They sure love Neil Diamond not only at Boston’s Fenway Park
Legendary crooner finds new audiences at sporting events these days as thousands sing along to Sweet Caroline
Where it began, I can't begin to knowing
But then I know it's growing strong
Was in the spring
Then spring became the summer
Who'd have believed you'd come along
Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you
Good times never seemed so good
I'd be inclined
To believe they never would
Oh no, no
– Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond, bellowed by thousands of sports fans attending the Alumni Classic outdoor hockey game, Hamilton, Ont., Jan. 21, 2012
When you think of Sweet Caroline, Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue and Forever in Blue Jeans, you automatically think of Neil Diamond, who composed the songs and performs them in his concerts. He’s currently wrapping up a world-wide tour, with every appearance sold out in advance. His Toronto, London, Montreal and other Canadian shows earlier this summer drew adoring fans.
A Neil Diamond show these days, in huge venues like the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Bell Centre in Montreal, is a major event attracting multiple generations. His performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, which drew a heavily celebrity-studded audience, marked the 40th anniversary of his legendary Hot August album.
Diamond has sold over 100-million records and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
His hit Sweet Caroline has taken on a life of its own and served to introduce Diamond to a whole new generation, as a sing-along tune at major sporting events across the continent. It has been played at every Boston Red Sox home game since 2002, in the middle of the eighth inning, and in 2010 Diamond was on hand at Fenway Park to sing it himself.
Hamilton Spectator reporter Jeff Green reported, “Halfway through the second period, with the snow flying across the stadium, the Outdoor Classic Alumni Game paused for a group sing-along to Sweet Caroline, led by former NHLer Kraig Nienhuis.
Former Montreal Canadien Patrice Brisebois said after the game about the singalong, “Unbelievable. We had no idea it was coming.”
For Neil Diamond, such adoration in a frozen stadium in Canada on a snowy January night is a far cry for a kid from Brooklyn whose early ambition was to be “a laboratory biologist.” While in college at New York University he had a medical future in mind. “I wanted to study and I wanted to find a cure for cancer,” Diamond told FYI. “My grandmother died of cancer and I was always very good at the sciences. I thought I would go and discover the cure for cancer.”
But he was always heavily into music and sports, and thus a medical career was long forgotten.
He became a member of the college’s fencing team, and then a member of the 1960 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s championship team, but although he loved fencing (and still indulges), he knew there wasn’t a future in that sport.
But music! Ah, that was different. He recalls his days as a song plugger in New York’s Tin Pan Alley, pounding away on the piano, trying to sell his songs to the record companies. “We each had our own cubicle, and I had these two guys in the next cubicle playing kind of strange melodies.”
The two guys turned out to be Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who were composing the score for Fiddler on the Roof.
His music caught the ear of a music publishing company, which offered him $50 a week to write songs. Big money at the time, especially for a youngster.
Many of his songs were of a personal nature, and his first big hit reflected that. It was called Solitary Man (1966) that being his true nature. Of course all that was to change later, with several marriages and divorces.
Soon Diamond was an opening act for such groups as Herman’s Hermits and then The Who. He started playing clubs like the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and then began headlining the major 15,000-seat concert venues, with sell-out crowds.
By this time, Diamond’s manager signed a top Hollywood publicity office to represent him, that same agency that handled James Taylor. In March 1971 the PR people got Sweet Baby James the cover of Time magazine, plus three inside pages. A major coup. A few weeks later they got Diamond five pages in Time. But Diamond was a tad unhappy. Yes, he was pleased with five inside pages, but always moaned, “James got the cover.”
During those days, when asked “What did he aspire to?” he always replied, “I want to be known as the greatest entertainer in the world.” Ironically, years later he was to star in The Jazz Singer movie, inspired by the life of Al Jolson, who always billed himself as “the world’s greatest entertainer.”
More recently he was invited to be a mentor to the finalists on American Idol, and appeared as a guest star performer. Because of the popularity of his appearances, Sirius Satellite Radio started the Neil Diamond Radio programs.
Last December he was honoured at the Kennedy Center Honors gala. “The President was there,” Diamond smiled. And just before that the native New Yorker received a warm reception from New Yorkers when he appeared during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On the personal side, Diamond is always in touch with his family, including four kids and seven grandchildren. He has been married and divorced twice until finally, on April 21 of this year, he married Katie McNeil in Los Angeles, who has been accompanying Diamond on his current tour. The final tour date scheduled is Sept. 1, in Las Vegas, and then, Diamond has said, “We’ll go on a long vacation.”
Neil Diamond's eight number-one hits include:
Song Sung Blue,
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,
Love on the Rocks,