A true Diamond in the rough of life
Despite phenomenal success, Neil Diamond still possesses almost unshakeable feelings of low self-esteem
Philip Roth wrote in Portnoy's Complaint that "a Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy till they die." Neil Diamond has a somewhat special relationship with his beloved mama Rose (his father Akeeba died in 1985). "Happy Birthday to my beautiful mom, Rose! 98 is the new 60! I love you, Neil", he tweeted last year.
There is a lovely story of the Telegraph's Craig McLean attempting to interview Neil at the singer's home in Malibu in 2010. In a scenario that Philip Roth would have possibly enjoyed, Rose cooked them corn on the cob and hot-dogs, coming in at various points to ask them - like they were two 15-year-old boys - if they were enjoying their food.
Ramblin' Rose visits Neil every Sunday. She moved from New York to California two decades ago to be close to her superstar son, who has sold over 130 million records (among them: Red Red Wine; Sweet Caroline; Song Sung Blue; Hello Again; You Don't Bring Me Flowers - the latter a duet with Barbara Streisand).
Many years before Neil became one of the biggest selling artists of all time -and many years before he was Lady Diana's dance partner of choice at then-President Ronald and Nancy Reagan's fancy White House ball in 1985 - his beginnings in Flatbush, Brooklyn, were humble.
Neil grew up in a small apartment, two floors above a butcher's store, where he would be woken up in the night to the grim sound of mouse-traps going off. As a young man he was unsettled emotionally by his family's financial situation.
When I interviewed Neil in London in 2014, he remarked that he had returned recently to his roots. The memories flooding back made him uncomfortable. "I realised that there must have been a reason why I never once invited any of my friends to my home. I think I was probably a little embarrassed by my circumstances," he said. "Many of them from school lived on the rich side of the tracks. I do know that never in the six years that I lived in that little apartment did I ask a friend to come over and watch TV with me."
The man who wrote such dark masterpieces as I Am… I Said - which Rolling Stone magazine called Diamond's "open-wrench paean to loneliness" - and Solitary Man also told me tellingly of his youth, where he had no idea "what my life would be. I was nothing. I was nobody. I was so dumb, it didn't concern me."
The "dumb" kid who went on to be one of the most feted recording artists of all time also reflected that he has always found "a lack in myself". Despite the phenomenal success and the wealth, and the homes and the private jets, Neil told me that he still possesses almost unshakeable feelings of low self-esteem...
"I knew earlier on that I was not perfect. I tried to be a good person. I tried to do the right thing. I tried to express my love. But I never did feel entitled to any of it," he says.
I asked him why?
"Maybe it is the days of sitting in that apartment with the mousetraps going off. That was what I felt I was worth. And anything above and beyond that, I don't believe I deserved any of that. And I believed I deserved the mouse-traps above the butcher's store."
Why didn't he just tell this destructive inner voice to f**k off?
"You are so right, because that other voice in the head, he only makes trouble for me. He never says: 'Accept. Be grateful. Be happy. You're lucky. You're a fortunate man. Let it rest at that.' The voice never says that. The voice always says: 'You're a fake. You're a charlatan. You're untalented. You're incomplete as a person.'"
Why does he listen to that voice?
"It's there. It lives. It's inside. I don't have a choice."
Neil Diamond plays the 3Arena in Dublin on October 10, 2017.
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