Copyright 1993, San Jose Mercury News
DATE: Friday, December 10, 1993
by MIKE GUERSCH, Mercury News Staff Writer

NEIL Diamond made his first Bay Area appearance at the Red Rooster Lounge in San Leandro, where he was backed by a group called the Mothers of Invention. That was in 1966. Saturday, after selling more than 92 million albums, after going from hip rocker to introspective lyricist to middle-of-the-road balladeer, Diamond visits another Bay Area venue for the first time: the San Jose Arena...

Country-western singer/hunk Billy Ray Cyrus: 'Neil Diamond was saying how if you believe in yourself, and believe in your dreams, then you will have everything you want. And I knew, right then, that this was my calling.' Nash Kato, lead vocalist for alternative rock group Urge Overkill: ''Neil was unbelievable the last time we saw him. I expected a little bit of has-been to creep in, a little bit of rust. Not the case.''

The morning after he finished a three-night set at Chicago Stadium, Diamond, his extra-coarse voice sounding weary, talked by phone about his new album, the tour and his acceptance that at some point the cheering will stop.

Q It's tough to imagine you recording some of the songs on your new album ''Up on the Roof,'' such as ''Don't Be Cruel'' and ''Love Potion No. 9.'' How did you select these songs?
A: I tried to pick some of my favorites, first of all, and also some that I would be able to sing in my own way, where I could lend something to it myself. Of course, there were a lot of songs that fit into that, and we weaned it down from 50 to the 16 for the album. The first criteria was I had to like the song a lot, and the second was I had to be able to sing it as Neil Diamond and not as the original artist might have done it. That's what we tried for, anyway.

Q Do you think it worked?
A: I do think it works. I like the album a lot. It took a lot of nerve for the producer, Peter Asher, to accept the assignment because we were following in the footsteps of a lot of classic records. . . . Based on the letters I got from most of the songwriters on the album, they were very pleased with the renditions.

Q There's been mixed critical reaction to the album. After all these years of writing and performing, do you still read the critiques?
A: I do. It's nice to get approval of critics, and they've been pretty good to me lately. Still, I have to please myself, and nobody's going to be as hard on my work as I am. Occasionally I'll pick up some tips from a critique I read about my music or a show.

Q Your last two recordings, the Christmas album and ''Up on the Roof,'' consist of songs written by others. Have you been writing at all during this time?
A: I haven't really written very much the last two years. I did some writing before then and have some music that I like very much from that. When I'm able to, I'll settle into a situation and record those. But I have not written anything basically in the last two to three years.

Q Why? Is writing becoming more difficult for you?
A: No . . . I want to write, but the Christmas album didn't require very much writing, this Brill Building album was all other people's material, so the last two to three years I just haven't been focusing on the writing.

Q Will you go back to writing at some point?
A: I will. I have the months of January and February blocked out. My studio will be closed off and I'll be working on new music. It's like part of me. If I don't get it, you know . . . it's like bagels and lox -- you need it every once in a while to keep you alive.

Q Same with performing, I assume?
A: Yeah, you know, when you spend a year or two in a relatively confined space like a studio, writing or recording an album . . . by the time the album's finished you really want to get out there. And the road is the perfect counterbalance to that other kind of existence.

Q And now you'll be playing in a new arena in San Jose.
A: I'm very interested in playing San Jose; first of all, I have a big audience from that area; and we haven't played this building before, so I'm excited about that.

Q Does playing a new arena or one you've never played in before present any special problems?
A: Sometimes it does; you don't really know until you get there. But usually not, because we have people go and check these arenas out months and months before we play them.

Q There was talk for a long time of you doing a movie based on your ''Beautiful Noise'' album. What happened to that?
A: It's on the back burner right now. When I see a script I like for ''Beautiful Noise,'' then I'll commit myself to doing the movie. Right now I'm prepared . . . (long pause) . . . until hell freezes over to do another movie.

Q Did you have a bad experience with ''The Jazz Singer''?
A: It wasn't a great experience for me as I went through it because it was very scary. I had never done it before. I was working with some very imposing people, including Laurence Olivier. I was extraordinarily occupied -- I had written most of the music and was recording most of the music while the film was being made. And I was starring as an actor for the first time. So it was particularly difficult. There were times I didn't think I would survive the whole thing. But I'm really glad that I did it and went through it, because it gave me more music. . . it ended up as a real positive. It helped me as a performer on stage and it opened up my limited horizons and made me better at what I do.

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