Neil played the city many Augusts ago, for the first time, in a tiny club on Bleeker Street.
And he has played his last show, after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
I heard Neil Diamond for the first time in my dad’s 1979 911 SC, as we raced across the desert between California and Utah. My dad let me steer while Neil sang about the Kentucky woman who shines with her own kind of light.
The songs were recorded in 1967, the same year Diamond had played that tiny club on Bleeker: ‘Kentucky Woman,’ ‘Solitary Man,’ ‘Shilo,’ and 9 other indelible stories put to music, which would open his own chapter in the American songbook.
I saw him in concert a few times, and the arenas packed with fans singing along to every single song didn’t care that Neil Diamond wasn’t hip or cool. Watching his sequined torso twisting around his guitar, as he belted songs familiar like an old favorite coat, gave me one of my greatest lessons: what the hip or cool kids think doesn’t matter and doesn’t last.
Neil Diamond lasted, for over 50 years of classic songs at sold-out shows.
The Bitter End is tucked away on Bleeker in Greenwich Village. The stage feels crowded with a four-piece band and the room looks full enough with 75 people.
But hold a guitar and sing your song, and the voices of Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and Neil Young will echo from the brick wall behind you, where the mortar has held their stories for a half-century. The promise of a road just taken will snake her tendril fingers across the floor, and the hope born 50 years ago in a not-yet-legend Neil Diamond will follow you out the door and into the late summer August swelter.
I know, because the same hope followed me out the same door many Augusts ago, where I’d just played the city for the first time, in the same tiny club on Bleeker Street.