Without Akeeba and Rose, We Wouldn’t Have Neil Leslie Diamond’s Touching Story

Two generations ago, Rose Rapaport met and married a man with the funny name of Akeeba “Kieve” Diamond. The Polish and Russian immigrants fell in love, got married, and to Brooklyn and the world they gave a baby boy.

For his first name they picked Neil, normal enough. For his middle name they went with Leslie, a girl’s name mostly, but that didn’t seem to bother him much. Neil Leslie Diamond went on to become Pretty Dang Famous. You might have heard of this singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. I almost typed indicted, but no. Not that type of funny stuff for Neil Diamond, we don’t think.

I Am Hair Man (From Getty Images)

I Am Hair Man (From Getty Images)

I remember in the 1990s, seeing the deeply black-haired man perform in the round in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. In the middle of his set, with the crowd of all ages screaming happily along with his hit songs, the power went out. So Neil Diamond put the microphone in its stand, dropped his black tux pants to reveal bright red boxer shorts, and continued singing a cappella. His powerful voice filled the cavernous football stadium. People shut the hell up and listened. When the power came back on Diamond picked the microphone back up and said: “The show must go on.”

That was funny.

And cool for a guy who has become curiously hip after a career in which at times he has been considered the butt of pop culture’s wink-winks, as unhip-as-they-come.

When Diamond was growing up in Brooklyn, he thought he was going to become a laboratory biologist. At NYU, he was a member of an NCAA championship fencing team. High and Mighty. Instead, a taste of songwriting for $50 a week won him over.

“It was a real hand-to-mouth existence in those early days. I’d have whatever dry cereal there was in the house for breakfast, 30 cents to spend on lunch and a hot dog for dinner. I did that for years. So there was definitely a hunger in me, of various kinds, to succeed,” he is reported as saying about that time.

Yeah. The songs rolled out. Funny stuff and deep stuff and stuff that made people scratch their heads.

In 1979, he had a hit with “Forever in Blue Jeans,” and “Saturday Night Live” funny man Will Ferrell later worked him over good as a lounge lizard, but it also made a damn fine commercial for The Gap and likely a second boatload of bucks, didn’t it? He starred with Barbra (where’s your third ‘a’ Babs?) Streisand on the duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” but ditched her for a planned movie to instead play a cantor in a 1980 remake of “The Jazz Singer.” That soundtrack gave him three hits, “Love on the Rocks,” “Hello Again” and “America,” but it also earned him the first-ever Razzie Award for Worst Actor.

He may have had a bit of an identity crisis from that sort of public skewering.

Take his hit “I Am, I Said,” which goes: “I am, I said. To no one there. And no one heard at all. Not even the chair.”

“There’s a mystery to writing, and you don’t really know where most of it comes from,” he said.

So write and play songs from wherever he did. He liked to put names in their titles, that is clear.

His Billboard Top 40 hits include “Holly Holy,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” — mother, Rose, remember — “Desiree” and, of course, “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good).”

That last infectious tune came out in 1969, but it was decades later that it was adopted as a crowd sing-along. You’ve been out in a bar somewhere where a band covers the song or a DJ plays it, or in a baseball stadium between innings when they throw it on the PA, and the collective might of all those voices hits the resounding oh-oh-oh, right?

Neil Diamond doesn't know about any stinkin' rivalry.  (From Getty Images)

I never knew The Babe. (From Getty Images)

Or you’ve seen this phenomena on TV, after it spread to the big leagues, very famously to Fenway Park in Boston during the World Series, where they even brought the man who wrote it to sing it out on the diamond live and in person, where I thought Brooklyn’s Neil Leslie Diamond must surely be cringing inside somewhat while I watched on my flat screen, what with Yankees-Red Sox rivalry raging all these decades and all. Busting the curse of the Bambino, anyone?

Here’s something funny. Neil Diamond finally revealed in 2007 that he wrote “Sweet Caroline” as an ode to Caroline Kennedy. The song came out in 1969. She would have been 12. “Hands. Touchin’ hands. Reachin’ out. Touchin’ me. Touchin’ you.”

Innocent enough?

“I thought maybe I would tell it to Caroline when I met her someday,” Diamond said in a story on wcbsfm.cbs.local.com. He got that chance when he performed for Caroline on her 50th birthday.

Where's your bucket?

Where’s your bucket?

Next weekend, my dear wife Karen and I will be in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., so she can check both seeing a Neil Diamond concert and the cherry blossoms blooming around our other national monuments off her bucket list.

Here’s the link to the wikipedia site for Neil Diamond.

Here’s the link to Neil Diamond’s site.

Here’s the link to the site for Neil Diamond’s quotes.

Here’s the link for the story about “Sweet Caroline.”

Here’s the link to the lyrics of “Sweet Caroline.”

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About markbialczak

Mark Bialczak is a veteran journalist. He started his blog, markbialczak.com, in February, 2013, to write about music, entertainment, sports and life.
This entry was posted in funny names in music and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Without Akeeba and Rose, We Wouldn’t Have Neil Leslie Diamond’s Touching Story

  1. Dave says:

    Wow, I had no idea that Caroline Kennedy was somehow implicated in that song. We had a ton of fun singing that song for the first year med student ladies the day before Valentine’s day! I’ve just recently gotten in to Neil Diamond, but I’m a fan… Sweet Caroline and “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” (which I only knew from the Pulp Fiction cover) are true classics, and i’m sure I’ll be hearing more of Neil’s classics soon!

    • markbialczak says:

      I am much a Neil Diamond fan, King Dave, having listened to his long line of hits my whole life and not caring a bit that it was deemed uncool rock in the day. He sure knows melody and hooks. I’m really looking forward to watching my wife enjoy her first Neil Diamond concert oh-oh-oh. Damn the research for BoFN.

      • Dave says:

        That’s awesome! I didn’t realize that Neil Diamond was considered uncool rock. Was he part of the “Corporate Rock” wave that Boston (the band, not the Sox) was a part of? Or was it just because he sang adult contemporary stuff? I think it’s time for a Neil Diamond revival, and my school of 20-somethings agrees!

        • markbialczak says:

          He was not part of the Boston band group, which was considered more cool than the pop-oldie position he held, King Dave. I do think he’s adored by all now, though.

          • Dave says:

            Hmm… interesting. I thought people scoffed at Boston for being too “corporate”, even though apparently Tom Scholz spent 10 years developing and perfecting that album, which is an unbelievably impressive feat!

          • markbialczak says:

            A lot of these feelings came up as intellectual discussion after the fact, Dave. I know when I was in college, and that first Boston album came out, all we were thinking about was how cool the new rock sound was to our ears.

  2. Dave says:

    … just read the last part about you going to see Neil at the Verizon Center! Have so much fun! I’ll be enjoying the show vicariously through you!

  3. kerbey says:

    Good thing he wasn’t named Akeeba, Jr.

    I for one have always enjoyed the Diamond. I have my Best Of cd, and when I made a DVD of family pictures, I included “America” in the early 60s slideshow. He does have a voice that lends itself to parody, like when Ferrell also does Robert Goulet. Both those kind of voices, like they are taking themselves super seriously. Many times have I sung “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” at the top of my lungs. Being on the 4th floor (that’s what my uncle calls your decade of age, by floor), I associate “Turn On Your Heartlight” with seeing E.T.

    I had heard that about “Sweet Caroline” but not until a couple of years ago. It will be a sports standard now, like “Na Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye.” But I do admit many of his songs make NO SENSE. How can a song be sung blue? I understand how a person can be bluer than blue, but song sung blue? And I like blue jeans, but I don’t want to forever be in them. You didn’t even talk about how fabulous his hair has been over the decades. Red boxers, huh?

    • markbialczak says:

      Oh, Kerbey, I mention his deep-black hair in my concert experience, and how about my cutline for the black-and-white photo?

      Yeah, red boxers. What a moment. Talk about quick on your feet, which then can’t move because they’re constricted by your dropped trou.

  4. Arto says:

    Ah, the Diamond! I wonder if he’s much of a golfer. If he shoots off the lane a bit he’ll be a Diamond in the rough.

    Rough joke there.

    Akeeba, what a name. He should write a song about that. A nice ballad, perhaps.

  5. Liz says:

    well reported as always, Mr. Mark. Fantastico that you and DWK are heading on a trip soon. Enjoy the blossoms and enjoy the tunes!

    • markbialczak says:

      I hope the power stays on in Verizon Center during the concert, Liz. 🙂 Thanks, I can really use the short trip away from Syracuse. Sometimes you just need to smell the cherry blossoms.

  6. paralaxvu says:

    Very interesting. I didn’t know that about Caroline. Or the red boxers. I’m not much of a fan of the man (although he does four chords very well), but anything about the history of rock is cool. ‘Specially written here.

  7. ksbeth says:

    i saw him years ago and he put on a great show. so funny to hear about the meaning behind, ‘caroline.’ enjoy your visit and your show!

  8. He is the ultimate earworm singer. Something about his tunes burrows in and you find yourself singing the chorus over and over again. Hopefully to yourself and silently otherwise people get upset. Don’t ask how I know this. Sweet Caroline…dum, dum, dum… oh wait, that’s a political not musical comment. 🙂

  9. I love Neil Diamond’s tunes. In college we were divided into two camps musically. I ran down the line of the less popular Mr. Diamond of the time. 🙂

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