Author praises Neil Diamond’s legacy
Writer says work by musician will continue to endure
By Bill Friskics-Warren ? THE TENNESSEAN ? November 6, 2008
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Buzz up! Guardians of rock ‘n’ roll authenticity often dismiss him as a schlockmeister for the melodramatic likes of “America” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” but Neil Diamond has gained a bit of hip cred in the wake of his recent collaborations with ?ber-producer Rick Rubin.
Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild has been in Diamond’s corner all along. Anointing Diamond his personal “Jewish Elvis,” Wild has just published He Is . . . I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond (Da Capo, $25), a resounding defense of the singer. More than just a mash note to an underappreciated personal favorite, Wild’s book makes a persuasive case for why the man who wrote “Solitary Man” and “I’m a Believer” ? and who cut some great records at American Studios in Memphis ? belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame.
In town for the 42nd annual Country Music Association Awards, a show for which he is the principal writer, Wild will read from his book at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 7 p.m. Friday. The following is from an interview he did with The Tennessean in early October.
“Guilty pleasure” is usually as far as folks will go when assessing the music of Neil Diamond. Why is that such an unfair assessment of his legacy? I’m a faithful believer in the Great Song Theory of music history. That’s why I love Nashville, and that’s why I love Neil Diamond’s songs without feeling any guilt whatsoever. The man has written dozens of enduring songs that we all know and love. How many passing press darlings can claim that kind of legacy?
What is one of the hippest things about Diamond that few people know or realize? Neil’s beyond hip in my opinion, but here is something that constantly impresses me: Neil was part of the Brill Building pop era, then helped usher in the entire era of the sensitive singer-songwriter with songs like “Solitary Man” and “Shilo.” Then there’s the undeniable fact that he remains one of the most popular and beloved entertainers in the world to this day. That’s staying power any man would admire.
To which figures in 20th- century pop would you say Diamond is an inheritor? I think in various ways, Neil is part of a long line that includes everyone from George Gershwin to Frank Sinatra to Hank Williams to the Everly Brothers to Elvis Presley. That’s some excellent company, isn’t it?
Who are some of his musical heirs? In my opinion, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 to Chris Isaak to Counting Crows to John Mayer owes Neil a debt of some kind, but fortunately he doesn’t need the money.
The whole matter of the guilty pleasure ghetto aside, Diamond has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity of late, certainly since working with producer Rick Rubin. To what do you attribute this? Sometimes the good guys win ? especially when they have a good producer. Rare gems hold their value.
Writing He Is . . . I Say seems to have had therapeutic value for you. Is that a fair assessment and, if so, why? If writing the book was therapeutic, how come I’m still so screwed up? Yes, it felt good to speak my truth, but I think that I would feel even better if the book sells incredibly well.
Reach Bill Friskics-Warren at 726-5957 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.