25 sept 01

It is difficult to pinpoint the origins of my obsessive hatred for Neil Diamond. Those who know me well are familiar with my reaction upon hearing a Neil Diamond track come through the speakers at a mall, eatery, or other public place with light-rock leanings: I usually stop what I'm doing, pausing in disbelief as an expression of horror and disgust moves over my face, and announce something to the effect of "oh god, no, it's Neil Diamond!" At this time it would not be unlikely for me to bolt from the room, in order to put as much distance as possible between my ears and the offending music. I remember a specific time in high school, senior year, when a bunch of us had gone out to Blimpie's for lunch and that voice suddenly filled my ears. Maybe it was Sweet Caroline. Maybe it was Song Sung Blue. Whatever it was, I was out of there and standing in the parking lot until enough time had passed that I knew it was safe to return.

My intolerance for the Shiny, Macho One goes back a bit farther than the Blimpie incident. My earliest memory of Diamond-exposure is from 1986, when I was at the tender age of 11. My family was gathered around the television in a rare display of unified choice of televised programming. We were watching the Statue of Liberty's centennial celebration, lulled into a false sense of safety when Neil Diamond appeared on stage and launched into a full-scale rendition of America, while the huddled masses danced around him in their immigrant rags and shouted Today! at the appropriate moment in the chorus. This tableau left me with a distinct feeling of unease. The following year, we were assigned the spiritual classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull in my 7th grade English class. After reading the book we were treated to the 1973 live-action film which seemed to be primarily composed of inspirational shots of a lone seagull flying through the clouds to the soul-searching sounds of a soundtrack by—you guessed it—Neil Diamond. It was almost too much for my fragile 12-year-old psyche to bear.

I don't know if my trouble with Neil found its origins in his glass-beaded shirts, his copious, protuding chest hair, or his uber-earnest, clenched-fist machismo. Probably all of the above. Neil Diamond was the antithesis of what I found attractive at that time, both in music and in men. There may have been no bigger turn-off for me and my adolescent girlfriends than chest hair (though somehow an exception was made for the also-earnest, virile [and hairy] Bono as a sex symbol). I wanted pale, skinny boys who seemed not to fret over their appearance, and I wanted what I suppose would have been called college rock. I did not want Neil Diamond.

Over the years, what began as a strong dislike started to develop into something more. I don't quite feel comfortable stating that I hate a man I know very little about—really, Neil, it's nothing personal—but the negative feelings grew into something people might have found uncalled for, or at least puzzling. Around the time of the aforementioned Blimpie incident, I cut a headshot of Neil out of an old issue of Rolling Stone and taped it to the ceiling of my car, right above the rearview mirror. "Why do you have Neil Diamond in you car?" people would ask, and the answer would be, "Because I hate him." A few years ago I was at the apartment of a friend and saw that she had a Neil Diamond box set out on the table. I was appalled, but she insisted it was good stuff. I told her that I found him repulsive, even as I inspected each CD booklet, looking at the track listings and the pictures. I have never purchased anything by Neil Diamond but last year my boyfriend put a punk rock cover of Sweet Caroline on a mix tape for me that gives me listening pleasure without any possible guilt. Last week I halted a Scrabble game in order to watch the first half of VH1's Behind the Music on Neil Diamond which I came upon by accident. Maybe the time has come to reexamine my feelings for Neil Diamond. Maybe what has been causing my violent reactions whenever I hear that certain Neil Diamond quality in his voice isn't disgust but rather fear and shame for what is actually a kind of affection. Maybe I have an unspoken desire to rent The Jazz Singer. Or maybe I really, truly and passionately cannot stand the man.