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Neil Diamond

Posted by Richard on August 21, 2009

God help me, I really like Neil Diamond. I know that makes me a hopeless old geezer in the eyes the youngsters out there, but there — I’ve said it. By pure luck, I had the TV tuned to CBS (watching Craig Ferguson) when all of a sudden, on comes a Neil Diamond concert special  recorded in New York in August 2008. I’m lovin’ it!

The cognoscenti and literati have always sneered at Neil Diamond. Not me. I think he’s one of the 20th century’s great writers and performers of pop music. And he and his backing band are still putting out great versions of some of the catchiest, most toe-tapping tunes ever. As the lyric of “Cherry Cherry” says, “Can’t stand still while the music’s playin’.”

“You are the sun, I am the moon, You are the words, I am the tune, play me.”

 

Neil goes back to the NY neighborhood in which he grew up, looking for the apartment in which he lived from 6 to 16. In front of the bodega on the corner, a black woman (late 20s or early 30s) recognizes him and tells him how much she loves his music. Then cut to him talking with several black youths. He says he’s coming back to his old neighborhood. One of them asks if he’s a photographer or something. He says he’s a singer and suggests maybe they’ve heard of some of his songs, naming “Sweet Caroline” and several others. Blank stares. He mentions “Red, Red Wine,” and several of them recognize it, one saying, “I know the reggae version.” Then he visits old apartment and tells current tenant about how he and his brother would roller skate in the living room until the woman downstairs hit her ceiling with a broom handle and they knew to stop. Very moving.

This bit of reality TV is followed by Diamond performing “I Am, I Said,” a song about being in LA and missing NY.

Now I’m New York City born and raised
And nowadays I’m lost between two shores
LA’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more
I am, I said to no one there
No one heard me at all
Not even the chair

Wow. I always loved that song, but it was really special after seeing those scenes of him revisiting the old neighborhood.

“Pretty Amazing Grace” — what a great song. Amazing work by the band. Compare depth and seriousness of that with “Cherry Cherry.” (Both good, though.)

Great horn section.

“Sweet Caroline” — pop songs don’t get much better than this. Melody, lyrics, rhythm, everything — just wonderful. But this live performance is transcendent because of the audience participation. If you get a chance to watch this, crank up the volume (it helps if you’ve got HD with 5.1 sound).

“Hell, Yeah” — wonderful, introspective, anthemic, motivational.

“America” — even more moving after the introductory video of Diamond talking about his immigrant parents (with Ellis Island footage in the background). The song is wonderful, but the audience is really wonderful. Listen to their response to this celebration of immigrants — it will dispel any notion that we’re a bunch of xenophobes.

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