Neil Diamond remains a beautiful noise
Jim Abbott | Sentinel Music Critic
October 26, 2008
At age 67, Neil Diamond still makes the ladies scream.
And, apparently, plenty of men and young people in a demographic that really ought to be out at a Radiohead concert — instead of watching a guy who once wrote songs for the Monkees.
It remains to be seen whether Radiohead is still around in 40 years, but this Diamond is still shining.
His latest album, Home Before Dark, was a chart-topper. It’s his second with producer Rick Rubin, known for his work with Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks and Metallica.
There are a few new songs in the mix on his current tour, which stops Tuesday at Amway Arena, but it’s the golden oldies — “Sweet Caroline,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Solitary Man” and others — that inspire the screams.
“People will just hear something and they like it, they’re attracted to it and they come,” Diamond says, attempting to assess his popularity in a recent conference call with reporters. “I’m just happy to have an audience at all and it, I think coincidentally just over the years, has become younger and maybe there is a reason for that I don’t understand.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of fans ready to explain it. Diamond’s real-life army of devotees is enough to make Saving Silverman, the 2001 comedy film rooted in Diamond fixation, look like art imitating life.
“Sweet Caroline” is Giana Court’s favorite song. Court, a 20-year-old student at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, will be at Tuesday’s Orlando show with her parents, Tony and Victoria Court. She bought the tickets for her father’s birthday.
“My dad’s a huge fan and had been listening to Neil Diamond since he was a teenager,” Giana says. “When I was a little girl, I went to my grandma’s house and she would be playing it on her record player. After my grandma passed away, my dad and I started going to concerts, and that’s when I started to really like it.”
The infatuation also was handed down to Tony Johnson, who was exposed to the music by his mother, Nancy, as a youngster on long family car trips from Orlando to South Dakota.
“It was ingrained in us going up there,” says Johnson, 28, a teacher at Hunter’s Creek Middle School. “My whole family loves it.”
Johnson admits that he gets some teasing about his devotion, but he’s unfazed.
“I love his music, the lyrics and the way that each song has a catchy tune to it.”
Molly Freeman, who is “just a few years younger than Neil,” used to walk her infant daughter, Susan, to the sounds of Diamond’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Mother and daughter have attended Diamond concerts together for more than 20 years, though there was initially some debate about it.
“When Susan was 12 years old, she was very much into Boy George and told me that he was ‘the best singer in the world,'” Molly says. “I told her, ‘When no one can remember Boy George’s name, everyone will know who Neil Diamond is.'”
For fans not indoctrinated at home, there is the occasional outside role model.
Jason Kring, 36, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, works Neil Diamond into his psychology and statistics classes. It’s a way to inject humor with everything from class sing-alongs to bonus test questions about the relative popularity of Diamond and Barry Manilow.
“I do it because I’m a big fan and I guess Neil gets kind of a bad rap,” Kring says. “I always find it humorous that people want to pick on him because he’s been a popular songwriter for decades.”
For that reason, being a fan is often a family tradition.
“My kids grew up on him and now my married grandchildren are going with me to concerts,” says Ann Funk, 65, of Orlando. “When you go to a concert, you see that kind of thing and it really says something for people to carry that on for so many generations. It’s something very special.”
Jim Abbott can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6213.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Amway Arena, 600 W. Amelia St., Orlando.
What else: Look for Jim Abbott’s review of the show online at OrlandoSentinel.com/soundboard.