Neil Diamond on a life in music: ‘I have no idea why I appeal to women’

Few artists have had the commercial impact of 69-year-old Neil Diamond, a performer who has sold 120 million records and convinced an equal number of middle-aged men of the value of the shiny shirt. Today, Diamond is more popular than ever, thanks in part to his last two critically approved records produced by Rick Rubin. After playing a series of delirium-inducing, sold-out shows, Diamond is now releasing the DVD Hot August Nights, a sort-of sequel to his 1972 album of the same title recorded at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Ben Kaplan caught up with Diamond at his home in California and asked him to reflect on his five decades of song.

-“My relationship with my audience has been one of the most stable things in my life.”

-“Criticism can help like medicine can help, but if you take too much it can kill you.”

-“70 is a nice number and I’m very happy to be here. I never thought that I would be.”

-“The stage is a place of total giving.”

-“I don’t think my relationship has changed with my audience. OK, at the very beginning, when nobody knew me or what to make of me, it was a struggle. But once the ice was broken, the relationship was established. It’s been going strong ever since.”

-“Rick and I were looking for what we’re always looking for: How do we make the song come alive as a recording so that it’s not just words and music, but an expression of one person’s soul?”

-“I have no idea why I appeal to women.”

-“Releasing something to the world is very exciting. You’re hoping that people will love it, or at least like it, or at the very least not disrespect what you do.”

-“Sweet Caroline allowed me to spend my life devoted to music.”

-“Live, even though the spotlight is on me, it feels like I’m along for the ride. I’m supposed to be the performer, but I’m affected by what the audience is giving back. I’m experiencing it the same way as the crowd.”

-“My son Jesse is a very talented photographer, but I was a little wary about working with him. I was ready for a battle of father and son for dominance over a piece of territory.”

-“When you’ve been around for awhile, you pretty much come full circle. I try to be simple and direct with a song.”

-“It takes a little while to absorb something like Michael Jackson. I wish he would’ve been a happier man. I think he was only happy when he was making music and that probably goes for a lot of us musicians. It’s the happiest place we can see.”

-“It feels like turning 70 should be significant, but, honestly, I don’t feel any more grown up than when I was 25. I laugh at the same things, cry at the same things and probably haven’t learned a whole lot.”

-“Criticism is very rarely presented gently.”

-“I’m just the object. Maybe the object of an audience’s affection, or misaffection, but I don’t think about it. I think about trying to make the presentation as well as I possibly can and let the chips fall where they may.”

-Hot August Nights by Neil Diamond is out on Tuesday (Sony Records).
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