Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I posted this on AvCanada a long time ago, and found it again. More flying stories coming up soon - I'm flying a whole lot over the next three weeks so I'll have some new content then.

A Short Ode to the Understated Genius of Neil Diamond

Sully here, reflecting on an artist who, outside of his loyal circle of fans, has been the subject of ridicule and punchlines, his music the foundation of the phenomena known as "Elevator Music". A musician whose songs have been in, out and back again, out of fashion, then back again, regardless of climate, pop culture, or mass taste. A man immortalized in not one, but TWO movies: The Jazz Singer (1980), and more recently Saving Silverman (2000).

The artist in question?

Mr. Neil Diamond. The man, the myth, the LEGEND.

I hear some of you out there snickering. "Sully" you're saying, "how can you, the arbiter of all that's cool and hip, consider NEIL DIAMOND a musical icon?"

My answer is: quite easily. You want proof? Okay, but remember, you asked for it.

Fact one: A student of New York University in the 1960's, Mr. Diamond felt the artistic desires and creative fires burning within him to write music and songs for all the world to hear. Keep in mind that the Neil we know of today was most definitely NOT the Neil back then. Caught in the conflict of finishing his degree or satisfying his creative muse, he chose the latter and left to pursue his destiny.

The catch (isn't there always at least one?) is that, yes, he did leave his degree unfinished, but it's the timeframe that's worth noting.

He didn't leave in his freshman year, some 18 year old snot nosed naïve bastard whose ego outweighs his talent. He didn't leave in his sophomore year, 19 years old, young dumb and full of...well, you can finish the thought. Junior year? Nope, at twenty and twenty one years old he hung out with his friends, a full citizen of the university nation.

He left in his senior year. At the beginning? Ah, there's the rub. Not at the beginning.

Our boy Neil left SIX MONTHS before graduation. He had one more semester to complete, then he would have been complete with a BA degree, youth, and talent on his side.

Screw the Sex Pistols, what Neil did, THAT'S PUNK ROCK!!!!

Fact two: Mr. Diamond, upon leaving school, went out west. After some struggling, he finally began to earn a living as a songwriter. Check that. He began to make a rather good living as a songwriter.

The Monkees's pop classic "I'm a Believer"? Written by Neil Diamond.

Didn't know that, DID YA?!?!?!?!?!

The Urge Overkill gem "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon", from the "Pulp Fiction" movie and soundtrack? Written and first performed by none other than...

You guessed it. Neil Diamond.

And that's just a sampling of the hits this man's created. Consider the following, and don't kid yourself, at some point in your life you've hummed and sung along to one of these gems:

Forever in Blue Jeans
Sweet Caroline
Crackling Rosie
Coming to America
Song Sung Blue
Cherry Cherry

C'mon, everyone has these songs in their heads. You may be able to avoid the radio, but in the elevator?

Neil's there.


Look, it's Neil!!

And lest you think, like the fluff that N'Sync, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys peddle, Neil's songs have no substance, consider the following lyrics:

Money talks
But it don't sing and dance, and it don't talk
As long as I can have you here with me
I'd much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

Honest. Straightforward. Heartfelt. REAL.

And for all my verbal brilliance 8-), I know that I could never write lyrics as simple or as brilliant as Neil's.

It's a fact that writing a song is not the easiest thing in the world. Conveying an idea, creating a story, characters, within a song is not a matter of writing words to paper and BOOM! You have a moneymaker. If it was, EVERYONE would have a hit song.

Only a few have the gift.

Even fewer use it consistently, and can sustain a career doing so.

It can be heard in songs like the soul stirring melody of "Heartlight," the playful, flirtatious "Sweet Caroline", and the strange, inviting sounds of "Kentucky Woman".

Fine, you say. He can write a song. How is he live?

Oh, you want to know how the man does LIVE?

Check out the thousands, even HUNDREDS of thousands, of fans that flock to his concerts. From Seattle to Miami, San Francisco to New York, Neil has, most definitely, a FOLLOWING. Some have been fans for years, dating back to his beginnings in the 60's, while others are young enough to be Neil's grandkids. His shows have been described as "mesmerizing," "enticing," "hypnotic," and "enthralling." This, most clearly, is the measure by which all musicians can and should be judged.

Neil BRINGS IT. Every performance, every note, every gesture, it is fully and completely NEIL. He leaves his body, heart and soul on the stage at the end of each performance. Because of that, is it any wonder that he has the cult-like following (they follow him, like a CULT!) and the types of fans that he has?

So I ask you once again: who has the gift, the magic, the musical je ne sais quoi?

The Beatles?

Bob Dylan?

Skinny Puppy?

Joni Mitchell?

Count Neil among them. He has more than earned his way into this elite circle.

Hey, my fav bands are Tool and Skinny Puppy, but I do appreciate genius.


Steve said...

Ahh, yeah. A passion for flying and for Neil. We must have a connection.

Anonymous said...

+1 to steve's comments. I remember wearing out my Dad's vinyl LP of Neil's Greatest Hits back when I was 7 or 8 jumping up and down in the living room singing Sweet Caroline. Still listen to that from time to time and keep it on my iPod for when the mood strikes. Great post Sully.


Anonymous said...

Hey who saw the PBS Special on Roy Orbison's famous Black and White concert with his million dollar back up band; Bruce Springsteen, kd laing, Bonnie Rait, Tom Waits, JacksonBrown and a host of others. Neil's big brother, Roy Orbison was a genius and wrote epics, not merely songs

Chris said...

Actually the lyric is "but it can't sing and dance, and it don't walk." You forgot the most popularized Red Red Wine performed by UB40..I won a shot glass on that trivia question. I still prefer Neil's version. My aunt is a Diamond fanatic, and sees him every time he plays Toronto. I can do a fair cover on my guitar. But I always thought he sold out a bit with the ET connection and lost some of his writing creativity after that. His last big album I would have said was Beautiful Noise.

A bunch of guys talking about Neil Diamond...maybe we are getting too sensitive.