees to the most influential force in contemporary music, both as a performer and as a writer. We’ll be hearing the songs that carried him along that road as we listen to Neil Diamond in concert. And we’ll return with Neil Diamond in conversation following this message….
The 1972 concert marked Neil Diamond’s second appearance at the Greek. We asked him if the Hot August Night was more special to him than his first appearance.
ND: I d-I don’t know if it was more special. I went back the second time really because I had such a …such an enjoyable time the first time. It was just the setting of the whole theatre … ah …from point of view of the performer … ah … it was … ah .. very refreshing to .. ah … to be outdoors … to ah … to know the audience was … ah … was outdoors. I had a very good experience the first time I was there and I-I wanted to come back and do it again just for my own enjoyment. The first time it was ..ah …was new and it was strange and it was a whole new experience for me. But … ah ..I did come back the second time because of the good experiences that we had the first time not only with the audiences but …ah … with the Greek Theatre which was … ah … just tremendous. You don’t always find that kind cooperation from a … ah … from the theatre that you’re working with and they just bent over backwards to help in an-any way we could. Ah … even so far as to .. ah … to, to bending a lot of the rules t-to allow people to go up into the hills and sit in the parking lots and … ah … I went back the second time just for my own enjoyment.
SM: Just prior to the opening Neil had an announcement for the press. Either the Tree People would be allowed to view the show or he wouldn’t perform. Today he remembers the Tree People fondly.
ND: Yea, it seems that … ah … when I was doing the Greek Theatre show they had sold out. And … ah … ah … from my experience the first year that I was there I knew there would be a lot of people wanted to get in weren’t able to get in…people who would, who willing to climb that mountain and sit on the hills and watch it which to me is the ideal way to watch that kind of a concert. First of all, you get in for FREE…and you’re able to sit under a bush somewhere and … ah … and ah … and break open a bottle of some nice white wine and and enjoy the whole thing. But …ah …they had so many people who were into that thing, they had the parking lots filled with people who just sitting on top of their cars and … ah … listening, this is what I understand, I didn’t see any of it…Ah … and also the hills surrounding the Greek were filled and I understand one night they had something like 5,000 people in the trees which was more than was in the … ah … audience. Ah … it was great fun for me because I couldn’t see any of them and yet we were relating to each other and talking back and forth, it was a big kick…and a big surprise too.
SM: But the Fire Department didn’t think it was such a great idea.
ND: Yea, um, we … ah … we knew that there would be some people there and the Fire Department from the year before was … ah … was loath to have that many people in the, in the hills because it’s a fire area but … ah … I-I had asked the Greek Theatre if they would put on extra fire people and permit them, permit the people to go up there and stand there and we worked something out ,they were very …ah … cooperative about the whole thing. And … ah … they did put extra fire people on and were very nice, the Fire Department was very good about it and … ah, ah … they did permit people to go up there with the extra guards and … ah … extra safeguards so worked out very well. Ya know, I wanted those people who weren’t able to get in to be able to hear the show and … ah … see as much of it as they could and … ah … it worked out well. Fire Department was … ah … cooperative and the Greek Theatre people were great. And … ah …it was able to work out, ya know, they got in as many people as they considered … ah … safe for the area.
SM: The Box Office response was so overwhelming that some people very close to Neil were unable to get seats, including his parents.
ND: They stood, actually. But they, they enjoyed it, they were walking around, and just kinda taking in the whole scene. And I think they enjoyed it more standing and walking around but I couldn’t get them seats…and … ah … I-I couldn’t get a lot of other close people seats. ‘Cuz there just were no seats to be had, we didn’t have any idea that there would be the kind of demand that there was.
SM: As you’ll be hearing in tonight’s concert the Greek appearance was design by Neil Diamond to represent a six-year retrospective of his music. His intention at that time was that this would be the last time that any of that particular music would ever be heard in concert. We asked Neil if he still feels that way.
ND: I’m not sure, ya know, I felt … ah … when, when I came back to the Greek the second year, which was last August, that this would, this would be it. It would be a retrospective of the work that I had done of the songs that I enjoyed most and that was the only real criteria that I used in determining which songs went into the performance. They were just the songs that I enjoyed the most, just the things I had written and recorded. Ah…but I did feel that I wanted to leave that period of time behind me and go on to the new music and … ah… the new work that I was preparing. Ah … my feeling now is that … ah … if and when I go back I would use some of the old things because they still remain in me and I still do enjoy them. Ah … by the time I-I got to the Greek this last year I was so … ah … wound up in … ah … with the tour that I had done that I-I really didn’t want to face any of that music again. But … ah … I-I would guess that I would do some of them again the next time not very many but some of them.
SM: As a retrospective, the Greek Theatre concert contained a great body of music from an earlier period of Neil’s writing career. The playbill itself commented that, “It’s been a long road from Cherry, Cherry to I Am I Said.” We asked Neil if he could recall any specific turning points that sent his music into a whole new direction.
ND: Well, there’s been a lot of turning points partly the fact that … ah … I-I’ve, I’ve grown older, I’ve mellowed, I’ve matured, my perspective on life, my attitude toward my writing and my work has developed and matured over the period of years and … ah … because of it, because I’ve matured as a person … ah … the music reflects that. Because in reality music is only a reflection of the person, of the writer, and … ah … I don’t like to do things that I’ve done in the past. I don’t like to do things again and again. I’d much prefer to do it different or new or fresh for my own enjoyment again. There’ve been many turning points. Ah … my own attitude, my own growth … ah … the fact that the, …ah … the acceptance from the point of view of the music business after The Beatles … ah … has broadened, in so far as what an artist could do. Ah …up to the point that The Beatles came out it was very, very static and … ah … very structured. Ah .. and I’ve bridled at that and The Beatles and the success that they demonstrated offered me the opportunity to say, “Wait, you can do other things; it need not be just this.” And … ah … that was very helpful to me and … ah … in-in getting my points across to the record companies that I was with.
SM: The music performed at the Greek was music written by Neil Diamond for Neil Diamond. Notably absent from the program were such songs as ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘A Little Bit You, A Little Bit Me’ (Note: Commentator has the title backwards). We asked Neil if that would indicate that those songs and others like them, all written for The Monkees in the mid-sixties, were not as meaningful to him.
ND: It’s been a while, I mean, the … ah … it was a long time. It was five or six years ago that … ah … The Monkees had recorded those songs. Actually …ah …those were songs that I had recorded myself and felt … ah … weren’t my best … ah …works and didn’t release myself. Um … yea, again I say the only criteria that I used as to what songs, what music would be performed in-in concert was that i-it still moved me … ah … I still … it still had the power to affect me, to … ah … to make me enjoy it; to make me get up to want to perform it and … ah … without even thinking about it or intellectualising on it. Ah … the things that I had written earlier, except for a few things like, ‘Solitary Man’ and maybe ‘Kentucky Woman’ or ‘Cherry, Cherry’ which I still enjoy … ah-ah … I-I left those earlier things in the past simply because they no longer had that … ah … effect on me, they didn’t…they didn’t…get my enthusiasm.
SM: Then came the news that made the faces of the Neil Diamond fans fall from coast to coast. Following his up=coming appearance at the Winter Garden in New York, the culmination of that tour, Neil Diamond would drop out of sight professionally for at least a year. We asked him what had brought him to that decision..
ND: Well, I-I had been on the road for a while; for a long time and … ah … I found … ah … and I had done this once before that you need time to get away from it. To rest from it because … ah … the road is very difficult and … ah … very draining and … ah … it takes a lot out of you. And because … ah … my first love and my first desire is to-to sustain the juices for the writing … ah … I felt that I would play the Greek Theatre and then do a few more dates and then go on to Broadway and then close it off at that point and take a-a year sabbatical or a two year sabbatical just to let my energy come back and let my juices start flowing again. Ah … I had done that once before ’bout three years or four years ago and I found it was very good for me. I started writing things that I had … ah … not conceived of before then because I was so much involved in the … ah … pace of the … ah … road work. And … ah … I felt that … ah … I needed that again. I needed time just to stop and let things kinda calm down and … ah … find my direction again and-and let those juices start flowing … and-and … I think it’s worked out well in that respect because if I was still on the road I would not have the time or the inclination to get into a project, such a large project, as … ah … Jonathan Seagull, which I have been in- writing for the last … ah … eight or nine months and just beginning now to get into the recording aspect of. Ah … it’s been very good for me and … ah … I have no regrets at all about that.
SM: We asked him if he’d worried about the effect a long layoff on his career.
ND: Well, I was aware of that … I-I’d been advised by friends and … ah … associates that … ah … it wasn’t a wise thing for me to … ah … to drop out of … ah … public view. Because I hadn’t done television in … ah … three or four years and … ah … and the performing thing was the only way that the public could come and see me do what I do. But my-my primary … ah … focus has always been that I keep my creative juices flowing and that I keep my head together and … ah … that I enjoy what I’m doing and … ah … that it not be a rat-race, that I not constantly try to appeal to … ah … sustain a level of public acceptance. Because I’ve always felt that the quality of the work would be the determining factor in that and so that’s the thing that I-I-I go after primarily. What must I do to-to keep myself and my juices flowing, feel good about the work that I do, feel enthusiastic about the work that I do and … ah … so that was the only real consideration. I felt that, yes, although it might hurt to some degree not to be seen in public for a while, the quality of the work would-would then compensate for it. From a- from a career point of view, I-I don’t know if it was a wise decision but for my own personal point of view I-I felt it was and I still do.
SM: That would seem to indicate that Neil Diamond thinks of himself as a songwriter first and a performer second.
ND: I’ve always thought of myself as a writer only because that’s what I started doing and … ah … I’ve been doing it for longer than any of the other things. Ah … fifteen or sixteen years and so it’s part of me, it’s really part of what I am. Ah … there’s no way, though, for me to separate which I enjoy most because they all have their own special gift that they give to me. The writing is very personal and … ah … very rewarding in a long run sense because there are songs that I have written five years ago that I can still enjoy today and still be moved by. Whereas performances are very, very temporary kind of exciting, like, fireworks, you know…spectacular and beautiful and … ah … exciting when it’s happening. But there’s not very much that I can take from it after. I remember now that I did play the Winter Garden Theatre; I remember I played the Greek Theatre; I remember I played … ah … Europe and … ah … some great places here in the United States. But … ah … it’s…it doesn’t sustain me as much. While it’s happening, it’s-it’s the most fantastic feeling in the world. But .. ah .. they each have their own little thing that they give to me. I-I wouldn’t want to eliminate any of them from my…let’s call it creative vocabulary…but … ah … they each have a place, ya know, and I have to in my own mind find that place and … ah … hope that it’s … ah … that they are … ah … consistent with my own happiness; with my own enjoyment and enthusiasm for my work.
SM: The Greek Theatre concert was almost the end of a long and exhausting tour for Neil Diamond and the fatigue showed. But somehow he brought forth the energy and the dynamics that made the Hot August Night the memorable occasion that it is. We asked him if he knew himself where this energy came from.
ND: Yea…fear. (You can hear people laugh in the background when Neil says this) Ah… well, you know it’s a funny thing, once you … ah … once you make a commitment and … ah … once you step on stage, there’s almost nothing that can-can stop you from … ah … from doing the performance the way you want to do it. Ah … you feel almost no pain; you feel almost no tiredness when you’re on stage. And … ah … ah it was a very exciting engagement, the Greek Theatre. I was tired; we had just completed a … ah … a very extensive European tour … ah … I’d been touring through the States and … ah … I was not in the best shape of my … ah … life but … ah … again, the fact that it was a stage, it was a very receptive audience, it was a very … ah … ah … enjoyable setting, all of these things made the adrenaline flow and … ah … and … ah … I-I didn’t feel any tiredness on stage.
SM: Watching the audience file into the Greek Theatre last August one was struck with the enormous variety of types who respond to the music of Neil Diamond. The ages range from pre-teenagers to couples in their 50s and 60s. Neil has some theories as to why he and his music appeal to such a broad spectrum.
ND: I’ll give you my own opinion for w-, for what it’s worth. It’s … ah … certainly not an objective op= … ah … opinion but …ah … I think it’s probably due to the fact that I-I identify and feel compassion for all of these people and it shows in the music; the style of music, the form of music and in my presentation .. ah … I’ve-I’ve never really, except in the beginning, except in the first few years, appealed to any specific age group. It’s music, it’s universal… ah … I like to think that my lyrics and my thoughts are universal and not limited to any specific age group. Ah … and probably for that reason you find such a-a broad audience out there. It’s been pretty true in most of the concerts that I’ve done all over the world … ah … very broad audiences and I like that. You know, at the beginning I felt that was … ah … a detriment because I didn’t really have an understanding of who I was appealing to and who the concert should be aimed at. But … ah … as it turned out … ah … as and as it evolved …ah … I never really tried to … ah … to aim the music at any one group. It was, it was music, it was, it was humanity in the form of music and … ah … it worked better for me because it’s more natural for me as a person.
SM: There’s no disputing that appeal, you’ll hear the ovations he got from that diverse audience at the Greek throughout the concert. And we’ll hear that concert in its entirety complete and uninterrupted right after this word.
It’s 1972…it’s a Hot August Night…It’s the Greek Theatre…It’s Neil Diamond.