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Confessions of an Obsessive Neil Diamond Collector

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Confessions of an Obsessive Neil Diamond Collector Learning to Love the Jewish Elvis by Amassing Objects

by Travis Ritter

music-diamond-570.jpg
He got the way to move me, Cherry, he got the way to groove me.
 

Somewhere in the world, possibly in a landfill, or in some dusty basement of a thrift store in Northern California, there is a copy of the Neil Diamond LP September Morn with Neil's eyes bloodshot by a red Sharpie marker, and a blackened, bleeding red pentagram on his forehead.

 

I'm responsible for that, and for the eye patches, blacked-out teeth, and excessive body and facial hair that adorn the custom-vandalized covers of another 30 or so Neil Diamond records. Something about defacing Diamond's sage, somber face was funny to me, but it wasn't done in malice. I was a bored teenager in search of amusement, it's true, but more importantly, I was a believer.

 

And besides, the records I defiled were just the doubles. The Neil Diamond LP collection I amassed in my late teens—primarily from the bins of Bogbean Books and Music in my hometown of Redding, California, at a quarter or a dime apiece—was extensive enough that duplicates were inevitable. By the time I was 18, I had somewhere between 70 and 80 unique Neil Diamond records, including almost every single studio recording through the late '80s, all his live records, best ofs, and soundtracks. The condition of these LPs was generally bad, but I didn't care. Any time I found a Neil Diamond record I didn't have, I bought it, storing it away on the top shelf of my closet, my Diamonds in the dark. None of my friends knew what I was doing. No one needed to know I owned three copies of The Jazz Singer, or two Jonathan Livingston Seagulls, or a pristine copy of Stones. I bought a CD compilation of his Early Years, and listened to it constantly in my bedroom, alone. I eventually found someone I could bond with over Neil Diamond, and I lost my virginity to her. Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon.

 

Neil Diamond had become cool again in the 1990s. After Urge Overkill covered "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, a number of bands followed suit, including pop-punk band Groovie Ghoulies covering "Hello Again," and Murder City Devils (with Kim Warnick) doing "I'll Come Running." The bands did Neil proud, and I welcomed it.

 

It was when eBay was still the Wild West of vintage and tour T-shirts from the early '80s were still cheap. I found a perfect Neil Diamond T-shirt for $10, a size-small ringer tee with a stunning framed portrait of a shirtless Neil in a black leather jacket, perfectly coiffed, chest plumage untamed, a sexier version of the cover art to the album he was touring at the time, On the Way to the Sky. The back listed Midwest concert dates in black with SOLD OUT emblazoned in red across each show. This shirt became my second skin, and not just because it was skin-tight (this was during the indie-rock tiny-tee heyday at the turn of the century). I wore it almost every day, including the day I boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to Houston, where I would be moving in with the only two people I knew. I ended up meeting a lot of people because of that shirt. Some people thought I wore it out of irony. I knew better, which is why my heart broke when, six short months later, the dryer in my apartment stopped rotating during its drying cycle while still blasting heat. A majority of the shirt was charred, but by some freaky act of divinity—like when a single house is left standing in a tornado-ravaged county— the image of Neil Diamond was spared. Now we were both shirtless.

 

Over the course of two nights, I carefully cut the graphic away from the carbonized T-shirt and hand-stitched it to the back of a blue Rustler denim jacket that never quite fit right. I christened it the Forever in Blue Jean jacket and wore it everywhere.

 

Years later, I wore it to my first-ever Neil Diamond concert at Toyota Center in Houston, joined by my girlfriend at the time. I scored a free pair of tickets from the publisher of Houston Press, where I was working at the time. The seats weren't great: nosebleeds in a side wing, high above the main floor, but the show was magnificent, packed to the gills with decades of hits, performed with all the schmaltz, pomp, and dazzle one expects from a true showman. As he sang "America," an eagle soared across the wind-rippled canopy of a blazing American flag on the Jumbotron, and I bopped along in a surreal communion with the near-capacity arena crowd of grandmothers, daughters, and a tiny minority of stray males dragged along by their spouses. None of this was enough to keep my girlfriend awake. She slept through at least half of the show. On the way out, the only merchandise I could afford was a bumper sticker that said "I'd Rather Be at a Neil Diamond Concert. World Tour 2005."

 

I moved to Seattle the following year, stopping back in Redding to collect the things I'd stored at my mom's house before moving to Houston. It was comforting to picture my secret Neil Diamond records in the closet where I'd left them. But they weren't there. Because many of them were marked up with Sharpie and collage, my mom had assumed they were junk and donated the lot. I was devastated. All those records, discarded, dispersed, dry your eyes, come dry your eyes. I could never bring myself to rebuild the collection. It was too much to bear. Despite the undeniable kitsch factor that rides shotgun in Neil Diamond's cultural stretch limousine, the project of collecting and even defacing those albums had been an act of discovering love among the rubble of objects—the way music fandom used to work. Not that I was conscious of it at the time; my obsessive-compulsive Neil Diamond habit was always more of a "before you get to feeling good, you simply got no choice" kind of situation.

 

A handful of remnants survived the purge. Before leaving Houston, I had purchased the 1970 Shilo compilation with the connect-the-dots cover (scribbled on). It still sits on my record shelf today. The Forever in Blue Jean jacket hangs in my closet next to the "NEIL F**KING DIAMOND" T-shirt I bought off Neil Diamond's webstore last October when his latest album, Melody Road (which I also have), was released. And I just pulled out the "I'd Rather Be at a Neil Diamond Concert" bumper sticker I bought at his show in 2005, feeling a burst of excitement knowing I'll actually be at a Neil Diamond concert the week you read this. Given what happened last time, I'll probably go alone, a solitary man.

 

And I know exactly what I'm going to wear.

 

Link: http://www.thestranger.com/music/feature/2015/05/06/22175511/confessions-of-an-obsessive-neil-diamond-collector

 

 

 

Fabulous article.  I hope he enjoys the heck out of that concert.  Rock on, Neil

 

 

 

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