By Brian Ives
“Look at his stats! 130 million albums sold!”
WCBS-FM morning show host and New York radio legend Scott Shannon was talking about Neil Diamond, from the stage of the auditorium in Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., the very school that Diamond attended six decades ago. The occasion for the homecoming: a special, one-off show last night (Sept. 29) for hardcore fans, promoting Diamond’s upcoming album, Melody Road, due out next month.
“Today if you want to sell a half million, you have to sing about your big butt!” Shannon continued. Making fun of current pop music is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel if you’re at a Neil Diamond show, and it could come off as a bit “get off my lawn!” But if you came up during the era where pop music was Motown, the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, the Rascals and Neil Diamond, it’s not hard to see why today’s pop music might seem like a crass parade of beats, boobs and butts. And if a new Neil Diamond record isn’t likely to change the pop landscape (even though his friend and fellow Erasmus alumni Barbra Streisand recently topped the Billboard charts with her new album Partners), his shows take his fans back to a simpler time in music.
Nostalgia hung heavy in the warm non-air conditioned room at this show. As mentioned, Diamond is an alumnus of Erasmus, a performing arts school, and the setting clearly meant a lot to him. “I’m overwhelmed,” he told the audience, before opening the show with “I’m a Believer.” “I’m back in the chapel.”
He explained that the room we were sitting in was the room where kids were held for detention, and it was during a detention that he heard a fellow student playing a classical piano piece. That afternoon, he told his guitar teacher that he was quitting to learn piano (his teacher’s wife, as it turned out, became his piano teacher): “My life changed here,” he said. He also noted that he used to work in the nearby subway station, shining shoes. “It was a great gig,” he said. “But there’s no future in it.”