It feels uncharitable, somehow, to respond seriously to this column by Bob Kerr, but then it would have to be uncharitable to read him seriously in the first place.
Neil Diamond has just been named to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. What’s next — Sarah Palin on the short list for the National Book Award?
Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Springsteen, The Stones, Elvis and … Neil Diamond.
Or, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and the guy who makes balloon animals at birthday parties.
The time of year was the decisive factor in my decision to highlight Kerr’s call for rock ‘n’ roll purity. My only real investment in Neil Diamond derives from his (unbelievably) twenty-year-old Christmas album, which is so bad that it can’t help but make you smile. I worked in a NJ record store when the album was new, and from the all-too-predictable rock clichés that form the structure of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” to the shout of “let your Christmases be any color you like” in the midst of a barbershop quartet “White Christmas,” it was guaranteed to usher along a good chunk of retail drudgery.
Neil Diamond singlehandedly taught me the value of cheese — how to let yourself go and just enjoy it for what it is. It seems telling and broadly significant that Bob Kerr’s “light” column on Diamond’s inclusion in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is so vituperative, and with no sense of humor about its own self-righteousness. A culture that can’t sway its shoulders to “Crunchy Granola” is a culture that fundamentally can’t empathize with people who don’t need to lace enjoyment with dark cynicism — a culture that can’t relax and can’t relate, as the song says.
The biggest Neil Diamond fan I’ve ever met made her appearance toward the end of my time as a teenage record store clerk. As I recall, the meeting corresponded with the release of Diamond’s Christmas sequel, and I mentioned my affinity for the first one. The customer apparently didn’t spot my dark irony as she detailed the experience of Neil in concert, and an unhealthy pose that had pervaded too much of my life started slipping away, that day, at the sight of a black woman shimmying and singing the lyrics of some white bubblegum favorite.
A decade prior, a young Al Sharpton had led marches in the next town over when a police officer shot a black teenager who’d pulled a realistic-looking water pistol. Race was too often in my mind, as a white kid selling tapes and CDs in a heavily black neighborhood. But if races and cultures can unite along the thin strand of Neil Diamond, surely all of us serious people should appreciate the sound of its vibration.