Is Neil Diamond cool again?

7 Questions

Is Neil Diamond cool again?

‘Between you and me and whoever reads this piece, I’ve always felt cool,’ the sparkle-shirted singer says By BRAD WHEELER

Friday, November 18, 2005 Posted at 3:29 AM EST

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

‘Can you hear me okay?” is not a question Neil Diamond should need to ask. His crackling baritone is not a small instrument, and his delivery, on stage and off, is anything but meek. But he’s on a speaker phone, calling from his office in Los Angeles.

Honestly, it’s been a long, long time since the sparkle-shirted singer has had anything to say — his albums in the past two decades have fell mostly on covered ears, with only his devoted audience of swooning middle-aged women bothering to listen. But with the release of 12 Songs, a stripped-down, critically well-received new album, Diamond is finally telling us the things we wish to hear.

So, you’re sitting back in your chair, your feet up on the desk, and I bet you’re smoking a cigar. Do the stogies contribute to that dusky voice?

Yes, I am smoking a cigar. But I don’t think it’s had a real effect on my voice. I smoked cigarettes years ago, and I think that did affect it. I think they affected my stamina more than it did my voice, though.

Your album was produced by Rick Rubin, who worked with Johnny Cash on his final records. Those albums were tremendously successful, and served to resurrect Cash’s career. Is that a fair comparison, you and Johnny?

It is. I can’t read into Rick’s mind, but I believe he saw another artist that needed to be pared down. The process had to be brought down to its essence. I think that’s what he did with Johnny, and I that’s what he wanted to do with my stuff.

You and Rubin had disagreements, on song selection and his insistence that you play the guitar as you sang. He’s a large man — did he intimidate you? Please don’t tell me he bopped you.

He kind of gave me the over-the-shoulder back flip once in a while, but other than that, we never had any physical disagreement. No, Rick only looks intimidating. He’s a very sweet guy — more like a Buddha from the sixties, a Buddha of rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve had a chance to record with some intimidating producers, and I’m not interested in it — not while I’m creating stuff.

In the past, you’ve described the creative process as tortuous, and yet in the liner notes to the new album you say the whole thing was a blast.

You mean, was it painful or joyful? Well, it was both. It was gruelling, it was long. There were weeks and months — a little over a year — spent in my studio, and that was very painful. I mean, it was a long arduous process. We were starting from exactly zero — not a single note, not a single recording. It can be very daunting, but it was exciting at the same time. The joyful part was getting Rick’s reaction, his enthusiasm about the songs, and the recording part of it with the other musicians.

The album is receiving favourable reviews, but that doesn’t stop the writers from commenting on your sequins or some of your less successful records. I guess you take the good with the bad?

Oh, absolutely. I don’t trust an interview that’s 100 per cent positive. It’s not grounded. Saying that this is a wonderful album, he’s great, the songs are great — that doesn’t do it for me, unless you’re talking about Sgt. Pepper. For me, I’ve been lucky. The outfits that I wear on stage, they’ve deflected a lot of criticism that should be real criticism. So, I feel a sense a relief that they’re only picking on my shirt.

In 1980, you received nominations for both best and worst actor in The Jazz Singer. It seems like there’s no middle ground with you.

That’s probably true. And it’ll be true of this album too. You’re either going to love some of the things on this album, or you’re going to hate them. I don’t think there’s much middle ground on this.

We saw it with Burt Bacharach and Tony Bennett — is Neil Diamond cool again?

Well, I feel like people are recognizing me as cool again. But between you and me and whoever reads this piece, I’ve always felt cool. And not in a bragging kind of way or an offensive way. I’ve always felt of top of things and maybe ahead of things in a way — that I had things in perspective, and that I knew what I was about and what I needed to do. In that sense, I guess you can say I’ve been pretty cool from the get-go.

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