The new Broadway show, “A Beautiful Noise,” is the story of a singer who’s sold more than 130 million records. Its subject: Neil Diamond, who said that attending the opening was “kind of like a dream come true. It was absolutely wonderful.”
With his wife, Katie, by his side, the 82-year-old Diamond, who’s rarely performed since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, led the crowd in a chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”
There was, he said, a lot of love in the theatre, “and I felt it.”
Mason asked, “Were you ever getting flashbacks in the middle of the show?”
“I think constantly, from the minute it started! Like, everything was a flashback!”
He said he’d wanted to make a musical (he thinks all songwriters and performers have that desire), but as the show was being developed, Diamond told the producers and writers he wanted it “warts and all.” “I didn’t necessarily love it, warts and all, but I wanted it,” he said.
Will Swenson plays the young Neil Diamond, whose Olympian ambition undoes two marriages. Mark Jacoby plays the older Diamond, still haunted by self-doubt. Diamond said. “This show was part of my psychotherapy. And it hurt. I didn’t like looking at myself in many of the scenes.”
What part was hardest? “It all was pretty hard. I was a little embarrassed, I was flattered, and I was scared.”
Mason asked, “What were you scared of?”
“Being found out is the scariest thing you can hope, because we all have a façade, and the truth be known to all of ’em, I’m not some big star; I’m just me.”
Just a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who wanted to be a songwriter.
In 2005, Diamond took “Sunday Morning” back to the Bitter End, the Greenwich Village club where the singer got his start.
He asked, “Can I step up on the stage and see what it feels like to be 25 again?
“It was my beginning,” he said. “It was right here.”
In the 1960s Diamond climbed the charts with hits like “Cherry, Cherry,” “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” “Holly Holy,” and “Sweet Caroline.”
In the Seventies, with “Cracklin’ Rose,” “Song Sung Blue,” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” he conquered the world. By the Eighties, he was one its biggest concert draws. In the ’90s, no one sold more tickets than the “Jewish Elvis.”
When Diamond and Mason met once more in 2014 for “CBS This Morning,” the singer was about to go on the road again – and he implied it wasn’t by choice. “I have to, yeah. I don’t want to,” he said.
“So, where does the ‘have to’ come from?” Mason asked.
“I have to because if I want to maintain any self … ” He paused. “I don’t know why I have to.”
But in January 2018, Diamond revealed he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that abruptly ended his touring career.
Diamond still regularly visits his Archangel Studio in Los Angeles, where the halls are decked with decades’ worth of awards, and where – for the first time since that diagnosis – he talked about facing Parkinson’s.
Mason asked, “How hard has it been for you to give up [touring]?”
“Oh, I still haven’t given it up, yet. It’s very hard,” he replied. “In a sense, I was in denial for the first year or two. When the doctor told me what it was, I was just not ready to accept it. I said, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll see you, you know, whenever you wanna see me. But I have work to do, so I’ll see you later.'”
His acceptance, he admits, is a work in progress. “I’m still doing it. And I don’t like it,” he said. “Okay, so this is the hand that God’s given me, and I have to make the best of it, and so I am.”
Mason asked, “Was there a moment in that process where you finally sort of did say to yourself, I accept this?”
“I think this has just been in the last few weeks.”
“But somehow a calm has moved [into] the hurricane of my life, and things have gotten very quiet, as quiet as this recording studio,” said Diamond. “And I like it. I find that I like myself better. I’m easier on people, I’m easier on myself. And the beat goes on, and it will go on long after I’m gone.
“I still can sing,” he said.
“Do you need to still sing?”
“Well, I like singing. I’ve been doing it for 50 years, and I enjoy it.”
“What happens inside you when you sing?”
“I feel good. It’s like, all the systems in my mind and my body are working as one when I’m singing. And it’s a great feeling.”
“[It’s] given you a pretty amazing life.”
“I’ve had a pretty amazing life, it’s true,” Diamond said. “And the thing was, I wasn’t always able to look back on it and be comfortable with it, smile, feel that I was worth it. I think all of that good stuff is starting to come into my life.”
Why? “Well, I can’t really fight this thing, so I had to accept it, this Parkinson’s Disease. There’s no cure. There’s no getting away from it. You can’t just say, ‘Okay, enough already. Let’s get back to life.’ It doesn’t work like that. But I’ve come to accept what limitations I have, and still have great days.”
Great days, like an opening night on Broadway.
He said, “I just have to take life as it comes to me, enjoy it, be thankful that I’ve had it, especially having the life that I’ve had.”
For Neil Diamond, it’s a life worthy of a Broadway musical.
Mason asked, “What does it mean to you?”
“Well, to paraphrase Sally Field, ‘They like me! They really like me!'” he laughed.
To listen to the Original Broadway Cast Album of “A Beautiful Noise” click on the audio player below:
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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Carol Ross.