Book Review: Neil Diamond is Forever by Jon Bream
When my parents got their first car with a tape deck (ca. 1984) and started building a tape collection for our family road trips, they relied heavily on their sense of nostalgia. Consequently, we listened to a lot of Neil Diamond. (Barbra Streisand, too, and Simon and Garfunkel, though no Beatles, owing to my father's longstanding bitterness from being a teenage boy in 1964 who sported a crewcut. After the Beatles arrived, girls no longer found this attractive. He covered his disdain by dismissing all Beatles compositions, even "I Want to Hold Your Hand", as "drug music.") While flipping through Bream's book, I found myself singing "Song, Sung Blue" and "Cherry, Cherry" and "Solitary Man" almost reflexively. How many times must you listen to a song -- even at an impressionable age -- to be able to remember it twenty-five years later with no effort whatsoever?
Neil Diamond is Forever is not the sort of book that will damage innocent childhood memories or even make one think, Hmmmm, a lot more was going on there than I realized (as happens when one looks back on summer camp singalongs of "Yellow Submarine"). Yes, the phrase "Jewish Elvis" is bandied about, but I am pretty sure that when Neil Diamond dies, he will not be discovered hunched over on a toilet with a stomach full of pills. Neil Diamond is not that kind of guy. Or, at least, Neil Diamond is Forever is not the kind of book that report it if he were.
Neil Diamond is Forever is a work of hagiography, pure and simple. As Bream, the longtime music critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writes in the introduction:
There is a Yiddish word often used to describe Neil. It's mensch. His grandmother would have translated it as "nice Jewish boy who does everything his parents expect of him." But the dictionary defines it as a "decent, upright, mature and responsible person." That's the way he's impressed me in our series of coversations over the past thirty-four years."He even tells Bream he should have followed through with his childhood dream of becoming a doctor!
|No, he never played El Gallo in The Fantasticks. As a lad in Brooklyn, Neil was a competitive fencer. For real.|
The subjects of drugs and groupies, important -- nay, vital -- plot points in any rock narrative from the sixties and seventies are never even broached. Did Neil inhale anything stronger than two packs of cigarettes a day? Who knows? Far more important: Yes, it is true, a photograph of Caroline Kennedy, age 11, was the inspiration for "Sweet Caroline".
Fortunately, there are pictures. Ticket stubs, from the days when you could go to a stadium concert for less than twenty bucks. Concert t-shirts (the baseball jerseys and silkscreened portraits from the eighties are actually kind of awesome). Album covers in a plethora of different languages.