Tribute to Diamond escapism
Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 06:00 am
Neil Diamond, 73, is a superstar who even in the prime of his life remains one of the most popular performers in the world today.
Still entertaining in a career that burns brightly, the multi-platinum singer has enjoyed more than his share of transcendent moments.
He was feted at the Kennedy Centre, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Yes, he’s walked the Glory Road.
And on Thursday, March 20, Diamond in the Rough – The Neil Diamond Tribute Show arrives at the St. Albert’s Royal Canadian Legion courtesy of Joey Purpura.
The Toronto-based artist is delivering a career retrospective that spans Diamond’s peak years from the 1960s to the early 1980s.
“He’s become so enduring because he was a prolific songwriter. He continuously put out albums, sometimes two a year. He was a great singer and a good showman, and his fans were passionate about him,” said Purpura.
He acknowledges Diamond’s one-of-kind voice, deep and velvety tinged with a light rasp, made listeners stop in their tracks.
“It was the quality of his voice. He could go from the lowest to the highest notes. I once read that a biographer wrote that he could pull you into his pain and joy and suffering. He was a loner and a lot of people connected with the pain.”
Diamond cranked out mega hit upon mega hit. Ten of those songs were No. 1 singles starting with his anthemic Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, Desiree, America and I’m a Believer.
“When I started to listen to his music, it wasn’t just the typical love songs. They were well-crafted songs. He had a diverse and rich repertoire, and most of them are so pleasurable to sing.”
A shrewd performer, Diamond understood audiences well and the significance of his concerts to long-time fans. Taking a cue from his mentor, Purpura is tapping into Diamond’s sense of nostalgia and merriment.
Using musical tracks, Purpura delivers more than a gush of the legend’s tunes. The two-hour plus concert is also woven with tidbits and “did-you-know” stories.
“One of the surprising things I found out about Neil Diamond was he was going to be a doctor. He was six months short of graduating when he told his parents he didn’t want to do it. And he got into med school on a fencing scholarship. He was a fencing master.”
Diamond did in fact win a fencing scholarship to New York University and was a member of the 1960 NCAA men’s championship team.
Another surprising fact that Purpura discovered was that as a teenager, Diamond lived three blocks from Barbra Streisand and attended Abraham Lincoln High School with her in Brooklyn. These two school chums sang in the All City Choir and later went on to record the No. 1 single You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.
While many top tier singers of Diamond’s era lived a life of excess, Purpura states “Neil only made headlines for the right reasons. He never partied or took drugs. He had a normal family life and a devoted wife. Unfortunately his first marriage was destroyed by his touring.”
For the past decade Purpura has refined his routine to the point of hiring a Las Vegas designer to replicate Diamond’s glittery costumes of the mid-’70s.
“What’s kept me going is how good his songs are and how powerful his music was and is to his fans. Come out and you’ll realize just how many hits he had.”