“I’ll bet every table here has at least one person that I’ve worked with,” he said at one point, staring at the luminaries seated up front. “[But] would they admit it?” At the end of the speech, he blurted, “And I’m flying back tomorrow to Sydney [expletive] Australia — because they love me there. And I’m going to keep coming until they stop loving me.”
Asked now about that speech, Diamond, who credits his regular visits to a therapist since the early 1970s for his blossoming as a songwriter and an artist, does not hide from the deep-seated emotions it revealed.
“My comments . . . were real,” he says. “There was a certain amount of resentfulness.” Asked where that resentment comes from, he says, “I don’t know. I don’t understand it. Maybe it comes from 40 years of being sidelined by the powers that be.”
It’s true that for much of his career, Diamond was considered (at least) one step behind the times. As a Brooklyn kid who dropped out of his pre-med studies at New York University to write songs for the Brill Building machine, he was crafting hits for the Monkees (“I’m a Believer,” among others) at a time when they were being mocked as saccharine pretenders to the Beatles’ throne.
He arrived as a solo artist in the late ’60s, at a time when record companies were infatuated with British bands. As rock music grew heavier in the ’70s, Diamond’s became softer, and even his epic live shows were easily mocked — the “Jewish Elvis,” he was dubbed — for his emotive earnestness and his wardrobe of gaudy, sequined shirts.
“From the first guitar riff of this profit-taking double live showcase,” the influential critic Robert Christgau wrote of “Hot August Night,” Diamond’s landmark 1972 live album, “it’s obvious that the man is some sort of genius rock entertainer, but for the most part the great entertainer is striving for bad art and not even achieving it.”
“I’ve been kind of battling that throughout my career,” Diamond says now. “And I think it probably reinforced my feelings about — focus on the work, and not on all the chatter going on around the business and the media.”
For decades, Diamond contented himself with selling gazillions of records, filling arenas worldwide (he was the highest-grossing live act in pop music as recently as the 1990s) and owning the adult-contemporary charts (37 top-10 singles since 1969, according to Billboard, second only to Elton John).