Neil Diamond: the loves of a lifelong Mr Lonely
The private life of hirsute superstar Neil Diamond is one of loss and longing. But now, at 70, he’s ‘lovestruck’ and set to marry for the third time, says William Langley.
Neil Diamond: soon to be married, for the third time, the ‘Jewish Elvis’ is seemingly marooned in Vegas mode ‘
Every tour has its different touches, but there are certain things that it is reasonable to expect from the Neil Diamond package. A forest of chest hair, a coating of sequins, and a few poignant words from the star on his failure to find love. Here’s Neil in the run-up to his celebrated ”Living Legends” appearance at Glastonbury in 2008: ”Personal /relationships? I have none. I have no friends, and it is just impossible to have relationships. My closest friend is a fellow I went to school with, and I haven’t seen him in four years. I make this journey, for the most part, alone.”
For all that, it has been an undeniably productive journey – half a century on the road, and 125 million albums sold. Songs such as Sweet Caroline and Beautiful Noise, which have become pop classics of our time. The fans draw comfort from the thought that if Neil, 70, had a cosy home to return to, he’d be less inclined to leave it for the stage; and critics have long made a link between the solitariness of his nature and the faintly morbid material he writes.
But last week came news that he is getting married. Again. This time to Katie McNeil, a 40-year-old Californian video producer whom he met two years ago while making a concert documentary. In keeping with current fashion, he made the announcement on Twitter, posting a photograph of the pair and a caption that read: ”I’d like you to meet Katie. I’m lovestruck.”
Not a great deal is known about Katie. Since they worked together on the documentary Hot August Night/NYC, she appears to have assumed the managerial duties performed over several years by his previous girlfriend, Australian Rae Farley… whom he met after the collapse of his 26-year second marriage to production assistant Marcia Murphey… whom he married in the same year that he divorced his first wife, Jayne Posner.
In fact, looking back at the record it’s a struggle to see where Neil’s ”years of loneliness” fit into the picture. He appears to have been married – or in lengthy relationships – for almost all his adult life, and today enjoys the comforts of four children and four grandchildren. Surely it couldn’t be that he lays the ill-starred loner image on a bit for effect?
Let’s try to be understanding. Diamond says that he has always put the music first – touring ceaselessly, writing in isolation and working crazy hours in recording studios. ”Writing a song,” he says, ”is like digging a ditch. You constantly have to dig deeper, until you strike the vein, until you hit the nerve. It’s not romantic. It’s grunt work.”
His partners, understandably, felt he might have his priorities mixed up. ”My relationships have suffered,” he admits, ”because I haven’t been able to find an outlet other than music, whether it be mountain climbing, skiing or playing cards; whatever it is that husbands do with their spouses. My wives grew tired of playing second fiddle to my work.”
He grew up in working-class Brooklyn, the son of Polish-Russian immigrants, who didn’t take kindly to his wasting his youth on the guitar. Jayne was his childhood sweetheart, the inspiration for his first love song – Hear Them Bells, a little-remembered ditty that goes: ”My darling, I need you more each day/ I’d be contented dear, if only you’d say/ I’ll be yours forever, sweetheart”. The sentiments worked sufficiently well for them to marry in their early twenties and have two daughters before divorcing in 1969. In December of the same year, he married Marcia.
By now, following some bruising years on the New York club circuit, Neil was tasting success. He had written The Monkees’ monster hit I’m a Believer, and landed a lucrative recording contract with Atlantic Records. But he wasn’t happy. His songs – said by Rolling Stone critic David Wild to be rooted ”in a deep sense of isolation and desire for connection” – brought up feelings that propelled him into a lifetime of therapy.
”The cardinal rule for any performer is that they should know themselves,” he said recently, ”and I didn’t. I was just Neil and I did what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to get married, so I got married. I was supposed to get a job, so I looked for work. I did what my parents expected of me because I wanted to be a good son, but it was all about what other people wanted. I didn’t have a clue who I was.”
Nor, it seems, did Marcia. Although their marriage was a marathon haul by showbusiness standards, Neil admits to having spent much of it far from home. He found the eventual divorce not only costly – a reported $150 million, one of the most expensive settlements in legal history – but bewildering. ”I need to be with a woman who understands my work ethic and is secure enough not to be threatened by it,” he said.
Enter Rae, a blonde, thirtysomething promotions agent whom he met on a 1996 tour Down Under. It later transpired that the glamorous Australian suffered from partial deafness and was unable to hear much of Neil’s singing. He hinted that this was the secret of their success as a couple, but a few years ago they quietly broke up. Now it is down to Katie.
She arrives at a time when the ageing crooner – seemingly marooned in Vegas mode and mocked by his detractors as the Jewish Elvis – has ascended to an improbable level of coolness. The re-fashioning began with the 2005 release of 12 Songs – a radically pared-down album, produced by Rick Rubin, a punk and hip-hop guru – and was completed by its even more acclaimed successor Home Before Dark.
Rubin made Diamond sit down and re-listen to his melancholic Sixties hits – Solitary Man, Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, and Red Red Wine – and work out what was good about them. Both albums became huge hits, taking Diamond to the top of both the US and British charts for the first time in decades.
In a sense, he has come home. Now it’s down to Kate to keep him there.