He goes by the name Scrote — short for scrotum — and he plays lead guitar for Neil Diamond. Well, sort of: Scrote plays lead guitar in Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond tribute band that performs every month or so in the Bay Area, in venerable halls like the Fillmore. Ask Scrote, 32, about the moshers who attend his shows, and even after two years, he sounds awestruck. ”It seems so ridiculous to me,” he says, ”but these women are standing in front of the stage, and they’re throwing their panties and bras at us.”
Guys like Scrote have learned what many of us have known all along: Neil Diamond is Godhead. Of course, this should not come as news to those longtime fans who still flock to arenas to hear his songs sung blue, songs that have made a generation of boomers laugh, cry, and try to sing along with his sulking baritone. They did not need movies like Pulp Fiction (with Urge Overkill’s dark-tango remake of ”Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”) or the new Beautiful Girls (which features ”Sweet Caroline”) to remind them of his mark. They have known for 30 years that his songs, from early nuggets like ”Cherry Cherry” through such later meditations as ”September Morn,” have elevated love, despair, depression, melancholy, and the occasional half smile to an epic struggle. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught up.
But all smirking aside, Diamond, who just turned 55, has left far more than a musical stamp on our lives. Once an entertainer makes it big, all manner of unexpected things happen — to his or her status, art, bank account, mental state, and eating patterns. If he is truly lucky, the showman becomes something larger, a slate upon which people can scratch the imprint of their lives. Some of the musicians currently on the charts, or those planning to attend this year’s Grammy Awards, may eventually match Diamond’s 110 million albums sold worldwide, but they still won’t be lucky enough to end up the cultural metaphor that Neil Diamond has become.
So let the kitschmeisters have their Tony Bennetts, their Tom Joneses, and their Barry Whites. On the occasion of the release of Tennessee Moon, his first album of new material in five years — and in a futile attempt to match the man’s own majestically over-the-top style — here is a mere handful of the many reasons Neil Diamond continues to reverberate.
THESIS 1: Neil Diamond as Metaphor for the Assimilation of the Eastern European Immigrant in the United States
Among the 2 million Polish and Russian Jews who immigrated to America in the late 19th century were Neil Diamond’s grandparents. Neil was born to Kieve and Rose Diamond (their actual surname) in Brooklyn, that haven of ethnicities. Young Neil never denied his Jewish heritage; in fact, he seemed proud of it. But there was little that was Yiddish about the spunky tunes Diamond began cranking out professionally at the age of 21; songs like ”Cherry Cherry” (1966) and ”I’m a Believer” (a hit for the Monkees the same year) could have been concocted in a class science project behind Dick Clark’s house. And as he grew older and more ambitious, he preferred to dip into red-blooded Americana, like ”Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” or his joyous ode to a bottle of wine, ”Cracklin’ Rosie.”