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JOHN: – You look great on that Harley, I saw you on television
NEIL: – Oh lord yes, it’s heaven, we’re in the middle of the harbour right in front of the Opera house, sitting on a motor cycle
JOHN: – I’ve got to tell the people, I said to Neil a moment ago when the commercial was on “I saw you on a Harley, have you got a Harley back home” he said “I’ve got a few of them” so he’s not sure how many there might be there, I’ve got one and I love it
NEIL: – It’s easier to have one, I have three of them, and I use them for different things
JOHN: – are you much into material possessions?
NEIL: – no, not really, I think my bikes are the only personal possessions I have, come to think of it
JOHN: – did you find the more mature you got, because we won’t talk about getting older, the more mature you got the less likely you are to collect material things, that in fact you might want to shed a few
NEIL:- Oh yes, I think that’s true, there’s a lot of excess baggage that you collect during your life, and I think when you get a little older and a little wiser, you just dump off the stuff that is meaningless, and hang on to the stuff that you really care about
JOHN:- do you do that mentally as well as physically?
NEIL:- that’s a good question, I think it’s probably true also, you learn some things along the way, kind of makes your life simpler as you go along
JOHN:- I think that probably we all reach a stage we really do believe we know it all, I think it comes at different times, it happens to some kids at twelve, and sometimes it doesn’t happen to anybody at all, but I’ve watched people with some interest, as they get older shedding material possessions and simplifying life just as you say, but I’ve never really thought about whether they do it mentally as well as physically, but you probably do throw the trash out and try to keep the good stuff, or maybe you just get to a stage where you only remember the good stuff
NEIL:- that’s probably right, it’s merciful
JOHN:- how’s the Tennessee Moon album doing in America?
NEIL:- it’s doing wonderfully in America, and it’s doing great down here also thanks to you and a lot of other people
JOHN:- well it’s not thanks to me, it’s thanks to you, you made it
NEIL:- it was my pleasure that’s what I do
JOHN:- the songs are fabulous, I was listening to it early this morning ” Marry me ” is a wonderful song, there’s just not a bad song in there, do you have a favorite?
NEIL:- well, I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say ” Talking Optimist Blues” because it makes me giggle whenever I hear it, it’s a fun song
JOHN:- how many truisms in that lyric?
NEIL:- pretty much all of it’s true, except my dog didn’t die, and I ‘m happy for that
JOHN:- did your girl steal your VCR?
NEIL:- (chuckling) no but she did steal a motor cycle, it just didn’t rhyme.
JOHN:- because I was going to say, if that’s all she took it seems like you got off light
NEIL:- (chuckling) you’re right, comes to think of it
JOHN:- do they want to put you on 60 mins?
NEIL:- they actually did put me on 60mins here, I wonder if they did it because I included that in the song, but it’s a great fear of all artists, you know, who’ve become over blown and celebrities, that somebody will catch them, and find out who they really are, and find they are just normal human beings with the same foils
JOHN:- well, it’s strange you should say that, I had exactly that discussion with a journalist the day before yesterday, it seems to me, that sometimes people want to complicate uncomplicated people, they can’t believe that you’re just having a good time, making some money, riding a motor bike, writing some songs or maybe just doing whatever you want to do, without being mentally retarded, or inwardly suffering, or mildly suicidal, are they like that in America, are they seeking out things they want to find, and can’t believe you can be that easy to get along with?
NEIL:- yeah, I think that’s human nature to look and to find what really makes this person tick if their interested at all, and it’s usually the same thing as what makes everybody tick, close friends, family, just good times, hard work, it’s pretty common to everybody
JOHN:- I think it is a desire for acceptance, a desire to succeed, two pretty important things that we all need. When I looked at the list of things you’ve done, and over the years you’ve done them, people said to me you’ve got to ask him about the down time, was there ever really a down time?
NEIL:- I don’t think so, although in the early 70’s I took some time off from performing in public appearances, there was about four years I guess you could call it a down time, for me it was an up time, because I learnt a lot about myself, I got very close to my son Jesse, it was really a good time for me, but it was a slow time professionally, because I was trying to pull my personal life together
JOHN:- after Hot August Night did you feel wrung out, I mean after you created all that stuff, and that was pretty amazing stuff did you feel wrung out at the end of that?
NEIL:- I think I did a little bit, we did the Hot August Night shows, then I did a show on Broadway for about a month or so, and that was it for me I was totally exhausted, I knew I was going to stop at that point and there couldn’t have been anything that would’ve pulled me on stage again for a while, I was a little wrung out and needed that time off
JOHN:- so what did you do in that period?
NEIL:- basically nothing, which was a new experience for me, because I’d been pushing and working continually round the clock to establish my career, to establish myself, and for the first time I had the chance to do nothing, which to me is a chance just to sit back and read a book, or take my bike for a spin, spend some time with my kids, basic stuff which I hadn’t been able to do before, so that’s what I did concentrated on nothing
JOHN:- did you ever feel well hang on I’d better do something here, because this can’t last forever?
NEIL:- well I did, I thought I would take off for a year, I enjoyed the thing so much it stretched to 2 years, then 3 years, and the I thought well I’m ready to get back and throw myself back into I don’t know what you’d call it, get into the rat race again, and so it was 4 years before I actually made any public appearances, but I did get itchy after about three years
JOHN:- after that three-year period did you have a problem making public appearances again; did you feel nervous about doing it?
NEIL:- no it was actually easier, because I learned a lot about myself over that period of time, I’d become more at ease with myself, and it was more fun, less stressful for me to get on stage for some
reason, I’m not really sure why but just the distancing from it for a few years, I came back and it was wonderful
JOHN:- are you a disciplinarian, if you decide that your going to do Tennessee Moon for example, it requires however many songs 20 or 21, do you discipline yourself to write a song a day, a week, do you set a target or does it just happen?
NEIL:- I’ve never really worked on that kind of schedule before, this album was different we did schedule writing sessions with some of the top writers in Nashville, I usually have a deadline in mind, I would like to have an album out at the end of the year, or in 18months it gives me some kind of format that I can work to and some kind of schedule that I can work around, but I don’t ever go in saying I have to write a song today, I mean I’d like to write a song when you sit down to work or start a song at least, it’s very loose, you know, you leave it up to the muses the inner things in my mind, in my heart and they express themselves when they want to and when the time is right, and I just try to leave a fertile ground for it
JOHN:- I remember when I talked to you before, I think you may have told me that Sweet Caroline was written in the back of a car, another thing was written when you were watching your baby boy, when he was a baby boy, so does a line come upon you, does a hook come upon you or does a melody come upon you?
NEIL:- well, it’s usually a line, a title for a song which is basically the idea of the song, if it’s interesting enough it’s worthwhile to follow, but melody to me and rhythm are usually the first things that come to mind in writing a song, and I’ll sit down with a guitar or at the piano and just fool around, I never really force myself to take it seriously and put on a game face, I’m just playing and sometimes you’ll find something very special, a piece of music you haven’t done before or that you haven’t heard before and use that as a starting point or I will anyway, and hope that grows into a complete song from a little snatch of a melody or a lyric
JOHN:- so you hear a nice little piece of music in your mind?
NEIL:- or at the piano or guitar, yes that’s right
JOHN:- do you put words to that little piece of music?
NEIL:- make believe words, just dummy lyrics just so that there’s a syllable for every note
JOHN:- I see so you just start with any old thing?
NEIL:- Yes, foolishness, so that you can just start somewhere it’s just a foothold and sometimes if you leave your mind open it becomes a stream of consciousness, and those lines your putting in remain there because they are probably the most truthful and they’re probably right, it happens a lot with things you want to fill in the melody, turn out to be what you really want to say
JOHN:- do you physically commit that to paper, do you pick up a pen and paper?
NEIL:- Yes, I actually do it then you know it’s a start, starting the song is the most unpredictable because you don’t know whether you’ll have an idea musically or lyrically, once you’ve started it and then it’s just work, there’s no unpredictability about it if you have the melody that you like, you have an idea that you like and want to write, you can go from there that’s always the unpredictable thing, whether you can come up with something that motivates you to do all this work for sometimes weeks and weeks to complete a song
JOHN:- what’s more rewarding, the writing of a song or the performing of the song?
NEIL:- Well I think for me the writing is a very rewarding kind of form of expression I’m not sure exactly why, I think ego has something to do with it, you feel as though you ‘re creating something that’s beautiful and that’s always a good feeling, but I do for pure fun, there’s nothing like the performance, you don’t have to be self conscience, you don’t have to look at it again, you do it, you do it the best you can and you have as much fun as possible and the it” over, then it’s gone
JOHN:- are you ever-self conscience?
NEIL:- very rarely, very rarely, I find it’s a hindrance to a performance
JOHN:- it must be difficult not to be, I would have thought for the ego the performing would have been better with all those adoring fans and actually hearing the applause not for what you’ve written but for what you’ve just performed
NEIL:- well, it’s different, it’s fun to me the performance is pure enjoyment and the writing, the creating of the material is very intense work and the performing is a lot easier than writing. I’ve been
singing since I was 10years old, for me to get up on stage and sing is nothing, it’s like falling off a log for me
JOHN:- out of all the songs that you’ve written were there some that just never really turned out the way you wanted them too, I mean, there must be a lot set aside some place
NEIL:- I have some songs that are still in my drawer and uncompleted and may remain uncompleted forever, and some will be completed it happens, you start a song with idea that you like, and it just somewhere halfway through you just tire of it, it just doesn’t hold up the fascination doesn’t hold up to when you first started it, and my tendency is to just leave it and go on to something else, and so I do have a bunch of those unfinished songs around
JOHN:- do you know how many songs you’ve written?
NEIL:- not really, no I’ve never counted, hundreds and hundreds but that’s all I know
JOHN:- do you write songs with specific people in mind?
NEIL:- do you mean other artists?
JOHN:- no, just people
NEIL:- yes and usually that person is me even though I may not be fully conscience that I’m writing story and my own feelings when I look at it, when the song is completed and I look at it or I sing it I realize it’s me and that’s always been a real insight for me to get to learn about myself through the music
JOHN:- you couldn’t have been Sweet Caroline
NEIL:- no I couldn’t have been, and nobody else was for that matter. Just a name that came to me that fit the melody, you know, the rest is history I guess
JOHN:- the same with Cracklin’ Rosie?
NEIL:- Cracklin’ Rosie came from a story I heard when I was playing in Canada, a story of a tribe of Indians were on a reservation there, and there were more men than women on this reservation and on Saturday nights the men without dates would go out and get themselves a large bottle of very cheap wine called Crackling Rose and that would be their woman for the night and I thought it was a wonderful story really, that’s how Cracklin’ Rosie came about
JOHN:- well, what about Solitary Man?
NEIL:- Solitary Man was a kind of sub conscience thing I didn’t realize I was talking about myself but it was a song that I’d written, worked on in the hopes that Bobby Darin would sing it, this was back in 1965, and I remember taking the demo and the leaf sheet in a cab in New York going over to his record office, about halfway there I asked the cab driver to pull over and stop, because I realized I didn’t want him to sing it, I wanted to sing it, then I got out of the car and walked back to my office, and that was the end of my writing career and the beginning of my performing career
JOHN:- other songs that you’ve recorded, that have worked, there are songs that in the minds of many including me, nobody else could have sung them anyway, you were a professional song writer weren’t you?
NEIL:- well I thought I was, I wasn’t making a living at it, you know, I called myself a professional
JOHN:- you can’t imagine anybody else singing Solitary Man now, you can’t imagine anybody else singing Cracklin’ Rosie
NEIL:- well that’s good, I heard cover versions of Solitary Man, Chris Isaac did a beautiful job on it, no, there is lots of other good singers around that can do this material
JOHN:- Longfellow Serenade has got to be one of the most memorable of the songs you’ve written mostly because of the lyrics, a wonderful lyric and tremendously sensitive song, where did that come from?
NEIL:- well, when I was in college I used to write poems to the girls to ask them out, I didn’t have the nerve to do it directly, and Longfellow Serenade is a kind of about that story about someone who writes poetry and tries to woo his woman, through words and images
JOHN:- if there was one song that really created the turning point in your career and there must have been a dramatic turning point, what was it?
NEIL:- well, I’d have to say Solitary Man, because it was my first chart record ever and there’s a big difference between knocking around on the streets and knocking on doors and trying to get your music heard and being on the charts with one of your songs, and although it wasn’t a huge hit it was enough to open the door a little bit, and it was the beginning of my singing career, it’s probably the most important song of my career
JOHN:- you’ve seen music as such and recording as such take a lot of changes in the period of time you’ve been performing, you haven’t been influenced enough obviously to take those changes fortunately which has proved to be the right thing to do, but for better or worse the changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years
NEIL:- I don’t know, I can’t say that I’ve been swept away by the music that I’ve heard, you keep waiting for the Beatles to come back or something really marvellous to happen but there are pockets of talented people and groups still around, but generally the music I think is reflective of what’s going on in society, the world has more of an edge to it now, it’s a little bit harder and tougher than it was maybe when I started more innocent times and I think the music has that edge, it’s not my cup of tea I don’t like angry music, I like music to uplift and make you feel good and so I’m happy that I’m writing what I am writing
JOHN:- if music is depicting the way of the world it would appear that the world is not in terrific shape if you pay much attention to some of that rap music
NEIL:- rap is very angry music it’s political in a way and I can see were it’s important music but it’s not the kind of music that lifts me up and inspires me, makes me want to go out and make me feel hope for the future
JOHN:- did you have a terrific time in Nashville?
NEIL:- it was wonderful because Nashville is a songwriters city being a songwriter I got more respect than I deserved, the people couldn’t have been nicer, they welcomed me with open arms and I had the best time down there and I think the number of songs, the quality of the songs on the Tennessee Moon album really are reflective of that, you can’t come up with good music in a negative kind of situation
JOHN:- you got with some pretty wild people, that Waylon likes to have a good time
NEIL:- well, he did like to have a good time, he’s getting older and wiser, we’ve known each other for 25 years and he’s just one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, he’s a cowboy poet I love the way he sings and he was my first choice to do a duet with on this album
JOHN:- you’ve bought the best out in Waylon I don’t think he’s ever sounded better, he did a thing with Barbara Mandrell once called “Angels Love Badmen” on which he sounds terrific, but he sounds fantastic on “One Good Love”
NEIL:- I agree he’s a wonderful singer one of my favorites. I don’t know, it was just a shot in the dark to try to do it with him because we both have kind of similar voices we both sing in the same range, we didn’t know how it would come out, but I’m very pleased with the way “One GoodLove”
did come out
JOHN:- the extraordinary one is Chet Atkins must be in his seventies and still playing a guitar like a 17year old or better
NEIL:- marvelous, he’s an original, he’s completely self taught and I remember clearly being 16years old and looking through the guitar catalogues and looking through the Chet Atkins models of all the guitars and just dreaming some day, you know, I’d be able to afford one of those guitars and here I was on the stage with him in Nashville actually performing with him playing behind me, it was kind of a little bit like I imagine heaven to be, it couldn’t have been more perfect
JOHN:- any misgivings about doing duets because they do seem to becoming perhaps over fashionable, you did a very successful one with Barbra Streisand you probably set the standard with that one, but did you have any worries with it?
NEIL:- you know, after I did ” You don’t bring me flowers” with Barbra I stayed away from duets intentionally because it was and enormous success, I didn’t want anything to be second fiddle to it, Barbra and I actually tried a couple of songs after that which neither of us loved we just agreed unless we absolutely loved the song we wouldn’t try it again, but after a number of years there were some people that I did want to sing with and I like to do duets occasionally, I really don’t want to make a career out of it, but occasionally when the chemistry is right it’s a beautiful thing
JOHN:- is there anybody you’d like to do a duet with that you haven’t been able to yet?
NEIL:- you know I really did try to sing with Sinatra unfortunately on the Duets two album really all we did was get the tape of Frank Sinatra singing go into the recording studio and sing along with it, but there was one song that he did that I wanted to do on it I remember it from when I was a child about religious tolerance, racial tolerance I just jumped on it for that reason I wanted to sing that song, I wish I’d have been with Frank Sinatra in the studio, but secondarily I would have done it anyway the song was important it’s called “The House I live In” and I’ve remembered it from my childhood
JOHN:-what about Willie Nelson the world has sung with Willie, would you like to do a duet with Willie?
NEIL:- he’s wonderful, he’s one of the great country artists maybe just artists generally of our time, but Waylon was my guy, if I was going to sing with some guy Waylon was the one he’s one of my favourite singers of all time
JOHN:- is your musical taste reasonably Catholic do you like the classical music as well as the kind of music you are involved with, country music you obviously have a passion for
NEIL:- I like pretty much all forms of music there hasn’t been a form that I’ve heard that I didn’t find something interesting about or something I liked about it, whether it’s an exotic form of music from Thailand, country music or classical there is always something about it, even rap, which is not my cup of tea it offers a very strong and very raw political statement it attracts me for that reason
JOHN:- if you put on a CD in the car what would you put on?
NEIL:- usually my last album or some songs that I’m practicing for the stage
JOHN:- so it’s mostly work in a way?
NEIL:- it’s mostly work, yeah
JOHN:- what about reading, do you read a lot?
NEIL:- when I have time I read a lot right now I’m in the mode of where I’m collecting books for that period of time that I take off I will be doing some reading
JOHN:- the stuff you like, is it biographical stuff, novels?
NEIL:- I love biographies, I read a lot of biographies, especially entertainers, just to see what life was like way back and how they did it, how they handled it, you know, there are no guide books for performers you kind of feel your way around. I love science books and non-fiction, history in a sense maybe through the eyes of somebody, recent history. I’m pretty broad as far as the books I think it depends on how well it’s written, I’ve read enough to know that some of the most boring subjects, take geology for example which I did very poorly at in college and hated until I found a writer named John McPhee wrote about geology in the most fascinating way, I got hooked I’ve read everything he’s written and he makes the dullest, coldest, boring subjects you’d ever want to know, it’s fascinating
JOHN:- are you going to write your book?
NEIL:- I don’t know, I’ve thought about on and off over the years whether I have a book in me whether I want to write a book, I kind of think maybe someday I will, not right now, for now the song is everything, it says everything
JOHN:- and for now a few performances by the look of the list in front of me, your going to be doing a lot of work while you’re here
NEIL:- I’m looking forward to it, before I go I have this for you it’s an award from Sony music for you for your support of their artists and music generally you are a bedrock of musical love right here this is particular is for the Tennessee Moon album, it’s ‘ beautiful plaque, I hope you enjoy it
JOHN:- thank you I accept it with a great deal of pride, I never expected Neil Diamond would be presenting me with an award.