Neil Diamond could easily settle into retirement and look back at his nearly 50-year recording career during which he’s sold 125 million records and had 39 Top 40 hits.
But Diamond is not ready to get out of the spotlight yet. He is currently on a 31-city North American concert tour that includes Canadian stops in Montreal, Toronto, London and Vancouver.
He has much to beam about, especially about events in his life over the past two years. Diamond recently married for the third time, to his 41-year-old manager, Katie McNeil. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and ended that year as a Kennedy Center honoree for lifetime achievement in the performing arts.
“I feel so fortunate to make my dream a lifetime’s work. Having Katie with me, being honoured over the past two years – I am as excited about singing and songwriting now as I ever was. I feel that I have been rejuvenated. I’m looking forward to another 20 years of singing and songwriting,” said Diamond in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
He has sold more records in his career than most artists half his age, yet seems to be humble enough to avoid the excesses of stardom. Diamond’s last two CDs, Twelve Songs (2005) and Home Before Dark (2008), gave him the status of being the oldest artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard music charts.
Opening his tour in Fort Lauderdale on June 1, Diamond sang 29 songs in a two-hour concert without either an opening act or intermission. Dressed in a black shirt and black pants, he performed his most beloved songs from the past five decades, ranging from his first hit Cherry, Cheery (1966) to Hell Yeah (2005) with his 14-piece band.
Most memorable for Diamond fans were his singing his signature tunes, America; I Am I Said; I’m a Believer and Sweet Caroline, which fans sang along with him.
“I am grateful that after all these years, people resonate with my songs. I try to be honest and truthful in everything I do – just the same as when I was struggling in the 1960s. But for me, it is not the fame or money that moves me – it is the challenge of expressing myself in new songs.”
Diamond recreated, to a degree, his Jewish upbringing when he starred in the film The Jazz Singer, a remake of the tale of a cantor who found fame as a pop singer.
“Even though my parents wanted me to become a doctor and not a cantor, the film is a tribute to my Jewish heritage.
“I worked very hard to retell this classic story of a Jewish cantor who left his expected place in society for a world in show business,” he said. “I loved the retelling of the Jewish experience. So much of the story reminds me of my grandparents and their kind of life. They were immigrants to America and taught Yiddish to me as a child.
“I wanted Yiddish in this movie. In fact, I tried to convince the director at one point to have the whole opening in Yiddish with subtitles, as they did in The Godfather. Yiddish is a beautiful language, and I wanted to do my part to keep it alive,” added Diamond, whose first language at home was Yiddish, taught to him by his grandmother.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941 to Akeeba and Rose Diamond, young Neil knew he wanted a career in music, but to satisfy his father’s wishes for a stable career, he enrolled as a pre-medicine student at New York University.
After taking his first job as a songwriter for $50 weekly in 1961, Diamond was hooked on a music career ever since.
Although he has some disdain for organized religion, he wants to embrace Jewishness and raises funds for organizations he admires.
“I am Jewish. I believe in God, love the traditions I learned growing up, and tend to be very spiritual, so I want to pass on to my four grandchildren all I know about their heritage,” he said.
Following the end of the concert tour in September, Diamond will be going on a six-month honeymoon to New York, Israel and Italy, among other destinations.
”I want Katie to know everything about me and my past. Aside from my natural ties to New York City and Israel, my mother has relatives in Italy, so we look forward to a wonderful journey together,” he said.
Diamond performs in concert at the Bell Centre, Montreal, on June 21, the Air Canada Centre, Toronto, on June 26, the Labatt Centre, London, on June 28, and the Rogers Arena, Vancouver, on July 21. For links to tickets and concert dates at all Canadian cities, go to www.neildiamond.com.