DIE-HARD FANs STILL SUPPORT LEGENDARY SINGER


DIE-HARD FANs STILL SUPPORT LEGENDARY SINGER
JASON BRACELIN
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Preview

Neil Diamond

8 p.m. today

MGM Grand Garden Arena, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South

$59.50-$190.75 (891-7777)

Still one of the top touring acts, Neil Diamond grossed more than $81 million on the road in 2008.
Photo by The Associated Press

He shaved the mustache, styled the hair and became a new old(er) man.

He entered a world of song and sequined jumpsuits that sparkled like his muse’s surname.

It started in 1978 in Detroit.

“What happened was a friend invited me to a Neil Diamond concert,” says Michigan native Jay White, who now resides in Las Vegas. “I went and listened to this guy perform, and I thought, ‘Boy, he feels the way I feel about life and the world and relationships and all of these things that he sings about.’ I became an instant fan.”

Five years later, White altered his appearance and began performing as a Diamond impersonator in a hometown club, 20 years to Diamond’s junior.

He thought the gig would last a few months.

It’s lasted 25 years.

This is but one testament to the passion and fervor of the Diamond fan base, which practically has become its own subculture.

The man has one of the most rabid followings in all of music, which manifests itself in a huge online community, packed arenas and stadiums and a collection of Diamond merchandise that could fill half-a-dozen Wal-Marts.

Hit eBay, and you can find Diamond coffee mugs, replica sequined shirts, magnetic refrigerator calendars, vanity license plates, dinnerware and signed, artist-proof action figures (a steal for $395), among piles and piles of more Diamond memorabilia.

At the “I Am … I Said A Fan of Neil Diamond” Web site (iaisnd.com), fans swap stories of the first time they saw Diamond in concert and pen poetry in honor of their idol.

“Despite misunderstandings / Which hurt until I cry / I’ll always love Neil Diamond / Until the day I die,” a Diamond die-hard named ShirleySue writes in her poem “Why I’m Still A Neil Diamond Fan.”

Diamond’s audience spans the globe and is unwavering in its loyalty.

“I think I am the only fan to travel over 10,000 miles to see a Neil Diamond tribute,” says Ambrose O’Shea, 57, a Dublin-based Diamond fan since 1970, who has seen him perform 23 times and claims to have the largest Diamond memorabilia collection in Ireland. “I traveled from Dublin to San Diego to see (impersonator) David J. Sherry and then to Vegas to see Jay White.”

Though Diamond’s been performing since the ’60s, he remains one of the top concert draws, his current tour coming in at No. 7 among the top 10 grossing tours of 2008, having earned more than $81 million.

“His concerts are like a family reunion of many cultures and ages,” says Eric Smith, 39, of Indianapolis, who does his own Diamond tribute show. “He interacts with the audience, practically brings fans onstage with him as he sings.”

Adds White: “You get the feeling that when you’re watching him, he’s not just singing the words for the 10,000th time, he’s feeling the lyrics every time he sings these songs. I think that’s one of the things that draws people to him.”

Diamond’s tunes gush with sentimentality like a punctured beer keg, with a catalog of hits that’s akin to a public diary reading. His voice is like a pat of margarine on a stack of hotcakes — warm, smooth, familiar, inviting — with a naked emotiveness that resonates with his audience as if he were some old college roommate that they’ve known for much of their lives.

“It’s as if he watches my life and writes songs,” says Ray Kurian, a lifelong Diamond fan who lives in Kansas City, Mo. “I’m a metalhead at heart, but Neil’s music just puts me in a happy place. I come home from a long day at work and put Neil on and drift away.”

At the end of the day, the best pleasures tend to be the simplest, and Diamond’s direct, unadorned songcraft puts on few airs or pushes too hard against its bounds.

It is what it is, and for the ever-swelling legions of Diamond devotees, that’s enough.

“I think that’s one of those intangibles that you can’t really put your finger on it, certain groups have it, whether it be Kiss or Neil Diamond,” White says of Diamond’s larger-than-life fan base. “They have a huge following that is just there for them. No matter what.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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