I was led to a private lounge deep in the labyrinth of the Ritz-Carlton and told to wait. Mr. Diamond would see me as soon as he finished his daily Stairmaster workout. When he finally entered the room dressed in tennis clothes and wiping sweat off his brow, he gave a friendly, if perfunctory, nod hello. We introduced ourselves. My nervousness belied my professionalism, so I jumped right to the questions.
Creative Loafing: So how much do the glass-beaded shirts you wear on stage weigh?
Diamond: Twenty pounds each. That's why I'm on the Stairmaster all day.
A lot of your contemporaries, like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, have been hooking up with hip young producers, which could be seen as a calculated marketing ploy on behalf of the record companies to attract a younger audience to the older artists on their rosters. Any chance we'll see Neil Diamond in the studio with Rick Rubin or Brendan O'Brien soon?
Never mind. I guess what I'm saying is, your music -- polished as it is -- seems to transcend the pettiness of marketing demographics. Housewives love you and so do their children, who cover your songs in their pick-me-up garage bands and secretly listen to your albums when they're not listening to crap like System of a Down.
You're hip and you don't even know it! You're a pop icon without equal!
Look, kid, when I get up in the morning I put on my pants just like everyone else. Then I go out and make triple-platinum albums.
Though your musical styles are different, you and Dylan have a lot in common: You both turned 60 last year, come from Jewish backgrounds, are on Columbia Records and are two of the most covered songwriters in pop history. While many would consider Dylan to be the more influential artist, he has cited you as an influence, especially during the '70s, when he vamped up his stage persona and fleshed out his song arrangements.
You forgot to mention the failed marriages.
Do women still throw panties at you when you sing?
I think you have me confused with Tom Jones.
So, tell me about your new album, Three Chord Opera, because, honestly, I haven't listened to it.
This is for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, right?
Um, yeah, that's the one. So, tell me about the new album.
I believe it's the best work I've done in years. The songs on this album ...
Are you saying your new songs are better than "America"?
My songs are like my children. It would be too difficult to pick a favorite.
Except, maybe, for those 13 "children" you had in the top 10 for a while, huh?
I'm starting to get a little uncomfortable with your line of questioning.
A few years ago, I saw a concert of yours on cable. When you broke into "Forever in Blue Jeans," the crowd went crazy, jumping to their feet and clapping along. Did it not strike you as oddly hilarious that none of them were wearing any jeans?
You know, I don't like music critics.
Well, to be honest, Mr. Diamond, I'm actually a songwriter too. I have this demo here. Maybe you could give it a listen next time you're on the Stairmaster.
I'm calling security.
Neil Diamond performs Sun., March 10, at Philips Arena, One Philips Drive. 8 p.m. $37.50-$67.50. 404-249-6400. www.ticketmaster.com.
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