Neil Diamond goes through a full-on existential crisis in this song as he screams out, knowing no one will hear him. David Wild, author of He Is...I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond, told Songfacts: "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: around 2000, 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."
Neil Diamond told Q magazine July 2008 that he had to write this autobiographical song "to find myself." Diamond added "It's a tough thing for me to gather myself after singing that song."
This took Diamond four months to compose.
Neil Diamond told Mojo magazine July 2008 that this song came from a time he spent in therapy in Los Angeles. He said: "It was consciously an attempt on my part to express what my dreams were about, what my aspirations were about and what I was about. And without any question, it came from my sessions with the analyst."
This featured in the 1999 film Holy Smoke.
Unless you have heard the album, you may not realize the song is divided into halves; the first half of the song opens Side One and the second half closes Side Two. The song was reassembled for the single.
This is a powerful song, though it has been parodied on occasion, particularly for the lyrics, "No one heard at all, not even the chair." However, as a song of frustration and self-declaration, it is a timeless classic.
Kelley - Hickory, KY, for above 2
Journalist Dave Barry says that the inspiration to write his Book Of Bad Songs came from one newspaper column he had written regarding songs he didn't particularly care for, which generated such an incredible response, he knew he had tapped into a nerve.
The catalyst was none other than Neil Diamond. Barry writes: "It would not trouble me if the radio totally ceased playing ballad-style songs by Neil Diamond. I realize that many of you are huge Neil Diamond fans, so let me stress that, in matters of musical taste, everybody is entitled to an opinion, and yours is wrong." He goes on to say: "Consider the song 'I Am, I Said,' wherein Neil, with great emotion, sings: 'I am, I said, to no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.' What kind of line is that? Is Neil telling us he's surprised that the chair didn't hear him? Maybe he expected the chair to say, 'Whoa, I heard that!' My guess is that Neil was really desperate to come up with something to rhyme with 'there' and he had already rejected 'So I ate a pear,' 'Like Smokey The Bear,' and 'There were nits in my hair.'"
The response of hate mail was so overwhelming that he combined them all into one all-purpose-irate-Neil Diamond-fan hate letter, beginning "Dear Pukenose..."
When all was said and done, he had to write a public apology to all the Neil Diamond fans he offended: "Please stop writing! You have convinced me! Neil is a music god! I worship Neil on a daily basis at a tasteful shrine to him erected in my living room! I love ALL the songs Neil sang to us! Not to mention all the songs he brang to us!" (Thanks to Kent Kotal at the Forgotten Hits newsletter)