At about 200 pages, He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond is a fast, breezy, and humorous read.
Bill Murray once said in a famous quote used early on by Rolling Stone writer David Wild here, "there are two types of people in this world, those who love Neil Diamond, and those who don't."
As he makes quite clear in He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond, David Wild falls into the former category. This is a great book. It is extremely well-written, and often very, very funny.
But it is also one a lot of music writers might find themselves a little embarrassed to read. Because as much as He Is…I Say is Wild's unabashed and unapologetic love letter to Neil Diamond, it is also in many ways a book about music criticism itself.
For the most part, he nails it. Especially the part about how many rock critics often seek the same sort of approval for their own work as that of many of the artists they write about — especially when the public at large beats the scribes at their own game as self-appointed tastemakers.
This is where that whole embarrassment thing really starts to kick in if you happen to be one of those music writers. Guilty as charged, okay, Wild?
Wild cuts to the chase here early. Describing himself as a "recovering rock critic," Wild cites one of the biggest reasons that many "hipper than thou" music critics have been known to dump on Diamond — pointing to the songwriting icon's cardinal sin of emphasizing showmanship and a desire to please his audience, over things like navel gazing and tendencies towards self-indulgent angst.
No sugarcoating there.
Taking his case a step further, Wild vows never to step foot in Cleveland again until Neil Diamond is given his rightful due by being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Now that's some chutzpah.
Speaking of which, growing up in New Jersey, Wild also traces the multi-generational "Red White & Jew" lineage of his own Jewish family and their ongoing love affair following Diamond's career from the Brill Building to his recent comeback albums with producer Rick Rubin.
In telling the story of how he convinced the powers that be at Rolling Stone to run with his long and loving interview with "the man, the myth, the middle aged Hebrew Hunk," he hints that Diamond's generous donation to RS publisher Jann Wenner's anti-gun charity in honor of John Lennon just might have tipped the scales in his favor.
The story of how the author was then able to bring his mom backstage into the icon's inner sanctum, and Diamond's class and graciousness when he did so, is a tribute to both the author and the artist.
Wild then goes on to tell the stories of how many similarly "critically challenged" artists — from Julio Iglesias to Billy Joel to even Paul McCartney — soon beat a path to the writers' door hoping for a similar break.
Despite Bill Murray's claim to the contrary, I've never really fallen into either the "for" and "against" category when it comes to Neil Diamond. I don't own any of his albums. And I probably stand with most of my fellow music scribes when I say albums like the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and songs like "Heartlight" just don't turn my crank, and they didn't do him any favors.
But I do give Neil Diamond his rightful due as a great songwriter.
I own many versions of Diamond's songs as recorded by other artists, including the Monkees' "I'm A Believer" and Urge Overkill's version of "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. I also don't change the channel when "Cherry Cherry" or "Holly Holy" gets played on the local oldies station. They are damn good songs.
But there I go falling into that music writers trap of talking about myself again.
Damn you, David Wild!