Neil Diamond still a Brooklyn cowboy
New book chronicles the musician’s life, from Brooklyn cowboy to singing superstar
By Meredith Deliso
For all his fame and fortune, at heart, Neil Diamond is still a Brooklyn cowboy.
In ”Neil Diamond is Forever,” an illustrated history of the musician, with exclusive photos and interviews, including coverage of his 2008 tour and this year’s Grammy gala salute, Jon Bream chronicles the pop icon’s rise to fame, starting with his Coney Island roots.
”There’s a lot of stuff about Brooklyn in there,” says Bream. ”I think one of the things I didn’t know was that he was born and Brooklyn and grew up there, but lived for four years in Cheyenne (Wyoming). That had a big impact on him. He fell in love with cowboys and riding horses. He thought of himself as a Brooklyn cowboy.”
Diamond says as much himself, telling Rolling Stone in 1988, ”I think Cheyenne had a big influence on me. That’s where I got my love of cowboys. Because I always thought I was one after I came back from Cheyenne.”
Back in Brooklyn, the book details, Diamond attended Erasmus High School, where he sang in the same choir as Barbra Streisand, though the two didn’t know each other at the time, and then for his senior year went to Abraham Lincoln High School, which Diamond has described, says Bream, as ”moving from the inner city to a school that was more like Greece,” with the school more arts-oriented.”
In addition to singing in the choir there, he also took up fencing, a skill you can still see to this day, believe it or not, in Diamond’s stage swagger, which he says is inspired by fencing moves.
It was also at Lincoln that he saw recent graduate Neil Sedaka perform. After seeing that, his own performance roots became to take shape, as he started to perform as a duo with a friend.
Not much longer after that, Diamond became famous, writing hits for the Monkees and following with his own, including ”Solitary Man,” ”Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” ”Cracklin’ Rosie,” ”Song Sung Blue,” ”Sweet Caroline,” ”Love on the Rocks,” and ”America,” with 115 million albums sold worldwide. (By now, Diamond has earned himself another nickname, this one from his fans: the ”Jewish Elvis.”)
Bream, a music critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune since 1974, has been covering Diamond’s career for nearly just as long, following every tour since 1976 and talking with the star seven times.
In his new book, he goes through these interviews, salvaged from old cassettes, collected fan memorabilia from all over the world, including rare posters, t-shirts, record sleeves, and tickets.
Bream is brimming with trivia about Diamond. Last year, he notes, the musician, at 68, was the oldest solo artist to headline a major arena tour. He was also the oldest person to get a number one record, with ”Home Before Dark.”
The author has asked Diamond about this drive, as the star approaches his 70s, to keep performing, which he answered with a fencing analogy.
”In fencing they have a thing called blade hunger, that when you’re on the sidelines you want to get in and fence,” says Bream. ”He feels the same way about performing. It’s just in him, something he’s got to do.”
And through it all, adds Bream, Diamond has remained consistent, always gracious, always striving to be better, whether he was a superstar performing before millions or a kid playing stickball on the streets of Coney Island.
”His love of Brooklyn,” says Bream, ”clearly shines through.”
”Neil Diamond is Forever: The Illustrated Story of the Man and His Music,” is out October 15 through Voyager Press and costs $25. For more information, go to www.jonbream.com.