One of soft rock's biggest, ahem, gems, Neil Diamond has been producing enduring hits since Kennedy decided it would be a good idea to land some men on the moon. Spending so long in the spotlight has led to a number of conflicting stories about the singer—so here’s your essential Diamond fact-file to dazzle fans at his show at Rogers Arena on Monday (July 24).
Sharing is caring. Some of Diamond’s most famous hits only became successful after being covered by other artists. Dropping out of New York University after being given a contract at a Tin Pan Alley music publishing firm, the star began his career by shopping his songs to big names. The same year as his major radio breakthrough track “Cherry Cherry” was released, Diamond licensed a song to the Monkees named “I’m A Believer”. We think you might have heard of it.
Freeing the man behind the mask. Famously loose on-stage, Diamond is one of those rare artists who makes performing seem effortless. That easy-going charisma rubs off on his audience, which explains why’ll you’ll see 16,000 fans on their feet singing the “oh-oh-oh” part of “Sweet Caroline”, not giving a shit they couldn’t care a tune in basket. But Diamond hasn’t always been so secure in his own skin. In a 1976 Rolling Stone profile he admitted to going into therapy after auditioning for a film about Lenny Bruce. “Suddenly here I was, speaking words that I had never spoken before,” Diamond told writer Ben Fong-Torres. Out of his sessions Diamond learned to deal with the fact that he had plenty of self-confidence but zero self-esteem, which made him nervous around other people. “I was unable to go out and be social,” the singer said. “Going to parties is just something I’ve been able to develop over the last few years.”
Rock ‘n’ roll high school. Diamond was in the same Glee club as Barbra Streisand. The young artist changed schools nine times as a child, and was reportedly very shy. During his teenage years, both Diamond and Streisand attended Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School, with the pair singing together in the school’s chorus. Diamond later told Billboard that he signed up for the choir in order to meet girls—but he evidently didn’t get too far with Streisand. The duo never really connected until 1978, when they sang together on their number one hit “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”. Which goes to show how important it is to be nice to everyone—because you never know when that weirdo at the back of the class is going to become the best-selling American female artist of all time.
Jonathan Livingstone jackpot. Diamond’s only Grammy was for a movie soundtrack. Despite penning enduring crowd favorites like “Sweet Caroline”, “Song Sung Blue”, and “Cracklin’ Rosie”—as well as releasing 32 studio albums—the artist received music’s most famous accolade for his work on Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. The movie—an extended homily about self-perfection that is largely composed of dated atmospheric landscape shots—was widely panned by critics. Sales of Diamond’s soundtrack, though, earned six times as much as the film made at the box office.
Learning fron a legend. In 1957, Diamond found himself shipped off to a summer camp in upstate New York, where one of the instructors would leave a lasting mark on him. No less than Pete Seeger was on staff. The famous folk singer had been blacklisted after being dragged before House Un-American Activities Committee, and was teaching music workshops to pay the bills. Not only did Seeger play for the camp kids, he also encouraged the children to perform alongside him. Something clicked in Diamond—whose previous performing history was limited to his school choir. Upon returning to Brooklyn he set about learning guitar and teaching himself to write songs.