Diamond’s music is thus relegated to guilty pleasure status when contemporary music fans begrudgingly confess to buying his albums. Only Diamond’s loyal legions of middle-aged housewives will admit their fandom above a faint whisper. The rest of the free world writes off his oeuvre as MOR drivel, particularly shunning his mid-period lyrics.
I am, I said… To no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.
Gee, you’d think he could at least count on the chair!
Although it’s now easy to forget, Diamond spent his early career as a credible 1960’s pop/rock artist, writing “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees and scoring such winning solo hits as “Cherry, Cherry,” “Solitary Man,” and “Sweet Caroline.”
When he re-invented himself as a player in the burgeoning singer/songwriter movement of the early 1970’s, he continued to craft catchy pop (e.g. “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Song, Sung Blue”), as well as ambitious pretension (the six-part “African Trilogy,” the Robbie Robertson-produced album “Beautiful Noise,” and the best-selling soundtrack to “Jonathon Livingston Seagull”).
By mid-decade, however, after failing to court the intelligentsia vote, Diamond again re-invented himself; this time, as an adult contemporary crooner. For more than two decades, he has ruled “Lite FM” with such bland comforts as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Hello, Again,” and “America.” Although Diamond’s catalogue of spineless pop has made him millions, it has come at a cost: an inaccurate, yet popular revision of his musical relevance.
Waging an uphill public relations battle to re-educate the masses is the implicitly heroic Super Diamond. Although the name may lead one to conjure up an ultra-powerful Neil exacting vengeance on his dismissive critics, Super Diamond is instead a San Francisco-based sextet whose set list is comprised entirely of Diamond’s wide-ranging material.
Billed as the “Neil Diamond Experience,” Super Diamond is equal parts kitsch and sincere reverence for the singer’s music. “It’s definitely not a joke, but there’s certainly some campiness to the act,” says lead singer Randy Cordero (a.k.a. “The Surreal Neil”). “We get Neil Diamond fans that come expecting it to be a lounge show or something. But it’s heavy guitar, heavy drums. We do `Play Me,’ his quintessential love song, and we do it as almost punk rock.”
Most of the band’s covers, however, are relatively faithful to the originals, though the band spices Diamond’s material with a decidedly heavier alternative rock edge and Dread Zeppelin-like musical nods (throwing in a Black Sabbath rift, for example).
Their CD of Diamond favorites, “14 Great Hits,” was released in 1998.
Super Diamond’s eccentric tribute is also a visual experience. Dressed in platform shoes and sequined bell bottoms, Cordero works the stage like a seasoned veteran, emulating the kind of martial arts-derived body movements for which Diamond is both famous and vilified. All the while, Cordero delivers his hero’s canon in a respectful, but familiar gruff baritone.
Although Diamond himself has yet to catch a Super Diamond show, Cordero thinks it’s just a matter of time. His son has sent Cordero appreciative e-mails and musicians from Diamond’s band have occasionally performed with the group.
The 35-year-old Cordero founded Super Diamond seven years ago after having playfully incorporated a few Diamond covers into his solo acoustic act. “It was an underground rock scene. I didn’t know what to expect for reaction,” he says. “I kind of thought people would boo me, but it brought the house down. There was this guy in this punk band that came up and was like ‘Do you know `Solitary Man’? I’m a huge Neil Diamond fan!’ It was kind of weird and strange and fun. I never knew there were other people my age who liked Neil Diamond.”
That’s not to say the band hasn’t experienced its share of blank stares and dropped jaws. Those most accustomed to Diamond’s late period schlock are often aghast in disbelief when first becoming aware of Super Diamond’s intimidating concept.
“A lot of people think of Neil Diamond as being cheesy,” Cordero admits. “People laugh, like `Neil Diamond! What? I don’t like him!’ But we’ve converted many people. I can’t believe how many people have come up to me and said `I thought I used to hate Neil Diamond, and then I saw your show and I went out and bought lots of his albums.'”
Super Diamond is not alone in its reverence for the singer. Over the years, a surprisingly broad range of artists from Deep Purple to the Specials have recorded his songs. UB40 reinterpreted “Red, Red Wine” as a reggae pop hit. More recently, Urge Overkill covered “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Although the recognition has yet to provide Diamond a hip renaissance, Cordero is optimistic. “The hardcore Neil Diamond fans love to come and see all the young people that have been turned on to his music,” he boasts. “A lot of people bring their parents to our shows and its this bonding experience. Just being able to meet Neil Diamond would be the next cool thing.”