Music by VICE

Neil Diamond Is So Good! So Good! So Good!

A head-in-the-clouds look back at the gang brawls, austere dirges, and arena shows that made an American icon.

by Nick Murray; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Dec 13 2017, 3:30pm

Photo by Sony Music Archive/Getty Images/Terry Lott

In 1962, a young songwriter who performed under the name Neil Diamond, and in fact was born with the name Neil Diamond, began a job at a small publishing company called Sunbeam, in a Midtown Manhattan office tower known as the Brill Building. A recent dropout of NYU, where he studied pre-med on a fencing scholarship, he had laid down both scalpel and épée to pursue his dream of becoming a Tin Pan Alley tunesmith. His new space—closer to a cubicle than a studio—placed him at the center of the action, surrounded by producers and song-pluggers, plus star writing duos like Goffin/King, Mann/Weil and Leiber/Stoller.

To speculate on the weather conditions of the day he first entered the Brill Building would be mawkish, cliché and melodramatic beyond taste and shame. Yet in an essay on Diamond, I know no other approach. It was a cool day, I suspect. A breeze came down the avenue, against the traffic, and slipped between the buttons of Neil's shirt. The breeze reminded the singer of September mornings when he and his brother Harvey would race to their elementary school across the East River in Flatbush. The memory made him feel old, and that feeling of age, of wrinkles loosening not just in the skin but the soul, undid the rush of confidence he had felt walking up from the subway. Why didn't I do this earlier? he thought. How long will it last?

He let two Walk signals pass while he settled his nerves. When he looked up, he saw three clouds. He'd carry these shapes in his memory for the rest of his life: The first, heading crosstown toward New Jersey, recalled the passenger ships that had once brought his grandparents from their old homes in Russia and Poland to their new homes in the United States. The second had the long shape of a classical guitar—a good omen, he thought. Now he was ready. He walked to the curb, raised his right foot over the curb and drew back—he had missed another Walk. It was then that he turned left and spotted, between the skyscrapers, the third cloud: It looked like a slice of pizza. Ah, yes, he had forgotten to eat breakfast.

That scene may be false, but the rest of this story is true. Diamond's songs didn't land, and he was fired after a few months on the job. For three years he kicked around more minor publishing companies, renting a room above the jazz club Birdland when none of them would have him. He had his first minor hit, "Sunday and Me" by Jay and the Americans, in November of 1965. Asked to write something for the Monkees, he scored his first chart-topper with "I'm a Believer" the following spring. It was a song so good that even Smash Mouth couldn't mess it up.

Though few realized it at the time, Neil would quickly become more than a songwriter. This is a man who once told his friend and collaborator Ellie Greenwich, co-writer of "Be My Baby" and "Leader of the Pack," that "when you walk out on the stage, it is the ultimate orgasm."

You can't keep someone like that in Midtown for long. So Diamond became a solo artist and moved to L.A. He's since sold over 100 million albums and scored 13 Top 10 hits. His 38 singles in the Top 10 of the Adult Contemporary chart put him one behind Elton John for most all time. Even today, at 76 years old, he's one of the biggest concert draws in the world, as he has been for over 40 years. The people at Las Vegas's Aladdin Theater were not being ironic when in 1976 they billed him as the world's greatest performer.

Still, to those who only know "Sweet Caroline" and maybe "Forever in Blue Jeans," Diamond can appear less artist than enigma. Even to the fans who appear in the also-unironic short film Neil Diamond Parking Lot, a fitting sequel to the original Heavy Metal Parking Lot, the singer's appeal isn't obvious. His place in the rock canon is confusing, in part because he defies some of the key principles that canon is based on.

"People didn't know exactly what to make of me," he once said of his early days as a solo artist. "There's the LSD scene in San Francisco, and there's the folk scene in New York. There's all kinds of English music coming over, and here comes a guy with a guitar, and I didn't really fit into what was happening in music."

Over time, the rock canon has been redrawn to include dozens of artists who at one point didn't fit in. Yet Diamond remains an oddity, a guilty pleasure. Perhaps that's because he's too committed to ballads, or because people still remember "America," his worst hit. Maybe he's just too naïve: his music is not without occasional irony (check the strange yet charming country parodies on Hot August Night) but he rarely uses that irony to accentuate the distance between himself and his music or his music and his listener. Diamond experiences no guilt: He is a showman and a performer, a rock & roll song-and-dance man so in love with the songs that he never took the time to how to dance.

When Neil arrived with his guitar, many critics and fans were beginning to understand rock music as a break from the past. This is the kind of thinking that leads to "Greatest Songs of All-Time" lists that omit, with few exceptions, any record released before the late '50s. Diamond upended this, explicitly connecting his work to a tradition of pop music that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and refusing to qualify his ambitions with the little winks that skeptics often demand.

Diamond in 1970 / Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Even in the early days, Diamond's lyrics blurred the line between self-awareness and self-mythology—a very contemporary condition. He began his recording career with three little-heard 45s released in the early 1960s, and he made his proper debut with 1966's "Solitary Man," a brooding pseudo-dirge sung from the perspective a James Dean-type loner with an inexplicable knack for pop hooks. It became his signature song almost by default: It made ample use of the first-person, and it wasn't "I'm a Believer." The track "convinced me I'd always been this quiet, introverted kid," Diamond later said. Years later, a former classmate showed him their 6th grade yearbook—Neil had been voted most cheerful.

For a tribute to the so-called Jewish Elvis, David Wild's He Is... I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond is an oddly Catholic book, equal parts hagiography and confession. "Solitary Man," Wild suggests, was significant not for the solitude but for the manliness: Diamond may have been working in the de facto headquarters of teenpop, but he was already trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult.

Not that he wouldn't often return to his Brooklyn youth. Diamond was born in Coney Island in 1941. His parents were Orthodox Jews who loved Latin music, crashed weddings and entered dance contests. They taught him Yiddish before they taught him English. Over the next dozen years, the family moved to Bensonhurst, Flatbush and briefly Wyoming, where Diamond spent afternoons watching screen cowboys play guitar in Western movies.

Back in Brooklyn, he got shot twice in the face by a CO2 gun during what he describes as "a big rumble" in Prospect Park. He was 12 then, and in the following years he spent more time at home, listening to the Latin music his parents preferred and the Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers discs he purchased himself. It was this period that would later inspire "Shilo," a song about imaginary friends, and "Brooklyn Roads," an "Empire State of Mind" for people who have long moved to the suburbs, if not to Boca.

Even folk music played a key role in Diamond's development. If you doubt that Diamond's music sublates just about all pop that preceded it, consider that Diamond decided to become a musician while attending a Jewish summer camp called Surprise Lake. The spark came when Pete Seeger arrived with his banjo and played old songs for the kids.

Today, it's hard to see Neil Diamond as he was seen by those who heard his first songs in early '60s; his image comes refracted as if through the glass beads of his late-'70s V-neck suits. At the time, however, Brill Building song pros saw Diamond as a sort of folk singer manqué. Producers would cut him off before he reached the first chorus. They'd tell him his verses contained too many words.

He shed that reputation with "I'm a Believer," and "Cherry, Cherry," a 1966 solo hit that took "La Bamba"–style Latin rock and added a piano breakdown that sounds like something Schroeder would play if he quit Peanuts to become a session musician. Diamond's essential The Bang Years 1966-1968 anthology is filled with songs like this. "You Got to Me" has bluesy harmonica and a perfect pop hook. "Red, Red Wine" and "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" are both a little stranger than subsequent covers would make them seem. Even "New Orleans," which he's never played live, is Nuggets-worthy garage rock with honky-tonk piano.

The "Bang" of the compilation's title refers to the name of Diamond's first label, Bang Records. The record is bracketed in '68 because that's the year Neil left the label in a dispute that maybe involved the label's head, Burt Berns, throwing a bomb—or was it simply a smoke bomb—into the Bitter End, the aptly named nightclub owned by Neil's then-manager. The first phase of the singer's solo career thus reached an oddly intense conclusion.

"Tin Pan Alley died hard," Diamond wrote in the liner nights to his 1976 LP Beautiful Noise. "But there was always the music to keep you going." Neil would revisit the Brill era at several points in his career. Up on the Roof: Songs From the Brill Building, from 1993, is disappointing, too reliant on big, obvious hits. But Beautiful Noise, a concept album whose concept would be indecipherable if not for the liner notes and promo material, is the best studio album Diamond ever released. (My pick for best album overall is a little unorthodox: I go with 2009's Hot August Night/NYC two-disc live set, the 27-song conclusion to the trilogy he had begun 27 years earlier when he released the original Hot August Night.)

For many, Beautiful Noise is notable most for its producer, Robbie Robertson of the Band, and the fact that this collaboration that led to Diamond's unexpected appearance in The Last Waltz. Yet Robertson, who in fact had pushed Diamond to take on this project, was an astute analyst of the singer's appeal, suggesting that he'd filled a "musical vacuum" between Sinatra and Elvis. I'd only add that this vacuum was also cultural, and complicated by the fact that one of Elvis's heroes was another crooner, Dean Martin—and that Bing Crosby, who of course was idolized by Sinatra, was also idolized by Roy Brown, who of course Elvis ripped off with "Good Rockin' Tonight." These connections between lounge music and early rock remain under-appreciated.

It should also be pointed out that, as a rule, Diamond gets more respect from his fellow musicians than he does from nearly any other demographic. My favorite cover of a Neil Diamond song is the metal group Deep Purple's "Kentucky Woman," though Marcia Griffith's reggae take on "Play Me" is sweet too. Even Bob Dylan recorded an unreleased cover of "Sweet Caroline," a song Diamond originally cut at Memphis' American Sound Studio. And naturally, the American Sound house band, one of the most important soul groups of the '60s, were also fans. "I mean, we were thrilled about Elvis," trumpet player Wayne Jackson later recalled, referring to Elvis's 1969 American Sound sessions, "but it wasn't like doing Neil Diamond."

Put on Beautiful Noise if you want to hear what these musicians are hearing: The record holds up, even if its depiction of New York in '50s in the '60s is far more West Side Story than The Wanderers. I can't imagine that any of the Brooklyn hoods pulling switchblades in songs like "Surviving the Life" and "Street Life" would be very much impressed by the record's abundant strings, or all the reverb on Diamond's vocals.

Still, "If You Know What I Mean" might be the best torch song of the '70s—its big, inevitable strings don't just imitate life but swallow it whole. Listening to it makes me feel like I'm Ahab and the whale is the song's chorus. And taken as a whole, I find the Beautiful Noise vision of lost American life—cosmopolitan, urban, multicultural, a little dangerous, bursting with life and possibility and excitement—infinitely preferable to that which you find in, say, the reactionary "genius" of Brian Wilson's Smile, the uneven work of a studio wizard who could never accept the fact that this country's history is a little more complicated than a stroll through Knott's Berry Farm might make it seem.

Diamond on 'The Johnny Cash Show' in September of 1970. Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images.

Beautiful Noise was, by Neil Diamond standards, well reviewed. In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the record a C+, a full letter grade higher than Hot August Night's D+. Registering the music's profound physiological impact, he even admitted that "somewhere in my cockles I found Diamond hooking me."

Diamond, for his part, has declared himself somewhere between anti-critic and critic-ambivalent. "I had to make a conscious decision early in my career," he has said. "Am I to please the critics or am I to please the audience? And I felt it was more democratic to try to please the audience."

It always rings false when a millionaire uses "democratic" as a synonym for "lucrative." Nevertheless, I can confirm the simpler point that audiences do indeed love this man. I saw my first Neil Diamond show in June, when his "50 Year Anniversary World Tour" stopped for two nights at Madison Square Garden. (Attentive readers will remember that Diamond's solo career began actually began in 1966, not 1967. Perhaps a "51 Year Anniversary Tour" would have been less "democratic.")

The show began promptly. Neil came to the stage after a series of songs by Chet Atkins and an intro montage that played on a suspended screen in the shape of a giant diamond. The crowd was old and enthusiastic. (I would learn later, to my astonishment, that it included an Insane Clown Posse fan I had become friends with after the 2013 Gathering of the Juggalos.) A lot of people closed their eyes while Neil sang—perhaps to feel the music, and perhaps because they weren't used to staying out past nine o'clock.

Personally, I couldn't take my eyes off the singer himself. Age has diminished his ability to thrust, so now he glides across the stage as if rehearsing a sort of soulful Tai Chi. In place of the beaded, primary color suits, he now prefers jackets and turtlenecks. The pattern of his first outfit recalled the grainy, telescopic image of a distant galaxy. When he returned for his encore, the jacket was lavender and the turtleneck sparkled under the lights. His voice sounds fantastic, though there's something Lynchian about the way his face, which appears to be stuck with botox, barely moves when he sings.

The set began with three old hits—"Cherry, Cherry," "You Got to Me," and "Solitary Man"—but it didn't become a Neil Diamond show until he pulled out the night's first torch song, "Love on the Rocks." This may be the only concert I've attended where people are on their feet more between songs than during them. Nearly every tune got a standing ovation, something Diamond encouraged by always drawing out the last few measures. After "Rocks" he addressed the audience. His words might have been the highlight of the show.

"I only want to do one thing when I'm up here and that's be vulnerable," he said. "At some point in this night I want to put myself on the same vibe as everybody here." He paused, pointed right and raised his voice. "Especially this section over here! They're hungry." They confirmed with big applause, but Neil wasn't done. He opened his arms and addressed himself to the whole arena: "I want to be so vulnerable for you folks!"

There's a little bit of pathos in the trope of the old singer hanging on to songs from his youth. Diamond totally refuses this—or maybe it's that he overwhelms it with songs that are themselves so filled with drama and pathos that we can hardly think to add any more. Playing "Done Too Soon," for instance, he opened by rapping the starting lineup of history's all-star team: "Rama Krishna, Mama Whistler / Patrice Lumumba and Russ Colombo / Karl and Chico Marx / Albert Camus." Cue the airhorns. The format anticipates "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "It's the End of the World As We Know It," except that halfway through the song, its tempo drops to half-time and the horns exit entirely. Now he's singing a ballad and asking what these diverse figures all had in common. The conclusion: They've all "sweated beneath the same sun / looked up in wonder at the same moon / and wept when it was all done / for being done too soon."

Ah, humanism. Listening to Diamond sing these words, I thought about Lenin's remarks on Beethoven, how Beethoven's music made the communist revolutionary feel uncomfortably soft toward the 19th century bourgeoisie. "I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty," Maxim Gorky records Lenin saying. Reaching out—touching me—touching you! A similar sentiment is recorded in the lyrics of "Sweet Caroline," which Diamond used to begin his encore. At one point Diamond stopped the song, waited for the applause and brought it back for another chorus. He gave the song its own encore within the encore.

"Sweet Caroline" also happens to be the song that introduced me to Neil Diamond. I assume this is true for a lot of young people, especially those who grew up Red Sox fans about an hour's drive from Fenway Park. Since 2002, the song has been played before the 8th inning of every Red Sox home game. It's in this context that I first remember hearing it. "This is catchy," I remember thinking. Everyone in the stadium was standing and singing—everyone except for one person: my dad. When the game resumed, he turned to the strangers sitting to our right and said, "Neil Diamond. Give me a fuckin' break."

I thus became a secret Neil Diamond fan. Home for a Christmas a few years ago, I found one of the mix CDs I used to play on the bus to school. "Sweet Caroline" sat between a song by my friend's brother's screamo band and Obie Trice's "Got Some Teeth." It's the only music I can remember hiding from my parents, who themselves liked punk and therefore complicated my attempts to make the genre a vehicle for my own rebellion.

I can't quite bring myself to type the words "Neil Diamond was my punk," so instead I'll point out that, for a moment in the mid-'60s, Diamond himself was a little punk, wearing all black clothes and playing guitar instead of piano. But when actual punk arrived, the genre crystallized all the tendencies in pop that ran counter to Neil's approach. It was aggressive. The music was hard and dissonant. It insisted that rock ought to break with what had come before it and purify itself against what was popular at the time.

The Diamond episode of Behind the Music elaborates on this opposition. "In the angry era of punk, Neil's polished and shimmering performances were an easy target," says the Behind the Music narrator. But Diamond still had a little punk left in him. "I've worn these glass-beaded shirts for years because it makes it easier for people to see me," he tells VH1's camera. "And a little bit of me is a contrarian, and if somebody says, 'I really hate those shirts,' I'm gonna order another dozen of those shirts."

The emphasis on outfits and the live show isn't accidental. It's risky to lump the punk bands of the late '70s and early '80s into one big group, but I think it's safe to generalize that a key difference between Diamond and punk—particularly the type which perseveres as DIY—comes down to the way the performer relates to the audience.

As a high school Diamond fan, this is what confused me most. "Sweet Caroline" turned me on to Neil, but I didn't truly become a fan until I saw him play "Dry Your Eyes" in The Last Waltz. It's an astounding three minutes: The crowd is rowdy but perhaps a little skeptical—they've just heard three songs from Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison is up next. Diamond is only there because Levon Helm lost an argument, yet he sings "Dry Your Eyes" as if it's the most important song in the world, as if the concert is his and the Band broke up merely to create the conditions necessary for this performance.

It's an impressive performance, but when I first saw it, "impressive" seemed like a dirty word. The bands I liked set up their gear on the floor and said things like "learn not to play your instruments." Over time, I've learned to reconcile, somewhat, the two positions. It now seems obvious that the spirit of Beat Happening's proverb—that kids shouldn't let received ideas of musicianship stop them from making art—doesn't contradict Diamond's vulnerable approach to performance and pop. Beat Happening may even be the only band that takes sincerity and vulnerability more seriously than he does.

In his book Turn Around Bright Eyes, Rob Sheffield suggests that Neil Diamond and DIY could be further reconciled through karaoke: At the karaoke lounge, the distinction between performer and audience becomes totally fluid, and we can all "Sweet Caroline" as loudly and as poorly as we are able. ("Sweet Caroline," he notes, is one of the few songs whose karaoke version has overtaken the original. Its now-canonical "So good! So good!" chant started at karaoke bars in the '90s.) I don't totally buy Sheffield's argument, but I think there's something to the idea that admiring Diamond's ridiculousness allows us to embrace a little ridiculousness in ourselves. That's why it's impossible to be an ironic Neil Diamond fan—to approach his music through irony is to miss, before you even press play, much of what makes it great.

Diamond at Madison Square Garden in October of 2001. Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage.

Neil Diamond officially entered the 80s with "Heartlight," which was inspired by E.T., and "Headed to the Future," which opens with exactly the synth riff you'd expect from a song of this name, by this artist, in this time period. People knock "Headed for the Future" because it's not as futuristic as, say, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," but they never give it credit for being way more futuristic than the strange "Future" suite that ends Sinatra's 1980 Trilogy: Past, Present & Future LP, a record that also happens to include a cover of Diamond's "Song Sung Blue."

Diamond became eligible to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. The question of his relationship to the rock pantheon went unanswered for 20 years, until he was finally inducted in 2011. Paul Simon gave the speech. He joked that the Hall of Fame had blackballed Diamond for collaborating with Barbra Streisand on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," a divorce ballad that ought to be played "slowly and freely" according to instructions in The Neil Diamond Songbook.

For once, Diamond fired back. After delivering most of his speech facing the fans, he turned to the music industry VIPs on the floor and defended Babs. "I love you, too," he said, he told the people seated on the floor. "Even though you didn't vote for me, I don't give a shit. I still would sing that song with Barbra—she's the greatest! And guess what: She doesn't give a shit either!"

A similar spirit surfaced on 12 Songs, from 2005, which rivals Beautiful Noise among best albums of Diamond's career. Produced by Rick Rubin, who insisted that Diamond play guitar while he sing, the album's light acoustic arrangements are the opposite of "Headed for the Future." Two of its songs—"Save Me a Saturday Night" and "Hell Yeah"—are all-time Neil classics. He sets up the latter as if it's going to be a typical showbiz lament. Is his life really "a hoot and a holler"? Is being Neil Diamond actually worth "the price that [he] paid"? These sound like the kind of questions that might be answered in the chorus, and in fact, here comes the crescendo: "Hell yeah it is!"

Late Neil albums are usually good for two or three tracks like this. One of my favorites is "Seongah and Jimmy," a homecoming off 2014's Melody Road. Here the singer returns to the old neighborhood to tell the story two Brooklynites, one from Korea and one from Long Island, who fall in love and learn each other's languages. You see how much Diamond took from country in songs like this: In the first verse the kids meet and in the last verse they get hitched, bringing the tune full circle. If only life—or, for that matter, this essay—could be so neat.

Diamond played something new only once at the Madison Square Garden show, wringing a surprisingly hearty sing-along from 2008's "Pretty Amazing Grace." Other than that, he stuck to songs released between 1966 and 1980, and he usually played them as he did in the year of their release. He ended with "America," as a giant flag waved across the giant diamond jumbotron, I began to feel a creeping dread. It wasn't just the nationalism—it was more like coming down, or when the hangover starts before your head even hits the pillow.

I suspect that this feeling is familiar not just to Diamond devotees but to other music writers, or anyone who writes about art or sports or something they love. There's always a temptation to keep researching, to stay inside the thing, to put off writing for as long as possible.

That's how I usually feel, anyways, and the panic was made worse by the fact that I still didn't have an ending. The concert, as much as I enjoyed myself, wasn't it: It somehow wasn't big enough, and as a finale, it wouldn't quite be Neil enough. I needed to close in a way that would make the reader not just suspend disbelief but revel in it, swearing it off completely, just as you do when you hand yourself over to so many of Neil's hits. Earlier, Neil had rejected my request for an interview. That was my chance, I thought, as I began my side-step toward the end of the aisle.

It was then that I felt my phone buzz: I had an alert on Signal, a new message from an unknown number. "15 minutes, backstage. The door marked ."

I told my plus-one to meet me at a bar called Tracks in Penn Station. Moving against the crowd, I went down onto the floor and around to the dressing rooms. I found the door and entered without knocking. This was a mistake. "Good lord!" he cried, and I began to speak. "Hi Neil! I'm that journalist. Though, I guess to be honest, I really see myself as more of critic than a journalist. I just usually say journalist because it seems less pretentious. I feel kind of guilty thinking of myself as a critic, though I guess I also feel kind of guilty about feeling—" This was going poorly. "Anyways, critic, journalist: Whichever one of those is least alarming to you, that's what I am, and I'm writing this essay about your work, and I've already written 4,500 words but—"

"Good lord." He said it again, quietly this time, the words barely escaping the hairs of his beard. "Who would want to read all those words about an old troubadour like me?" he asked. I shrugged. He shook his head and quickly and confirmed my fears. "You're really going to really need to wow them with the finish. What have you got planned?"

That was exactly my trouble, I explained. I'd written about the Brill Building, the live show and the shiny suits, even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and "Hell Yeah." Where could I go from there?

He wrote some notes on a piece of scrap paper, then looked up. "Onstage, when I had a little more range of motion"—he swiveled his shoulders—"I used to get 'em with a few of my old fencing moves. You know, a little thrusting, some jabs. Now I just bring back my old girl 'Caroline' as many times as I can." He sighed and looked to the floor. Then his eyes opened wide. "Have you told them about my song 'America'?" he asked. "When I close the show with that one it always gets the most glorious response."

I hesitated. "Yeah, I've mentioned that one," I explained, trying to figure out the most polite way to phrase what I had to say next. "It might not work here because I've already told them that it's not one of my favorites."

He looked concerned, not offended so much as baffled, as if I've just told him that a lot of the cool people are leaving Brooklyn for Philly, or that riding the Cyclone makes me sick. He crumpled the paper and tossed it into the trash. "Well maybe you can tell them this. Everybody dreams of being a pop singer, even me, even today. But most people, whether they realize it or not, don't actually want to become pop singers themselves. That's good. It's a dream that's meant to stay a dream, that's not meant to come true. I think it's important to have those dreams that aren't meant to come true. Otherwise you just have ambitions.

"Fifty-something years after picking up my first guitar, I still don't know what my music is supposed to do. I don't know if it's supposed to make you feel more comfortable with yourself or less." There was a knock on the door, but Neil ignored it. "Maybe my music makes people feel more comfortable with a self they haven't become yet—a more daring self, I'd like to think, a version of themselves that glows a little brighter, that isn't afraid to chance it all on a perfect ending." He struggled a wink. "Hell, maybe that's why people who become fans of my music stick with me for so long. Maybe in my music they keep seeing themselves anew, even though I'm just up here getting old. And maybe that's why some people hate me, too! I've shown them a part of themselves that they didn't want to see."

Not bad, I thought, as he excused himself to answer the door. He turned down the hallway and left without excusing himself. I began to follow but stopped just short of the doorway. In the trash can, a crumpled scrap of paper. I reached down, and, wanting a little bit more, I pulled it from the garbage. Neil's note contained no words, only pencil sketches of a passenger ship, a classical guitar and a slice of pizza. Drawn, it seemed, to resemble clouds. OK, that part's false. There was no Signal message, and I didn't go backstage or talk to Neil. I didn't even go to Tracks. But the rest, as I said, is true.

Correction: A previous version of post misidentified the piano-playing member of Peanuts. In addition, Neil Diamond is 76 years old, not 74 years old.

Nick Murray is on Twitter. Hell yeah he is.

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