Neil Diamond gets jitters as live special approaches

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO -- Neil Diamond has the jitters.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is stepping into new territory with his performance Saturday at 9 p.m. EDT on ''A&E's Live By Request.''

''That's all I've been thinking about,'' he said last week from his Los Angeles recording studio. ''It's kind of a scary situation, but I think it will be fun. I haven't done a lot of these songs in a while.''

He will also need to recall words and melodies from a repertoire of about 500 songs -- Diamond's own best estimate -- and he acknowledged that ''pretty much anything could come up.''

''That's also a little disconcerting,'' he said.

The 60-year-old Brooklyn native began writing songs as a teen-ager after Pete Seeger visited his summer camp. He later attended New York University on a fencing scholarship and dropped out just 10 credits shy of graduation in 1962 to take a $50 a week job as a songwriter at a small publishing company.

''It was a miserable existence for me -- constant rejection,'' he said. ''I'm not sure what kept me going. I think it was the only thing I felt I could do well and I just continued to do it.''

His first glimpse of success in 1966 with ''Solitary Man.'' ''Cherry, Cherry,'' ''Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon'' and ''Kentucky Woman'' quickly followed.

The '70s and '80s brought a string of hits: ''Cracklin' Rosie,'' ''I Am ... I Said,'' ''You Don't Bring Me Flowers'' and ''Hello Again.''

He's released more than 40 albums including two movie soundtracks, a Christmas album, several greatest hits collections and a three-disc, 70-song retrospective in 1996.

Still, Diamond says the songwriting hasn't gotten any easier. If anything, it's harder, he says, to resist repeating himself or following a proven formula.

''To a certain degree it's up to the gods and not really up to you,'' he said. ''You're looking for something you haven't heard before ... and if you can get that to begin with, then it's usually worth the work on it.''

Diamond's latest release, ''Three Chord Opera,'' is being released Tuesday.

He says he holes up in his studio and stops listening to music to prevent ''seepage.'' He tries to keep his own ideas ''as pure as possible'' and finds inspiration in the silence.

''Three Chord Opera'' veers from the country-gospel flair of ''Elijah's Song,'' written for one of Diamond's three grandsons (he says ''Alexander's Song'' is finished and ''Benjamin's Song'' is in the works) to the Spanish-flavored ''My Special Someone'' to the lighthearted ''At the Movies.'' But all the way through, it's classic Diamond -- lush orchestration, catchy melodies.

But chances are, viewers won't be requesting Diamond's newest songs this weekend. He hopes to sing something for everyone.

''Performance is really not a spectator sport for me,'' he said. ''It's a participation thing. There's a challenge there and I'll try to win them all over.''

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