Fenway-bound Neil Diamond isn’t worried about why he’s popular, he just wants to make "beautiful music."
This is Neil Diamond telling you how it is at age 67: ``I’m not reaching out for anybody but the audience that wants to listen. That’s all. I’m not doing anything logical. I’m not pre-planning anything. Maybe I would have had a better career if I had and thought it out, but it was all based on how well I could write the songs, and how good the songs would be, and how the audience took it to their hearts, and it’s still that way – exactly that way.''
And that’s the long and the short of it – as best a pop star who’s been in the game for more than four decades can attest, speaking to an international collection of fawning reporters during a conference call last month.
We fire questions at the man about his method, his lifestyle and about the soft-rock pop formula he’s long since mastered, but the guy just wants to tell us how grateful he is – gentle chiding for daring to overthink the Neil Diamond pop juggernaut.
Does he give a rodent’s behind about being snubbed, so far, by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame?
A Cleveland reporter baits the question, reminding Diamond there’s a list of blogs devoted to his election.
``No. It’s no consideration at all,'' comes the gracious reply. ``My only consideration is to make beautiful music.''
OK, fine, Neil, we’re buying.
You’ve charted your first No. 1 album, ``Home Before Dark,'' which was released in May, and your tour is selling like hotcakes. You just finished four rockin’ nights at Madison Square Garden en route to an appearance at Fenway Park on Saturday.
The Boston Globe calls the prospect of you singing ``Sweet Caroline'' for the Fenway legions ``mystical,'' and the New York Times has proclaimed your banner 2008 a ``career renaissance.''
``I don’t feel that old,'' Diamond says. ``But it’s nice to feel that in this market that’s filled with young people, or seems to be aimed at young people, that an old geezer can come along and knock a few of them off their perches and say hey, here’s for the senior citizens, and we can kick a little butt, too.''
But with all of Diamond’s hits, some people still find themselves defending their appreciation of him.
Even Robbie Robertson, formerly of the Band, had to explain himself to his bandmates when he invited Diamond to that group’s legendary concert, The Last Waltz.
The tension of the Fenway Park appearance is almost too good to be true in its balance of long-awaited, sense-making catharsis and head-shaking critical scorn. For many, the eighth inning ``Sweet Caroline'' sing-along is a Fenway hallmark. For many others, the use of ``Sweet Caroline'' is one more symbol of the same pink hat/corporate takeover/bandwagon mentality that catalyzed things like membership cards for Red Sox Nation and higher ticket prices.
Luckily for all of us think-too-much-ers, Diamond does not overanalyze things. Such matters of his place in the pop canon, his ability to make people smile, his multi-generational fan base, his ``American Idol'' appearances, his curious hipster appeal – they have no bearing on a man who by all accounts works his face off as a songwriter and keeps up as relentless a pace as ever.
In his inability to explain himself, he’s as mysterious and nebulous in what makes his work so sturdy as Bob Dylan is about his poesy.
Plus, for all the album and ticket sales and crowing about his work with Rick Rubin – who shepherded Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and produced both ``Home Before Dark'' and Diamond’s ``12 Songs'' (2005) – Diamond is still, as he told the Times, lugging around paper bags full of yellow legal pads and songwriting ideas, hoping to crack the code on what stirs the music lover’s spirits.
``This is my job,'' Diamond told the Times. ``Someone much greater than me gave me that job. He said, ‘You, you with that stupid look on your face – go out and sing until I tell you to stop.’ I haven’t heard the word yet so I’m just going to keep doing it.''
The man’s on to something. It’d be a shame to overthink things during our short time here, no?
Enjoy Fenway. Here’s betting it’ll be a fun one.
The Patriot Ledger