Among the ABBA, Brotherhood of Man, Paul Anka, Beatles, Lobo, Simon and ’Garfunkel, Osmonds, Joan Baez, Carpenters nestled the record of Neil Diamond.
In the yesteryears gone by, my brother all of 15 years and his best friend made a 100 Watt HiFi Stereo amplifier with HiFi Speakers at home in his roomful of gadgets, wires, soldering irons, multimeters, books on electronics, circuits and what have you …with a neat ‘No Entry’ sign for us complete with their company Logo S.C.O.I!!!! It was at a time when only a proud few owned a HiFi Stereo. Getting all the ingredients/parts too was a huge challenge in the small Indian town that we lived in.
The boys were encouraged and funded by my young maternal uncle who had just got his first management assignment in Calcutta at the Bank of America after completing his M.B.A from the prestigious IIM Calcutta.
Our house filled with blaring music when their Stereo came into being. We admired it as though it was a new invention! For the first time I heard such great singers in such high clarity and it seemed like one perpetual music show with a medley of artists….and Neil Diamond’s base voice made such an impact. Although I couldn’t catch most of the lyrics it was still fun listening and singing along with my somewhat made-up fill-in lyrics. We kind of knew the songs of his entire album.
Proud of his son’s achievements at the time, my father, though not fond of English music, proudly explained in minute detail of how the said stereo project was started and completed to his friends who came by visiting….and was happy when he was given appreciative predictions as …sure the kids would one day be great scientists …and I in my admiration saw the Nobel prize in his hands…it was a good fantasy at the time!
This summer when I was in Toronto, imagine my disbelief when my brother said that our uncle had decided to take us to a concert of Neil Diamond. Memories of my childhood days came cascading in and I Wow’ed and Yippi’ed…!!!!!!!!!!!!
The concert was at the Air Canada Centre in Downtown Toronto .We parked our car and walked along with a stream of people all heading towards the venue. We entered from Gate number 3 . We were in row no 8 and were seated there well in time to watch the crowd settle in ….their excitement matching ours .Right in front down below was the stage set with special light effects for Neil Diamond. Many fans had donned T-shirts printed ‘I am a Believer…’one was sitting in the row right in front of us. Some were holding photographs of the young Neil Diamond in black and white. Meanwhile two huge flat Screen monitors kept us entertained with instant tweets of fans from within the venue and outside.
Suddenly the lights dimmed and there was a kind of hush just for a second as the psychedelic lights came up on stage and amidst waves of human voices and thunderous clapping the band struck up the notes of Soolaimon (African Trilogy II) and sure enough the 71 year old …sorry young, Neil diamond entered the stage theatrically singing Soolaimon looking smart, cool and collected.
We all joined in with gusto. The song, what I dub the ‘Song of the day’, was ‘Sweet Caroline’. When Neil Diamond sang it, the crowd went berserk. He did an encore, the crowd sang along and Mr. Diamond was completely floored. He was speechless with the adulation he bowed to us all and he asked the orchestra to once again play the tune of Sweet Caroline and asked the audience to sing as he stood there listening to the mass of people sing his song perfectly. It was the greatest moment of the concert and a total ‘high’ for the crowd! All the people in the stadium were standing in front of their seats and singing in unison in symphony in perfect discipline. I captured my brother swaying and singing with the audience immersed in the moment a smile lighting his handsome features.
A song, now for the movie Shrek, ‘I am a believer” was also a great hit with the audience. A lone young girl dancing to ‘You Got to Me’ and singing enthusiastically near the stage caught Neil’s attention; he rewarded her enthusiasm with a hug and a kiss! It went well with us we all cheered! The act and the moment were beautiful and enchanting like a scene from a Disney classic.
He especially had a soft corner for the audience seated on the extreme left side and right side of the stage (the not so pricy seats) whom he enthralled by walking every now and then to the two extremity of the stage as if to sing only to them. I realized that apart from mere singing even working the stage is an artful component of a great performance.
The song ‘America’, he dedicated to his grandma who he said has inspired everything he’s ever done. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show was the last number. It seemed so abrupt when it all ended because we were in the flow of music, words and deep voice and just didn’t realise how the hours slipped by listening to Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits. I was hoping that he’d end the concert with ‘Song Sung Blue’!
Even at 71 the man is young with charisma.. charming us.. belting out one song after another with passion and precision accompanied by his fantastic orchestra. His stamina amazing, in all humility he acknowledged the love of Torontonians that powered his rendition of numbers with vigour and emotion! Neil Diamond ..he rocked the house!
What an awesome singer indeed!
Just can’t help thanking my uncle and aunt in Toronto for the great musical soiree!