Neil Diamond Gave Us ‘America’ and Also Confirmed Us Its Boundaries

Neil Diamond, 2011

Neil Diamond’s schmaltzy universalism is an exhilarating triumph for white Jewish people today, but leaves out some some others. Rob Verhorst/Redferns

Beloved singer-songwriter Neil Diamond is 80 this week, and he’s retired from touring because of to Parkinson’s disease. But does that end him from releasing surging gloppy heartfelt AOR gold to provide us all collectively? You wager your bum-bum-bum it does not. About Christmas time he unleashed an expansive experience-superior split screen movie of lovers (primarily in lockdown) singing alongside to his evergreen mega-strike “Sweet Caroline.” As opposed to Gal Gadot’s infamous superstar “Imagine” video clip (no, I will not website link to it), these are all a) regular people who can b.) largely have a tune, and they belt out the common creepy/sappy lines—“Hands touching fingers/Reaching out/Touching me/Touching you!”—with a strong impersonation of Neil’s inimitable extroversion. In a time of isolation and misery, how can you not wipe absent a tear at the person in a Santa match, or the female thumping out a drum fill, or the elderly couple dancing, or the toddler shaking and going “oooh oooh ooh,” or at the stadium of people singing along.

Neil, I’m a believer. You got to me, and I have acquired the feelin’. We are different, but all united in Neil. Or as the shirt worn by a girl in a Neil Diamond concert video declared, “You can contact me whenever Neil!” (Ew.)

But! Touching (ahem) as the global singalong is, it’s difficult not to detect that the men and women currently being touched are not solely, but overwhelmingly, white.

This is not exactly shocking. Neil Diamond is a huge hitmaker, and there is no question that he has countless numbers on hundreds of Black and brown enthusiasts. George Clooney’s recent Netflix movie The Midnight Sky had a notable scene in which a multi-racial place crew sing along to “Sweet Caroline.” But however, Neil’s brand of corny, sentimental, simple listening songs-theater-ready Americana schmaltz is linked with an inclusive, non-militant, but even now predominantly white viewers.

The us should be as open up as a Neil Diamond refrain it should not be a fascist nightmare of partitions and cages and despair.

Diamond himself is white, soon after all. But he’s also Jewish. And his potential to choose that Jewish schmaltz and turn it into a universal get in touch with to emote is a tribute to the greatest in America—and also a tribute to some points that are much less than the ideal.

Diamond was born in 1941, the son of Jap European immigrant dry products retailers. He grew up in Brooklyn at a time when antisemitism was waning, and white Jewish people faced quite a few less obstacles than their mother and father. He was motivated to be a songwriter when he noticed Pete Seeger perform at a Jewish summertime camp—sleepaway summer season camp with people singing remaining a section of the Jewish practical experience so pervasive and recognized that I did not even know the gentiles didn’t do that till I was all over 30.

Immediately after banging all around the New York music field, Diamond finally landed at the well-known Brill Creating. There he wrote songs that continuously merged a sense of alienation and exclusion with the knowledge of joy and acceptance. The insignificant key menace of “Solitary Man” is a list of hopeful adore affairs ending in disillusion, all primary up to a major honking chorus, which sums up isolation in an inclusive come to feel-fantastic hook. And there is a single of his most well known hits, “I’m a Believer,” in which that skeptical Jewish male doubts the electricity of appreciate, right up until he sees her face, and the carnivalesque new music swirls about the title phrase with the power of rapture and a go-go conquer. The Monkees model was greater, but their variation, inspite of its charm, does not maintain a candle to Diamond’s alternation amongst globe-weary knowingness and that conversion with just a trace of a wink.

You can discover hints of the Jewish experience and integration through Diamond’s operate. But you really don’t require to seem for hints in his soundtrack, The Jazz Singer. Introduced in 1980 as an accompaniment to his so-so film about a cantor’s son who chooses pop, the album by itself was a mega-success, primarily the revved up immigrant anthem “America.” Around a bloated Vegas arrangement which begins at bombast and ratchets up to actually gasconade, Diamond imagines the encounter of his people today, which is also, through his corny, chesty genius, transmuted into the experience of plenty of other people today as well.

They are coming to The united states
They are coming to The us
They are coming to The us
Now!
Right now!
These days!
Nowadays!
Now!

When I was chatting about some of these issues on Twitter, a bunch of people today chimed in to say that they’d hadn’t regarded that Neil Diamond was Jewish. Another person explained they’d often believed “America” was about the Irish immigrant knowledge. Listening to it now, in 2021, it is impossible not to hear it as a repudiation of our latest, despicable border guidelines. The us should be as open up as a Neil Diamond refrain it shouldn’t be a fascist nightmare of walls and cages and despair.

But great as “America” is, it is nevertheless not particularly an anthem for all People in america. Indigenous people today did not appear by ship to a “new and a shiny place” on the opposite, the men and women on individuals ships took the shine right off their residences. And you simply cannot really say that folks introduced in this article in the Middle Passage ended up coming to The united states for “freedom’s mild burning warm,” nor even that they had a “dream to consider them there.” The practical experience of white Jewish Japanese immigrants can stand in for the encounters of quite a few persons, and can be inspiring to quite a few folks. But its specificity excludes other people.

Of class, Diamond doesn’t will need to talk for everyone. It’s understandable that his song speaks to the record of his household, his mother and father and grandparents, instead than to another person else’s. But the explanation he’s a mega-star, beloved by all individuals folks singing “Sweet Caroline,” is precisely simply because he’s been in a position to specific his particular feelings of currently being an outsider and a Jew in such a way that they sense universal and obtainable to the excellent squishy soul of The united states. Even when he’s most explicitly speaking about his Jewish background most explicitly, plenty of people who are not Jewish even now see him as belonging—and extra see him as defining their expertise of belonging.

For a white Jewish person like me, married to a lady from Kentucky, no significantly less, Neil Diamond is an assurance that, irrespective of some bumps along the way, America believes in me. In truth, it is an assurance that The usa, in its fumbling, blinkered way, just cannot even tell the variation in between believing in me and believing in alone. Our schmaltz is your schmaltz, bubala.

For Black people or individuals of shade, though—including Black Jewish individuals and Jewish persons of color—Diamond’s stamina could possibly not be quite so reassuring. There are definitely quite a few Black performers with significant attractiveness. But when Beyoncé, for occasion, references a Black record of persecution, pride and resistance in “Development,” no a person is heading to slip-up her for singing about the Irish. The capability to have your specific identification validated by The united states as uncontroversial and universal—that’s reserved for white people. Which is why that sing-a-very long, in all its comforting schmaltzy universalism, is nevertheless an unpleasant reminder of how The usa divides us, even if Neil Diamond says he’s touching me and you both equally.


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Neil Diamond Gave Us “America” and Also Showed Us Its Limits