Diamond is forever, I believe


IN MY OPINION

Diamond is forever, I believe

BILL POTEAT

Sometimes, a man just has to come clean.

So, here goes.

I’m a Neil Diamond fan. A big Neil Diamond fan. A huge Neil Diamond fan. Maybe the biggest Neil Diamond fan in the history of the world.

Being a Neil Diamond fan has never been cool, is not cool now, will probably never be cool. Even so, I’m a Neil Diamond fan.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when my friends were swinging with the Stones, getting down with the Grateful Dead, or grooving with Marvin Gaye, I was singing along with Neil.

Not cool.

But the words and music of the man from Brooklyn touched the heart of the boy from Drexel.

When Carolyn Nozzero broke up with me in the sixth grade because I wouldn’t kiss her in the dark space next to the storage room at Drexel Elementary, Neil was there to sustain me with “Solitary Man.”

Senior year at Drexel High was a confusing and troubled time as I juggled job, school, girlfriend and growing up. Neil sang, “I Am, I Said,” an anthem of loneliness and self-doubt, just for me.

If the mood was right for seduction — or rather bumbling, embarrassing, awkward attempts at seduction — “Play Me” provided the perfect background music.

When the time came to leave college, North Carolina, and small town life for the adventure of making my own path in the big and frightening city of Atlanta, Neil provided the perfect soundtrack with his homage to urban life, “Beautiful Noise.”

When the hostages were released from Iran in 1981 after more than a year of frustrating captivity, American patriotism soared, and Neil provided the perfect anthem to express those feelings, “America.”

And, when I was blessed with the birth of a daughter in the late winter of 1983, Neil provided the perfect name for this most perfect little girl — sweet Caroline, as in “good times never seemed so good — so good, so good!”

No, Neil Diamond has never been cool. But he has always been.

My first concert experience of Neil came at the Greensboro Coliseum in May 1977, just before my graduation from Chapel Hill. He was great on vinyl. He was even better live and in person.

No opening act. No flashy gadgetry or pyrotechnics. Just the man, his band and his music. And the music was always powerful stuff. Powerful enough to draw me back to other concerts in Atlanta, Greensboro and Charlotte.

Of course, it has been 25 years since the release of “America.”

Of course, it has been forever since Neil had a hit song played on mainstream radio.

And, of course, even the biggest of fans, including me, will admit that the songs written and recorded by Neil during the past two decades of his career have not been as enduring or as powerful as those of the first two decades.

Until now.

Now, Neil has just released a new CD. And it is truly something special.

Produced by rock impresario Rick Rubin, “12 Songs” is a remarkable musical statement by an artist who will turn 65 come January.

“Hell Yeah!” is a powerful affirmation of life and of love, perhaps best viewed as an older, wiser and more experienced extension of “I Am, I Said.”

“Delirious Love” features the same sort of stripped-down lyrics and driving guitar that powered “Cherry, Cherry” nearly 40 years ago.

“Evermore” is the best power ballad Neil has penned in decades.

It begins simply and haltingly, with just his voice and guitar, then soars to a powerful climax, filled with strings and horns and soaring synthesizers.

And my own favorite, a reflection perhaps of my own undying romanticism, is a paean to love that is mature, wounded and yet still passionate, “Oh Mary.”

So, there’s my confession. I’m a Neil Diamond fan. A huge Neil Diamond fan. Maybe the biggest Neil Diamond fan in the history of the world.

I know it’s not cool, has never been cool, will never be cool.

But as Neil grows older, and as I grow older with him, his music still moves me, soothes me, inspires me and touches my soul.

Next to all of that, cool just doesn’t seem that important.

Bill

Poteat

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Bill Poteat’s column appears on Sunday. Reach him at (828) 324-0055 or wlpoteat@yahoo.com

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