You're Running out of Reasons to Hate Neil Diamond

by Carl Wiser

With 38 Top-40 hits (and more as a songwriter), there has to be something you like. Come on, this is the guy responsible for the joyful 8th inning in Fenway Park, the best parts of Saving Silverman, that song about E.T... OK, maybe there are still some reasons.

David Wild, the author of He Is... I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond, explains what you need to know about Neil Diamond.
Which Neil Diamond songs have the most interesting stories behind them?
"I Am...I Said" is a pretty remarkable one. Neil began the song after doing a screen test to play rebel comedian Lenny Bruce in a film. Feeling that he had failed, Neil was thrown into something of an existential funk and started the song. It would take months for him to finish the song, but in the end it would become a classic. One postscript: about eight years ago, Neil allowed me to see the "failed" screen test that set him off, and I was surprised to see that after all that he was really wonderful in the part. Still, things worked out pretty well for Neil. Then there's "Sweet Caroline" and the well - kept revelation that seeing a photo of the young Caroline Kennedy helped inspire another classic.

What is the key to Diamond's songwriting success?
Beyond his pure genius and dedication as a craftsman - which is a gift and thus difficult to explain - I think it's Neil's unapologetic, unironic dedication to the emotional truth balanced with a genuine desire to communicate with his audience.

Are there any songs that Neil hates, but his fans love?
Unlike some other writers, I've never heard him really disparage any of his classics. I think he has too much respect for the feelings of his fans to say such a thing. Now Neil has made fun of some of his early songs, but usually to stress that he was a relative amateur compared in the early Sixties compared to many of the Brill Building greats who helped inspire him to become much, much better.

Please describe some of the common themes in Diamond's songs.
For me, there are a few big themes:
A deep sense of isolation and an equal desire for connection.
A yearning for home - and at the same time, the allure of greater freedom.
Last but not least, the good, the bad and the ugly about a crazy little thing called love.

What did you learn about Neil Diamond that surprised you?
One fact that astounds me to this day: that a man born Neil Diamond seriously considered taking the stage name of Noah Kaminsky. The other way around would make more sense.

Diamond's songs have been covered a great deal. Are there any that he particularly likes or dislikes?
He is very gallant, and seems thankful that others have embraced his songs. I think hearing Sinatra and Elvis sing his songs was a thrill, and I remember him telling me that he once got a private recording of Dylan singing "Sweet Caroline." The only cover I remember him being slightly confused by was Deep Purple's heavy metal retooling of "Kentucky Woman."

Which of Diamond's songs gets the biggest response at concerts?
It varies, but to name a few "Cherry, Cherry," "Sweet Caroline," "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," "Holly Holy" and especially following the tragic events of 9/11 "America."

Is there a story behind "Cherry Cherry," and can you explain the song's appeal?
Like many of the better things in life, it began with a guitar lick. Neil's early mentors Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich encouraged him to finish this song, and it helped introduce him to the world.

Did You Know?
Neil Diamond recorded one of the first anti-drug songs. It's a catchy little tune until the addicts ruin it.
The Pot Smoker's Songfacts
Are "Red Red Wine," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" and "September Morn'" personal songs for Diamond, or was he using a character?
I think they're all personal for Neil - that may be part of the secret of his success. He's a deeply personal performer - a groundbreaking introspective singer songwriter since "Solitary Man" - who transforms himself into an exhibitionist onstage.

How did Diamond's songwriting evolve over the years?
I think Neil went from a young man on the fringe of Tin Pan Alley to an important singer-songwriter for the ages. For a period, Neil's success led to him being pigeonholed by only one aspect of his talent - the romantic balladeer. Then in the past decade or so, I think Neil made another great leap forward with his past two albums. If anything, his music now seems even more personal and deeply felt - one more impressive contribution in a life that's been full of them.

November 16, 2009.
David Wild is a music and TV writer and critic, and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he interviewed Neil Diamond. The book is He Is... I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond.

More Song Writing

Comments: 29

  • Evan from Hendersonvillei found what was really similar to Neil Diamond in Saving Silverman Elton John in Kingsman the Golden Circle sequel to Kingsman the Secret Service.
  • Maggie from Catonsville, MdNeil Diamond was admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011--many years after he was first eligible. Paul Simon introduced him at the RRHOF ceremony.
  • Ann Muirhead from ScotlandI love Neil diamond since I was eleven yrs old beautiful man seen Neil 8 times now Neil inspired me to become a singer Neil is one of the greatest performers IV ever heard love yes I will lady Madelaine everything's gonna be fine song etc an excelling performer and an extremely talented man forever and always Neil luv u xxx
  • Jeanment from Santa Rosa Beach, FlI have loved Neil Diamond since I heard him sing his first song!! I've seen him in concert a few times, most recently in Houston. He's just as fine, like a good red wine, now as he was in our younger years! I tell people WE have just grown up together! I would love to see Neil come to the Northwest Florida Area for a concert! Pensacola, Tallahassee, or anywhere in between! In the meantime I may have to put together a Diamond Party, a night of his music, dance and merriment!! Everyone is invited!!
  • Diamondgirl105 from Akron, OhNeil Diamond was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. His presenter(quite interestingly) was fellow guitarist Paul Simon, who was also from NYC. That year's induction class included Alice Cooper, who during his acceptance speech, said what a huge fan he was of Neil's music. Yes, hell yes, Neil Diamond ROCKS!
  • Evan from Clarksville Tnagain Neil Diamond in Saving Silverman matches Tom Jones in Agnes Browne not Mars Attacks some say
  • Violet from VirginiaThe last week I've been on such a Diamond jones, listening to the great songs from my youth. I also found the great clip from the Johnny Cash show with him performing and talking about Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show. Very moving. I love Neil Diamond. Also, any man who gives his wife half of his $300 million in a divorce, without lawyers then says she was worth every penny, is my kind of man! Guy Ritchie makes me sick. No respect for a man who sponges off a woman. Much respect to you, Neil.
  • Evan from Clarksville Tni already found something similar to Neil Diamonds role in Saving Silverman Agnes Browne an irish romantic comedy movie and who is the celebrity hero of Agnes Browne its a pop star similar to Neil Diamond Tom Jones just like Neil Diamond supports the whole subplot to Saving Silverman Tom Jones supports the whole subplot to Agnes Browne
  • Evan from Clarksvillebut if that never does happen im gonna stop listening to Neil Diamonds music and i really do not want to see Neil Diamond play himself and save the day in another crude romantic comedy crime movie again becuase if he does throwing all of my Neil Diamond items in the garbage .
  • Evan from Clarksvillei meant other wise i would have to stop listening to Neil Diamond becuase Saving Silverman is all hes getting know for so they should romantic comedy crime movie just like Saving Silverman that would have Barry Manilow play himself and save the day as well and it should also be about a Barry Manilow tribute band becuase than that would make it even .
  • Evan from Clarksvillei like Neil Diamonds music i believe it is unfare to have him as the celebirty hero of Saving Silverman i mean dont get me wrong it was fine and all but shouldnt there be some other music artist like Elton John or Barry Manilow as celebirty heroes in movies like Saving Silverman becuase i would not like it if Neil Diamond was the only celebirty becuase then i would have to listening to him
  • Rw from NewyorkNeil Diamond wrote some songs I think are great, such as I'm a Believer, Cherry Cherry, Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon, A Little Bit Me a Little Bit You, Solitary Man, Kentucky Woman and more. He also wrote a slew of songs I can't stand, such as You Don't Bring Me Flowers and Love on the Rocks. I don't understand the disdain that some people have for him. I listen to the songs I like, and ignore the songs I don't. Thanks for the music, Neil. You got my vote for the Hall of Fame. Note: I've always been a Deep Purple fan, and their cover of Diamond's Kentucky Woman is my favorite song of theirs.
  • Joanne from Sparks, NvBrand new I have just stumbled on to this site looking for a lyric and now find it hard to leave. Neil Diamond is a treasure that I have been in awe of forever, long live the man.
  • James from Minna, Nigeriaalways a pleasure to hear Neil sing...his words are true and real, just like it happens to everyone of us only ND knows how to put it to song! fantastic guy he is...
  • David Williamson from Mi, 50 Miles West Of DetroitSomewhere around the late 70's or early 80's. I saw Neil at Cobol Hall in Detroit. When he started the show he sounded like his throat was hurting. We almost got up and left. I'm a Rock 'n Roller through & through. Going to a Neil Diamond concert was almost a sin in the eyes of everyone I knew. Well, we hung around for a little bit longer (we thought that would be a short bit ). As Neil warmed up his singing became so solid and true, it just blew me away.

    Obviously, we stuck around for the entire show. I can say to this day that I have never experienced a concert such as his. By the end of the show, it seemed he was hitting notes that were never heard before. I became a huge fan that night. I am still a R&R man, but Neil is still in the top 5 of my all time artist. He just has that touch, it grabs your heart strings and he won't let you go.

    In the end, there is only one phrase that I can use to say later. YOU ROCK NEIL!!!
  • Peterc from Melbourne AustraliaAs well as being a good songwriter and musician, the one thing that I've noticed is that all his albums are well produced, have nice warm tones, minimum trickery etc. Usually the record producer gets the praise but Neil's albums span several labels and arent produced by the same producer. So it must be Neil's talent which can be accredited to the consistent high quality albums.
  • Steve from Elizabethton, TennesseeI saw Neil in concert in Knoxville in 1988. I sat behind a woman in her 40s who was obviously attempting to turn her 20-something daughter on to her idol. After the concert, the mother turned to her daughter and asked "Well, what did you think?" The young girl, with stars in her eyes, replied "Just pour me a drink and I'll tell you some lies."
  • Steve from Elizabethton, TennesseeAs a songwriter, I have always been inspired by the brutal honesty and absolute simplicity of Neil Diamond's lyrics. You've got to dig deep to come up with anything that compares, and then be willing to share it.
  • Jamie from DelawareAlways loved his music and genius even growing up in the 70-80s when no other friends would agree. How about Jonathan Seagull for musico-philosphy?
  • Desiree from FloridaHave to confess the only song I know by Neil Diamond, I found because it's my name. He has a song called "Desiree," in which an older woman.. umm.. makes a younger guy a man. haha weird song, but I get a kick out of hearing my name.
  • Gail from Tring Jonction, QuebecLike they say there are only two kinds of people in the world-those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't. Considering only 10% of the world's population is considered hypersensitive, small wonder Neil does not speak to all. May he be my voice for many years to come!
  • Robert from ArizonaThe reason that Neil Diamond is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (that I know of) is the same reason Ronnie Spector is not in "The Hall". Phil Spector is still influences the "The Hall" from his prison cell. He will not allow anyone who he personally feels animosity against into the R&RHoF. Spector was a genius in the studio; a madman everywhere else. Neil is bigger than the Hall in my opinion He's the one argument I had against people who told me R&R was crap or that there was no soul in music of that era.

    Solitary though he may think he is, he's part of us and we are part of him.
  • Xav from ChicagoMost Gen-Xers only heard his E.T.-inspired final hit, "Heartlight", and had to learn to appreciate his other stuff later in life. I didn't even know as a kid the instrumental "filler" music being used by my local news station (WGN--where I watched Ray Rainer's show) was the intro to "Sweet Caroline" until much later in life.
  • JanetteND is a musical genius, a living icon. He will definately get the praise after he passes on!?! Sad but true? Listening to many of his songs, so many, it appears that he believes in reincarnation? Love all of his music old and new!
  • L.r. from NetherlandsNeil's August 2008 Madison Square concert was phenomenal! There seems to be so much melancholy in his slower numbers and yet it refreshes one, gives hope! Or as Leah on that isolated Texas ranch says: ...keeps me going, keeps me positive, and keeps me loving...
    Well said!
  • Dowopjoe from OhioWhy isn't Neil Diamond in the Rock Hall Of Fame?
  • Leah Herron from TexasI live on an isolated ranch in Texas and the gift of Neil's music keeps me going, keeps me positiive, and keeps me loving.
  • Cindyn from Mebourne, AustraliaI kind of pity those who don't recognise the genius that is Neil Diamond... they are truly missing out on something very special.
  • JohnI think that Niel Diamond is a genius and will unfortunately be remembered more in death because we have not appreciated him the way we should have. I am not a big fan of Barbara but had she made a movie with Niel I might have become a fan.John Ryan
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