By Mary Alice Blackwell
Published: December 4, 2008
Song sung blue. Everybody knows one or more of Neil Diamond’s greatest hits.
The man is a legend.
With more than 40 years in the music business, he has sold more than 125 million records. He owns a Grammy, a Golden Globe and 36 Top 40 hits.
What you may not know, is that Diamond never had the ace – an album to debut at the top of the charts.
Not until this year.
”Home Before Dark,” an intimate guitar-driven collection, went straight to No. 1 when it was released on May 6.
”Frankly, it came as a surprise to me when I was told that this was my first number one,” Diamond said. ”I thought I had one or two before this, so it’s nice to have that little milestone.”
But it’s the music, not numbers, that matter to the man who made the whole world sing.
”The songs themselves, I felt, had something important to say, and so I was pleased with that,” he said. ”That’s the main thing. It doesn’t do any good to have a number one record that stinks. I would much rather have a wonderful album. And for me, this is a wonderful album. I think it’s one of my best.”
Apparently his fans agree. Not only have they sent CD sales through the roof, they have turned out in droves to see his new concert.
Yes, Neil Diamond has been one of – if not the – No. 1-attended concert of 2008.
It has been so successful that he recently added a third leg to his North American tour, a move that will bring the famous crooner to the John Paul Jones Arena on Monday.
”Well, the first couple of legs were spectacular,” Diamond said. ”We started out in Europe and had one of the most successful European tours I have had in my career, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, when you play in Europe, it’s all exotic and every thing is new and different.”
The band took a couple of weeks off, then headed stateside. Then there was an unexpected break.
”I had to take a little break before we started this leg to recover from some laryngitis,” he said. ”Just for some reason, just lost my voice but I took the rest, I came back and the voice is as good as ever. So I’m enjoying this.
”I am looking forward to getting to the cities that we still have yet to play. … And so I look forward to this being a very productive and exciting tour. We want to present a great show and that’s our only goal.”
Expect some old favorites … along with a handful of newer works.
”Right now, we’re doing three songs from the new album, from ‘Home Before Dark’ – and they’re working very well,” he said. ”It’s always difficult to introduce brand new material to an audience. There is the tendency to [want to] hear something you know and are familiar with, but they are working very, very well.”
He also has been drawing the attention of a younger audience, as well as his longtime fans.
”Well, I’m not making any conscious attempt to attract younger people,” he said. ”I see it. I like it. I think it’s terrific.
”I’m just happy to have an audience at all …”
Maybe it’s Smash Mouth. Their 2001 cover of his ”I’m a Believer” grabbed a lot of younger fans’ attention.
Back in the day, ”Believer”’ grabbed a lot of attention of then young fans who were gaga over the Monkees. Yes, Neil Diamond was one of the writers behind the Fun Four’s 1965 climb to success with songs like ”A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and ”Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow).”
The young Diamond had originally envisioned a career in medicine, but he found out early that he had an ear for music. His list of hits is immense – ”Sweet Caroline,” ”Song Sung Blue,” ”Cracklin’ Rosie” ”I Am … I Said” and he made a very lucrative career as a songwriter and a singer.
”The balance between the writing and the performing has worked very well for me,” he said. ”I haven’t stayed with just one of those things through my career. I don’t think I could have been a writer for this long without having those breaks every couple of years to go out and perform the music and show another side to myself.”
He credits that balance for his longevity in the business.
”I never expected that I’d be around this long when I first started,” he said. ”If you had a career that lasted two or three records – and I mean at that time it was singles – if you had a career that lasted that long, well, that was unusual.
”You know most people had one record – a hit record and that was it. The next record would not do as well, and the next one would not do as well, and pretty soon they would disappear from the landscape.”
Not so with Diamond. It’s been 42 years since he recorded ”Solitary Man.”
”I’m still performing,” he said. ”I’m still loving it, I’m still writing and I’m still loving doing that in a kind of perverse way, because it can’t really say that writing is something you love. It’s more of a completion of yourself, a fulfillment of who you are, I can say I love performing. It’s a joyful experience to share music directly with people, but I’ve been lucky [to have] the balance.”
And, with his new work with producer Rick Rubin, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Although … maybe his dress is a little more toned down.
”I wore a very specific style,” he admitted. ”I wanted it to be fun. I wanted the shows to be fun. And rock and roll has always been lot of a circus to me, and I never hesitated to make the costumes reflect that. But I guess now I’m kind of toning things down a little bit and feeling right about it.
”Feeling that it’s appropriate and right for me at this point in my career and my life.”
But don’t mention the ‘R’ word. There’s nothing retiring about Neil Diamond.
”Well, maybe in 20 years from now, but not right now,” he said. ”This is what I do, and I mean it’s my official job.
”Somebody gave me this job when I was a kid, when I was a teenager. And I’ve been doing it since then.
”This is what I want to do. It involves me totally. It’s a very exciting kind of work. It’s not easy. It’s got its drawbacks and you’re criticized in public continuously, which is something that never really bothered me but it’s really one of the things that you have to deal with.”
But it’s still fun.
”Every night is different, every song is different,” he said. ”And I couldn’t think of a more exciting way to spend my life. I think [Pavarotti] once said, ‘A life in music is a life well lived.’
”And I feel as though my life has been well lived thus far, and I want to do it as long as I possibly can.”