Like red wine, singer gets better with age

Like red wine, singer gets better with age

By Dave Tianen of the Journal Sentinel

These are lustrous times for Neil Diamond.

His new CD, “Home Before Dark,” became his first No. 1 album this summer. Both “Home Before Dark” and 2005’s “12 Songs” have garnered Diamond some of the most glowing reviews of his long career.

There’s also a new biography by Rolling Stone writer David Wild, “He Is . . . I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond” (De Capo Press, $25).

And, at 67, Diamond still has the clout to play arenas. He recently answered a few questions in anticipation of his show Monday at the Bradley Center.

Q. David Wild writes that you decided early in your career that you would try to please the fans rather than the critics. With both “Home Before Dark” and “12 Songs,” you seem to have pleased the critics. Was there an accident?

A. Was it an accident? Well, I don’t know. I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything but write the best songs that I could and perform them as well as I could. So I guess I accidentally pleased the critics as well.

Q. You did decide to take a different direction with a production that’s more stripped down than what you had been doing for a long time.

A. Yeah, but it’s not a new direction. It’s just less production, but the songs themselves are either good or bad. I happen to think I’ve been writing pretty welland I kind of like that they’re based on acoustic instruments.

Q. There’s often an odd dynamic with older artists: Their fans are eager to buy concert tickets but not very good about buying or even listening to new music. How much of the new stuff do you feel you can play?

A. The audience has been tremendously receptive. We do three songs from the new album and a couple from the “12 Songs” album. Admittedly, the show is filled with hits from top to bottom. It’s filled with songs that I haven’t done in years. Hopefully, the audience loves every one of them. That’s our goal, but the new songs have found their place in the show, and the audience has taken them to heart. That’s very satisfying to me.

Q. One of the surprising things in the book was that you went to college on a fencing scholarship.

A. I was athletic as a kid, and I happened to join the fencing team in high school my senior year. We were city champions in New York City, and it attracted a lot of college attention. I got into NYU on fencing.

Q. Another interesting factoid : Bob Dylan recorded “Sweet Caroline” and sent you a copy. Is that true?

A. Yeah, he did. He did a pretty good job on it, too.

Q. Did you know him at all?

A. Yeah, I knew Bob. We had become friendly over the years, and we’d seen each other in different situations.

Q. Milwaukee has a connection with you through the award-winning documentary film “Song Sung Blue” about the late Mike Sardina, who used to do a tribute show to you with his wife as Lightning and Thunder. You’ve been very gracious in saying you were honored to have your songs used in that story. Have you seen it?

A. I saw the movie. I got a DVD of it, and I was very moved by it.

Q. Wild refers to you a few times as the Jewish Elvis. I know Presley recorded “Sweet Caroline” as well as “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.” Did you ever meet him?

A. Yeah, I did. I thought he was wonderful. I went to one of his shows in Las Vegas. He introduced me from the stage. The audience started cheering for me to get up and sing with Elvis. In retrospect, I should have. He said, “No, Neil is here relaxing, and he’s going to enjoy the show.”

We met after the show, and we spoke for quite a while. I was very impressed by his professionalism. He was not only an icon, but he was concerned about his music. He wanted to know how the background singers were heard in the mix. He was more than a guy who just came out and sang the songs.

Q. UB40’s “Red Red Wine” might be the most famous Diamond cover. Do you have a favorite?

A. My favorite cover is Frank Sinatra’s version of “Sweet Caroline.” He did an amazing big band swing version of it, and I thought it was wonderful.

Q. At 67, you’ve reached an age where performers are often thinking of winding down. I don’t, however, get any sense of that being in the plans.

A. No. It’s absolutely not on my schedule. I love it. It keeps me young. It keeps me involved. It keeps my blood going, and it keeps me excited about life. I’m never going to stop doing it as long as there are people willing to listen.
If you go

Who: Neil Diamond

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Bradley Center, 1001 N. 4th St.

How much: $122, $87, $55 and $29.50 at the box office and through Ticketmaster, (414) 276-4545 and Prices do not include service charges.

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