Review

He Is…I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond

by David Wild

Neil Diamond has said that he doesn’t “fit”
into any of the accepted pigeon holes to which singers are
assigned. He is a multi-faceted entertainer who has produced a body
of work that embraces every form of music: ballads,
“cracklin’ toe tappers,” country, reggae,
romantic love songs, story songs, and at least one film score. His
canvas is large and his talent seemingly endless and certainly
enduring. His concerts sell out in minutes, and his fans sing along
with his standards while cheering anything new he introduces. And
his fans are “FANS!”

Just ask his number one fan and friend, David Wild. "I'm a
Believer that Neil Diamond is an altogether merciful and loving
musical god," effuses Wild. He claims no objectivity in this loving
homage to his idol and is proud of it. A contributing editor with
Rolling Stone magazine, Wild is still a true
professional, with such credits as writing the liner notes to
Diamond’s anthologies and producing an episode of
“Behind the Music” starring his hero. He has written
companion books to several sitcoms and in his role of music critic
has (objectively) reviewed much of Diamond’s work.

One of the more serious anecdotes he shares is 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 American Hunk." Wild hints
that Diamond's generous donation to Rolling Stone
publisher Jann Wenner's anti-gun charity, in honor of John Lennon,
just might have tipped the scales in Wild’s favor ---
especially since Neil Diamond is not known to give interviews. It
seems like it was a coup for everyone concerned.

Wild’s idolatry propels the narrative, and he infuses
every sentence with either a pun or a family memory, or a signal of
his own personal passion for the man and his music. One of the best
tidbits is when he and his family were invited to a concert and
given special backstage passes. Just before taking the stage, Mrs.
Wild, the person responsible for transforming her children into
“Diamondheads,” was graciously invited by Diamond into
his dressing room just before he was to take the stage. He had a
generous pile of Neil Diamond memorabilia ready and waiting for
her. But the biggest gift to Wild and his mother was when Diamond
told her she had raised a “mensch” (a Yiddish
word meaning a person to be very proud of). Wild said he was
overwhelmed, and the family was even surer of their love for the
music, lyrics and especially the man, their “Jewish
Elvis.”

At first, readers may wonder if Wild brings any
“real” objectivity or “real” research to
the book. The answer is yes and no. That he is a wild fan of
Diamond is unquestionable and charming. As for the research, he is
a professional with the credentials to prove it and he has done his
homework. In his breezy style, filled with puns and very funny
stories, he keeps the reader engaged and entertained. His insights
are not tarnished by his feelings for Diamond.

Readers who are Neil Diamond fans will really enjoy this book.
Those who aren’t should give themselves a chance to read it
because it’s a well-written, informative and funny biography.
As he ends this paean to the man and his music, Wild chastises
those critics who have kept Diamond out of the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame for their narrowness and inability to admit that being an
entertainer who cares about his audiences does not negate the place
he deserves in the hallowed home of other inductees.

Nevertheless, Diamond charges on at his own pace and style,
telling Wild: “Somehow, each album means as much to me as my
very first record, if not more, and the experience of creation has
yet to become easy. In truth, I’m as hungry as I ever was:
the ‘emptiness deep inside’ aches even more.”
Wild ends the book with the hope that Neil Diamond will someday
write a memoir “about his music and the singular life to
which [his words and life] are inextricably tied.” In the
meantime, Wild offers his own.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

He Is…I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond
by David Wild

  • Publication Date: October 21, 2008
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • ISBN-10: 0306817845
  • ISBN-13: 9780306817847