Neil Diamond Strikes a Solitary 'Chord'

Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited.

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters)  Neil Diamond has been a superstar for most of his life, but he still has to fight his record label over the new album he has toiled on for a year.

With ``Three Chord Opera,'' set for release July 24 in North America, Columbia Records' plans for its international launch seemed a little fuzzy when Diamond sat down for an interview recently.

``Overseas it's getting short shrift and it's really pissing me off,'' said Diamond, who has sold 115 million records during a 35-year career, the last 28 of them at Columbia.

Sitting in the darkened console room of his recording studio -- where a sign declares, ``A perky tempo is a happy tempo!'' -- he recalled yelling at his manager on the phone just 15 minutes earlier, directing him to yell at label executives.


``I do have a large audience overseas, and I want to continue to be an international artist. I let my people know very clearly today what my feelings were.''

A Columbia spokeswoman later said: ``By no means are we shortchanging Neil Diamond. He's very important to Columbia Records.''

The album will be released in Europe on Sept. 3, hopefully to coincide with TV appearances Diamond will make there. It will be released in Australia on Aug. 13.

Confrontation is a big step for Diamond, who has carved out a career by writing songs with deeply personal sentiments he says he would be too embarrassed to say to someone's face.

Indeed, puffing away on a ``legal cheapo'' cigar, he presents a study of tranquillity, at age 60, forever slender in blue jeans. As he sings in one of his new songs, ``Everyone's got rainy days, it isn't so much if but when.''

By his own admission, Diamond has enjoyed more than his fair share of sunny days: 13 songs in the U.S. top 10, including three chart-toppers, ``Cracklin' Rosie,'' ``Song Sung Blue'' and ``You Don't Bring Me Flowers'' (a duet with Barbara Streisand); a Grammy Award for his ``Jonathan Livingston Seagull'' soundtrack; and a prolific career as a live performer that has led to some saying he is the biggest solo touring act of the 1990s.


Off the road since a New Year's Eve concert in 1999, Diamond will begin another North American tour in September. He has no retirement plans. When he is not on the road, he is writing songs. It can be a lonely life for a ``Solitary Man'' who rues his own company, and would rather hear people laughing at his self-deprecating jokes than applauding his songs.

``Three Chord Opera'' marks the first album written and composed solely by Diamond since 1974's ``Serenade.'' Virtually every track on his previous album, 1996's country-flavored ''Tennessee Moon'' was co-written with someone else.

The new album, produced by Peter Asher and Alan Lindgren, was a year in the making at Diamond's nondescript ArchAngel recording studio on a busy street near Beverly Hills.

``There was no sprinting involved in this album. It was a day-by-day battle,'' Diamond said.

He termed the finished work ``reflective,'' relating to past events in his life rather than things touching on his future.

In real life, the twice-divorced Diamond has been dating a thirtysomething marketing executive for the past few years. He describes her as ``dazzling'' but is disinclined to walk down the aisle again. He has two adult children from each of his marriages, and three grandchildren, one of whom is serenaded on the new album in ``Elijah's Song.''

The album begins on a bleak note with ``I Haven't Sung This Song In Years,'' a tune about irrevocably lost love that ranks as one of the darkest songs he has ever written. But things eventually pick up with such tracks as the escapist ``Baby Let's Drive'' and the exuberant ``At The Movies.''

``I don't like all of the music to be serious and deadly. I try to keep some humor in it, and some lightness.''

The joyful sentiment of ``At the Movies'' may not necessarily be shared by moviegoers who suffered through the recent comedy ''Saving Silverman,'' a critically reviled film partly redeemed by a Diamond cameo. He says he did it for his fans, and he credits the film with motivating him to write songs. Otherwise he might have delayed his latest album for a year or two.


Diamond also travels down the gospel road with ``Mission of Love'' and ``Leave A Little Room For God.'' A fairly observant Jew who attends synagogue ``on the serious holidays,'' Diamond has previously touched on spiritual themes in such songs as ''Kentucky Woman,'' ``Holly Holy'' and ``Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.''

``I've always accepted some kind of deity, especially as a songwriter. There's a mystery to writing, and you don't really know where most of it comes from. You like to think that it's something you created, but secretly you know that you had some kind of help, or somebody gave this to you.''

Indeed, it seems he has had divine guidance throughout his career. Few doubted the lyrics of his 1971 hit ``I Am... I Said,'' when he sang: ``Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king and then became one? ... You could talk about me.''

Never considered particularly ``cool,'' the Brooklyn native has followed his own muse since he dropped out of college in 1962 to begin several fruitless years writing songs to order for singers. Diamond eventually started performing and scored a breakthrough in 1966 with ``Solitary Man.'' It was not a huge hit, but it made people sit up and take notice, and it remains a sentimental favorite of Diamond's to this day.

That same year, he also released ``Cherry, Cherry'' and ``I Got That Feelin' (Oh No, No),'' and the hit songs just kept on coming: 37 top-40 hits in all. His albums were always a mixed bag, often mired in maudlin sentiments and middle-of-the-road arrangements, but they invariably went gold or platinum.

Musicians have frequently covered his songs. In recent years, the tip of the hat has come from such acts as U2 (''Play Me''), Pearl Jam (''Forever in Blue Jeans'') and Smash Mouth (''I'm A Believer'').

Diamond has been eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a decade but is still waiting for his invite. The snub did hurt for a while, but he just buried himself in his craft.

``I'm really interested in the work. That to me is the most fascinating thing, and I can still come up with something that I find worthwhile. It gives me a little hope. Hope for what, I don't know.''

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