Illustration by Kathryn Hyatt
In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, "Ask what you wish me to give you."
—1 Kings 3:5
I wish for you all you wish for yourself, Mr. Diamond.
—Marianne, Neil Diamond Dreambook, 2003
You do not ever need to listen to Neil Diamond. He is already a part of you. He is inside you, outside, everywhere. When you had your first kiss, like it or not, somewhere in the world a Neil Diamond song was playing that—like Collaso and Torresola's wild pistol shots—was meant for you. Perhaps you felt Neil close by that near-miss night. Perhaps you do not understand him yet. But it will only be a matter of time before he catches up with you again, and then you will love him forever. As a human being, you have no other choice. It's part science, part destiny.
In 1996, Gregory, Worall and Sarge proved gut reaction was just a chemical equation in the journal Motivation & Emotion, testing emotional responses to certain chord changes on 96 kids. And it was true: happy chords make people happy and sad chords make people sad, and that is why Neil Diamond has the power he has over a fat hank of American society that would otherwise never once together share the air of some bleach-smelling mega-arena. Simply put: unless you are clinically insane, it is biologically impossible to dislike Neil Diamond.
And yet there is so much joy at the interstice of submission and control, a dictum as true to de Sade as it was for Aquinas, and now for Diamond. In his early years, he'd step out on a stage and say, "Hello, my name is Neil Diamond and I intend to own you tonight," and he'd hear the whole spot-mottled audience disapprovingly suck in their breath at once. So he learned to be subtle, to tap out a personality in calculated nuance, and here was the response he demanded. Soon he didn't ever have to say it: the curtains would slide apart, he'd slip between them, and as one the crowd would sigh.
His concerts are as primordially sexual as they are religious; Ovid would understand, with his Bacchus in Ars Amatoria: "The sand yielded under his feet: clasped in his arms (she had no power to struggle), he carried her away: all's easily possible to a god."
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Understand that Neil is the same: "I don't know how to address you, [Neil Diamond]," says Marianne to a digital dream book, "but when you meet your soulmate for life, you just know it."
In 1996—same year as Gregory et al.; synchronicity limns the machinations of the universe-mind—filmmaker Jeff Krulik shot Neil Diamond Parking Lot, as anthropologically vital a work as anything about the Yanomamo and more telling a representation of Neil Diamond's glory than anything ever released by a record label. In 12 short minutes, you feel Diamond speak through his worshippers (it's very Zoroastrian; devotion through action and all that), and you come to understand that Diamond is a performer above the schizoid woof and warp of pop culture; his appeal is not just universal but the stuff of the universe itself. At the end of Krulik's film, as sweat-pantsed moms boil out of the USAir Arena in suburban D.C., the camera stops a beaming young girl, out of place for her age but not for her obvious exuberance. Because you have just been listening to Neil Diamond for nine minutes, you will be in a mood to marry her, after (of course) a gentle courtship that starts with a little serendipity at the malt shop and blossoms into engagement on a porch swing one muggy summer night, and then when you are old, you will go see Neil Diamond together, and she will fling her granny-panties onstage. Because before Neil, all other love songs are false: "Was it better than Pearl Jam?" the filmmaker asks, and that girl's smile drops a beat. "But," she says. "I didn't go to Pearl Jam."
Yes, you think. Why would you? To Neil and only Neil: in the end, where else can we hope to go?
Hot August Night: A Neil Diamond Tribute with Les Brown, Moe Green, Soul Inc. and Steve Peterson at The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Sat., 8 p.m. $12.50. All Ages.