Now that the Beautiful Noise musical is out there (and receiving mixed reviews), I wonder if any diehard Neil fans on here have any further insight to the meaning of the ‘chair’ in ‘I Am I Said’?
Now, I want to be up-front here and say that I have not yet seen the musical because I live outside the US and UK. However, I have always loved the song IAIS and have often pondered the deeper meaning of the song, and in particular the reference to the ‘chair’.
Some critics and audience members have commented that the script seems to lack purpose, and the theme of the show lacks direction, and that the show is well, rather dull (apart from the great and familiar songs the audience come to hear). Their main complaint seems to be the banality and tedium of the psychotherapy sessions in the musical with some wondering why they were ever included in the first place in a ‘jukebox’ musical. However, surely the main theme of the show is the older Neil’s sessions with the psychotherapist and his lifelong battle with bouts of depression and how this relates to Neil’s life and career?
Moreover, doesn’t the older Neil in the show (Mark Jacoby) sing ‘I Am I Said’? And doesn’t Jacoby change the lyric to the following:
‘I was lost and I just couldn’t say why’ (first chorus ending)
‘I was lost, and now I think I know why’ (second chorus ending)
This is extremely revealing:
This would have been done with Neil’s approval and implies that in later life Neil has finally understood himself and found peace. If true, this is wonderful. Did Neil go back into therapy in recent years, and did a better therapist finally help him understand the root of his depression and self-doubt?
So, my question here is do any of us have any further insight into the much-maligned reference to the ‘chair’? I know this has been discussed periodically on this board over the years, but do any of us have any further insight now? I have always leaned to the idea of the chair being the psychotherapist’s chair, and that Neil felt that even psychotherapists could not understand him. That said, I always had a nagging doubt that the reference could just have been a chair in the room Neil was in at the time of writing, or even that it had a greater religious meaning if the ‘I AM’ was a cry to God and that the chair was God’s throne. The Judaeo-Christian references in ‘Holly Holy’ (Holy, holy, holy and The Song of Songs etc.) should not be overlooked in this regard.
However, at the risk of overthinking this, given the running theme of the psychotherapy sessions in the musical, and those big armchairs on the set with the therapist analyzing the lyrics of the Diamond songbook, and the fact that Jacoby’s version of IAIS implies a newfound sense of self-awareness, I am even more inclined to now believe that the reference to ‘chair’ was indeed a metaphor for the psychotherapist’s chair. Did Neil’s earlier counseling leave him feeling unheard, misunderstood and ‘lonely still’ and, most pertinently, still unable to say why?
Now, if this is true, I do not agree with the critics or some audience members that the theme of psychoanalysis in the musical was misplaced or over-emphasized. Neil Diamond could not possibly have written all those great songs people still love to hear today without possessing those ‘Forever in Blue Genes’. The therapy sessions absolutely had to be the central theme of the show and introspective songs like ‘Solitary Man’, ‘Shilo’, and ‘Brooklyn Roads’ had to be included if Neil’s story was to be told.
It would be interesting to hear other people’s views on this – in particular whether we now have any more clarity on the ‘chair’ – if only to counter arguments that the line is one of the worst in pop history!
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Letter from Neil re Beautiful Noise musical.
Hi Benny. Someone posted this a couple of days on another Neil board, and while he doesn’t specifically mention ‘the Chair’ he does talk a little about his psychotherapy – and it’s a good read.