[Sorry folks, this show has been canceled. Stay tuned for details on the rescheduled concert date. —Eds.]
In 2008, Neil Diamond had the first number-one album of his entire career. Considering how long the 67-year-old has been around, that's pretty surprising; while Diamond has never been "cool," it's strange to think of him just now hitting the peak of his career, especially when all his best-loved songs are decades old. His recent rehabilitation at the hands of producer Rick Rubin—and the bearded one's emperor-wears-no-clothes production style—is only the latest chapter in a career that hasn't had ups and downs so much as it's had one steady up.
Of course, Diamond started off strong. His first records, released on Bang Records in 1966 and 1967, are still his best, and all of these indelible pop nuggets ("Cherry, Cherry," "Shilo") still sound remarkably fresh today. (Outrageously, some of the best material from this era—"I'll Come Running," "The Long Way Home," "Someday Baby"—has been woefully out of print for decades, never having seen proper release on CD.) After switching to UNI Records in 1968, Diamond put out some great gospel-inspired records before getting symphonic and serious with 1970's Tap Root Manuscript, a bizarre, gorgeous album that included a 20-minute suite to the music of Africa—years before Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, or regrettably, Vampire Weekend—ever came down with jungle fever.
Of course, Diamond hasn't put out an album worth listening to all the way through since 1976's Beautiful Noise and he hasn't had a recognizable hit since 1982's "Heartlight." But his appeal transcends age and fashion; kids whose parents listened to Neil Diamond now play his records for kids of their own. By escaping the trends and image-mongering of a fickle and impotent music industry, and by indeed being the "Solitary Man" of his first hit song, Diamond has become one of the biggest entertainers in the world, with perhaps the most unfailingly diehard fanbase of any musician at any time.
There's good reason for this. The sentiments in Diamond's songs carry no expiration date. One can never be too old to listen to his music. While many bands-du-jour can inspire their fans to extreme devotion—particularly by playing to the frustration and energy of youth—such fanaticism usually only happens within the small window of adolescence. Once a fan outgrows his teen angst, he can often outgrow a band, too, discarding them alongside the detritus of first relationships, first piercings, and first drug-takings, even as the tattoo of the band's logo sags on his aging skin.
Perhaps, then, Neil Diamond is the musical equivalent of "lifestyle sports," that semester of high school gym class where they taught us how to play games for old farts, like golf and shuffleboard—sports that don't require running, bending, or breathing heavily. Listening to "I Am... I Said" isn't going to help you deal with your anger toward your parents. But it very well might help you cope with a second divorce or job relocation. "September Morn" isn't going to get you any ass on the dance floor, but it could be just the soundtrack to a romantic night with someone you've been sleeping with for years. And singing "Song Sung Blue" never made anybody sound cool, but it could very well be the first song your toddler learns all the words to.
Chances are, they'll be singing it to their kids, too.