Neil Diamond was without doubt the most disagreeable interviewee I ever had to misfortune to come across. My meeting with him took place in the summer of 1976 in a luxury air-conditioned caravan that served as his dressing room backstage at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in the borough of Queens in New York City, and probably in order to impress a blonde woman hovering in the background, Diamond spent most of the time ignoring my questions and bragging about his achievements. He was, he told me, far more popular and talented than Bruce Springsteen or any of “those long haired British musicians and noisy groups who come over here and encourage our kids to take drugs”. He seemed to have a taken a particular dislike to his label-mate Springsteen and was unable to understand why music papers were making such a fuss of him when he, Neil Diamond, deserved similar if not greater accolades.
As I silently pondered the relative merits of ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Song Sung Blue’, Diamond went on at great length about his many accomplishments. He was, he said, about to direct his talents into acting where he fully expected to be as successful as he was in the field of music. He emphasised the depth of his career, pointing out that he’d paid his dues, unlike so many other pop singers, and was now reaping rewards that were fully justified.
Diamond’s rant veered worryingly towards the right-wing politics he evidently espoused. He held strong opinions on drugs and drug culture and I was left in no doubt that he vehemently disapproved of the use of all recreational drugs and had no time for those who used them. He had no time for anti-war protesters either, and thought John Lennon should be deported, sent back to England where he came from.
I felt a growing sense of unease, not just because I disagreed with almost everything he stood for, but because he obviously wanted me out of the way so he could be alone with his female guest. It was almost as if my arrival had interrupted something between them and Neil was impatient to get back to it. She was nodding vigorously at almost everything he said, flirtatiously indicating her approval of his opinions. I noticed that she was drinking white wine, quite a lot of it too, and that the top buttons of her blouse were undone so as to draw attention to her ample cleavage. She wore an abundance of gold jewellery and tight black stretch pants that emphasised her curvy backside.
Diamond, permatanned, was wearing white jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt with the collar turned up, and he had an ostentatious gold medallion around his neck. I’d done my research on him but he soon became impatient with my questions about his early years as a writer in the era of the Brill Building. He answered my questions about his recent association with Robbie Robertson of The Band, an unlikely pairing I thought, but made a point of mentioning all the gold and platinum albums he'd amassed and the vast crowds that were attending his concerts at Forest Hills, two shows in one day no less. Even more he wanted me out of the way, and when the rising sharpness of his tone indicated that the meeting was over I was summarily dismissed. I'd been promised an hour with him but the interview had lasted just over half an hour. In truth I was glad to leave.
Back at my apartment I somehow scraped together what I could from the interview tape without dwelling on the displeasing aspects of the encounter. It wasn't the sort of thing Melody Maker readers were accustomed to in those days and, in any case, I have no doubt the subs would have edited it out if I had mentioned the frosty atmosphere.
A few weeks later I was much amused to read in the newspapers that during a police raid on his house in Holmby Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, marijuana had been found. So Neil Diamond was a hypocrite as well.
I now find myself strangely allergic to Neil Diamond. Whenever I hear his songs on the radio I change channels immediately. If I am subjected to his music in a shopping mall or airport I turn slightly queasy and do all I can to absent myself from the premises. If I see a photograph of him in a magazine, I quickly turn the page. I cannot help this. Once, when a doctor was about to prescribe me medicine, he asked if I had any allergies. “Neil Diamond,” I replied. And he thought I was joking.