Hot August Night (8-19-75)
This interview is a portion of a programme entitled, “Neil Diamond On A Hot August Night.” It was broadcast over KNX-FM in Los Angeles on August 19th, 1975.
(Instrumental music of Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show plays……)
Good evening, this is Steve Marshall. Two years ago KNX-FM broadcast the first in a series of music specials; a two hour long commemoration of Neil Diamond’s record breaking concert at the Greek Theatre in August of 1972. Now, in 1975, that concert remains a textbook example of concert showmanship. And the KNX-FM special based on that concert remains today the most popular of any of the music specials we have presented since. Tonight KNX-FM is presenting an encore performance of that special. Much of the interview portion of this programme is from that original special. However, in the interest of topicality, we met with Neil Diamond again a few days ago and recorded some new interview material which has been included in tonight’s show. Neil Diamond On A Hot August Night is sponsored in part by Farmer John and by Olympia Beer.
In a few short years Neil Diamond progressed from a moderately successful songwriter churning out hits for The Monkees to one of the most influential people in contemporary music, both as a performer and as a writer. And while it has been three years since he has appeared on a concert stage, Neil Diamond’s record sales are sufficient proof that he’s maintaining that position of pre-eminence in the music business. We’ll be hearing the music that led him to the Greek Theatre stage 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 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 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 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 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 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 stunned Neil Diamond fans 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. But that year stretched into two and then three and still no concert tour. We asked him why.
ND: Well you know I had planned to go out and do some shows during that period of time but it seemed that every time that I was ready to go out … ah … some interesting project, writing project or album project, came up and … ah … I “hada”, I “hada” (had to) put the .. ah … performing thing on the back burners. And also it’s so difficult to really plan how long it’ll take you to write something or to record something. I remember with .. ah … Jonathan Seagull I thought that … ah .. well it really wouldn’t take that long, it would, might take me three, four, five months but … ah … and I started early hoping that I would finish it early and it took almost a year to complete that work. So … um … I got caught in kind of a bind in each of those situations where in order to really do it right there was much more time involved than I thought originally. So, because of that, it’s been difficult to plan any concerts. And also I wanted very much to make sure that when I went out and did some concerts that I would have some new things, some interesting ideas to present on stage and it was one of the things that I kept in the back of my mind. Ah … at this point, I think I have … ah … enough interesting things to really go out and do beautifully on stage. So I think that after this project that I’m working on now is finished, I’m gonna start setting in plans to do … ah … ah … a major worldwide kind of a tour. I’m getting kind of itchy to do it, you know… Performing is … ah … very special. It’s the most fun thing you can do. I’m anxious to do it. So … I think as soon as this project is finished and I expect it to … I’ll finish writing by the end of this August, and the recording will run til early October, after that point I’m gonna start seriously blocking out times and places and … ah … really put together a super concert presentation.
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 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 for the concert 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.
Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night concert was recorded by MCA Records and released on the Uni label. However, the performance you are about to hear on KNX-FM was taped directly from the 16-track Master from which the record was later pressed. Consequently, you’ll be hearing the concert in the full stereo brilliance in which it was originally performed. Now, let’s go back in time, it’s 1972. On stage at the Greek Theatre are the ten musicians who made the tour with Neil. And behind them a forty piece orchestra under the direction of Lee Holdridge. Members of the audience are fanning away the heat with their programmes and waiting for Neil Diamond. But all activity ceases as the orchestra plays the first notes of the overture……
This is KNX-FM Los Angeles. You just heard the entire Neil Diamond Hot August Night concert complete and uninterrupted. The programme continues with Neil Diamond in conversation following this message.
At the conclusion of the Greek Theatre engagement, Neil Diamond capped his tour with its most dramatic success, The Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway in New York. The show was produced by The Shuberts, their first presentation of a one-man show since Al Jolson in 1931. Then in total triumph, Neil Diamond made good his word and went into professional seclusion. After signing a 5 million dollar contract with Columbia Records, he produced his first album, the soundtrack for the film, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. While the film itself suffered at the hands of the critics as well as at the Box Office, its soundtrack album sold over 2 million copies, the highest selling soundtrack album in Columbia Record’s history. It was followed by Serenade, another resounding hit album for Neil Diamond. Yet a recent issue of Rolling Stone quoted an associate of Neil’s as saying that Neil is “anxious to get back to his old groove after all this crap, specifically Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Serenade.” We asked Neil if this was truly reflective of his own attitudes towards that work.
ND: No, it isn’t…I don’t-don’t really know who said that but … ah … the whole writing thing is a…is a learning process and … ah … every time you-you write a song or a line or a melodic structure … ah … every time I write an album or work with somebody new it’s … ah … I-I look at it purely as a learning process and kind of an experimental thing. And … ah … no, I’ve learned a great deal from, from the last few projects I’ve worked with … ah … Jonathan Seagull was-was, you know, like going to … ah … college for me … it was, every, every day was completely new, I’d never done any of it before an-and it was an exciting experience. No, I don’t regret any of that for a minute…it was…I learned a great deal from it … and what I did learn will keep me in good stead in the music that I write from this point on.
SM: We asked him whether he would still be interested in doing another film score.
ND: Yea I enjoyed doing that film. I’d like to do more occasionally. I don’t want to do it too often. But … ah … the Jonathan Seagull was such a-an unusual kind of interesting, offbeat project that it was the kind of thing that you just had to say, “My God, I don’t know what I can do with it but it sure sounds interesting.” Basically it was a kind of poetic story, the film itself which I had seen originally was … ah … just majestic and extraordinary ‘n’ beautiful and I felt well this is a real opportunity to see if I can write some original music to some rather exceptional film. And … ah … I’ll definitely do films again. But, of course, the project and the idea has to be such that you can get excited about it and really wanna devote yourself to it.
SM: This brought us to his current project.
ND: Yea, it’s kind of an interesting … ah … project for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m working with someone who … ah … I’ve known for a while but … ah … we’ve never worked together. His name is Robbie Robertson. And he’s well known to people as the creative force, one of the main creative forces, behind The Band and … ah … Robbie’s … ah … very kind of a special person. We’ve been meeting now for the last … ah … two or three months sketching out ideas and talking about this thing. And I’ll be writing the songs and performing and Robbie will be producing the music, producing the album. And … ah … it’s a, it’s an exciting project working with new people. We’ll be working out at this studio in-in Malibu and it’s a special story. It has lots of songs and music, naturally, but … ah … I think the experience of working with Robbie; working again in a story form and also the story, the nature of the story itself, I don’t want to talk too much about it because … ah … I just like to conserve it until it’s finished and then-then put it out but … ah … it’s an interesting story, it-it’s a story of myself and a hundred other songwriters that I’ve known over my life and … ah … it’s about songwriters and … ah … coming up and the experiences that they have. It’s a, it’s a concept that I can draw from … ah … from a lot of experience because I spent a lot of time knocking around and knocking on doors and meeting people and … and … experiencing things that … ah … most people don’t … ah … get a chance to come in contact with. And that’s essentially what the album will be about. Ah … the songs are … um … most of them are-are in the completion stage now. I’ll have them finished in the next four or five weeks and … ah … they’re really kind of special … ah … very happy with them … and ah … I’m anxious to hear what the album sounds like myself.
SM: We asked whether this next album would represent a radically different Neil Diamond in terms of writing or performing style.
ND: Well, in a sense every album is-is new, it shows a new part of you, it … ah … it-it shows what you’ve learned in the interim from the last album that you put out. Radically different? No. But different, yes. Every-Everything that I’ve done is-has become different in very small steps, in very small stages, they … don’t forget it took ten years to … ah … to go from Cherry, Cherry to … ah … Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So, it all happens in very small stages where you-where you’re learning and constantly learning an-and putting it into … ah … into use in the work that you’re doing at this particular point. And … ah … this particular album, the songs … ah … well, they’ll be kind of a-a, kind of a representation of everything I’ve learned before this point.
SM: We couldn’t help asking if Neil would have done anything different in the staging of the Greek Theatre concert looking at it from the comfortable vantage point of three years later.
ND: You know, I-I haven’t really looked back on it in that kind of a critical light. Ah … the Greek Theatre concert and … ah … the Hot August Night album and, as a matter of fact, that last tour that I did was … ah … was satisfying to me in a way that … ah … ah … I hadn’t experienced before that. Ah … no, there aren’t any changes that I would have made … ah … at that point although I’m-it’s three years ago and … ah … I have changed and … ah … um … my concerts and performances will represent that change when I go back onstage again. An-and you’ll see the difference the next time I’m on stage.
SM: So, although the Hot August Night is now a memory, Neil continues to grow and to create; to seek new avenues of expression in his music. The creative juices are indeed still flowing for Neil Diamond. We’ll return following this word.
(Instrumental music of Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show plays……)
You have been listening to a special program, a salute to Neil Diamond and his record-breaking concert at the Greek Theatre. We’d like to extend our thanks to MCA Records, to Totty Ames and most of all, to Neil Diamond himself for making this program possible. The show was sponsored in part by Olympia Beer and by Farmer John. Technical Supervision by Tony Kleeman (??????).
This is Steve Marshall, goodnight.
Music plays and fades.