Neil Diamond: Underrated icon or guilty pleasure?

Neil Diamond: Underrated icon or guilty pleasure?
Diamond has his share of diehard fans and detractors.
By Drew Olson
Senior Editor

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Published Nov. 20, 2008 at 4:15 p.m.
Tags: neil diamond, bradley center, david wild

Amy Glinberg is a North Shore housewife with a secret.

The 30-something mother of two adorable kids keeps it as quiet as she can, but her family and close friends all know the truth and — come Monday night — so will thousands of random Milwaukeeans.

Amy is a Neil Diamond fan.

That’s right. She’s a card-carrying, “Cracklin’ Rosie”-lovin’ fan of the guy described in one recent book as the “Jewish Elvis.” When Diamond hits the stage Monday night at the Bradley Center, Amy G. will be there, screaming from her seat close to the stage.

“I’ve been a fan for about 20 years,” Glinberg said. “I got into him right after high school. I had a friend who did security for Neil Diamond and traveled with him and I think that is who got me interested.

“Unfortunately, no one else in my family or circle of friends has the same interest. I’m the only person I know who likes him. My brothers have always made fun of me, but one of my brothers loves Barry Manilow, so that’s the same idea. My husband goes to concerts with me, because he’s being nice.

“A lot of people make fun. I listen to Neil a lot in the car or at home, but not really in front of friends, it’s more of a private guilty pleasure, again because of the teasing.”

Glinberg’s plight begs a question: Over the course of a career that has spanned four decades, Neil Diamond has produced dozens of hit songs, sold more than 100 million albums and performed before packed houses in every kind of venue imaginable.

Why do so many people relegate him to the “guilty pleasure” ghetto?

Is it because he’s 67 years old and plays the kind of sweeping and “safe” music — like “America” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” — that parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents not only tolerate but enjoy?

Noted rock journalist David Wild, who spent time at Rolling Stone, attempts to answer the question in his book “He is… I Say: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond” (Da Capo, $25).

In an interview with LAist, Wild talks about his personal history with Diamond.

“I discovered Neil’s music — and music in general, as it turned out — because of my mother playing his 8-track tapes during carpools,” Wild said. “What great songs! What crappy audio fidelity! It’s still great music to be play in carpools — only now I’m listening to Neil in the front seat and I’m paying for the gas.”

Wild interviewed Diamond, produced a “Behind the Music” special for VH1 and then created some liner notes for Diamond anthologies.

“I quite happily wrote 6,000 words about Neil in less than a week,” Wild told LAist. “Then on the seventh day — when I should have rested — I woke up and wrote another couple thousand words just for pleasure, about the night Neil Diamond made my mother happy — in a nice and entirely wholesome way. Those words became the opening chapter and the entire basis for this book. So blame my mother — I know I do.”

Though he was considered a cultural joke among hipsters in the 1980s, Diamond enjoyed a bit of a pop culture resurgence in the past decade. In the 2001 comedy “Saving Silverman,” Jason Biggs, Jack Black and Steve Zahn don glittery shirts and play in a Diamond tribute band called “Diamonds in the Rough.”

In recent seasons, Diamond’s song “Sweet Caroline” became a staple at Boston Red Sox home games at Fenway Park. Late in 2005, Diamond released “12 Songs,” an album recorded with producer Rick Rubin, with whom he plans to collaborate on a new batch of songs early next year.

“Five years ago, I would have said (Diamond was) kitschy,” Channel 6 news anchor Ted Perry said. “Since Rick Rubin took over, I’m going with ‘cool musical icon.’

“I’ve listened to “12 Songs” as much as I’ve listened to any other album I’ve owned in the last few years.”

This spring, Diamond released “Home Before Dark,” which was his first chart-topping album and spawned his biggest tour ever.

In August, Diamond made national news when he performed a show at Ohio State University while suffering from laryngitis. Disappointed by the results (not to mention the crowd reaction), Diamond offered ticket refunds to all fans.

Moved by the plight of people impacted by Hurricane Ivan, Diamond got involved with relief efforts and will receive the 2009 MusiCares Person of the Year award during a benefit shortly before the Grammy Awards.

Diamond’s live shows always win rave reviews and draw large cross-sections of fans.

“If we weren’t in a “ratings period,” I’d be there Monday night,” Perry said. “I never have seen him and would like to someday.”

Glinberg, who has been to four shows in the past, will be there. And, she doesn’t care who sees her.

“He puts on an awesome show,” she said. “And, you do see a complete range of age levels at the concerts.”

Diamond, who has played to more than 1 million fans in nine countries since the tour started in May, is filming the shows and will unveil a TV special and a DVD next year.

“I’m very pleased with it,” he told Billboard Magazine recently. “I’ve always felt you could never really replicate the experience of being at a concert, but this film comes as close to replicating it as anything I’ve ever seen.”

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