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Neil Diamond has no time for resting on his laurels

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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As he celebrates the 50-year career mark, good times never felt so good for Neil Diamond.

And he’s driven to make sure there are more good times ahead.

“One of the things that motivates me now is that time is limited,” Diamond, 76 — who’s in the midst of his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour — says by phone from Los Angeles. “So I’m taking advantage of every moment I have to make music. I think that’s my purpose here — to make music and to share my music with people, and I’m on a mission to do that.”

There’s certainly a lot of that music to share for the Brooklyn-born troubadour, despite some fuzzy math about what exactly the 50-year mark entails. Diamond, who logged time early in his career as a songwriter in Manhattan’s famed Brill Building after studying pre-med and fencing at New York University, actually released his first recordings in 1962 as a duo with high school friend Jack Parker. His first solo release, “At Night,” surfaced during July of 1963, and his first hit, “Solitary Man,” came out during early 1966.

Chronology aside, there’s no question Diamond’s has had an iconic pop career. He’s sold more than 125 million albums worldwide, with 37 Top 40 singles and enduring favorites such as “Cherry Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Holly Holy,” “America” and the Barbra Streisand duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” He also penned the Monkees hit “I’m A Believer.” Diamond has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2011 and was nominated for Golden Globe Award for his starring role in the 1980 adaptation of “The Jazz Singer” — though Diamond actually won the Worst Actor prize at that year’s Golden Raspberry Awards.

And despite a rhinestone-encrusted image as an MOR or adult hitmaker, Diamond is hip enough to have performed at The Band’s The Last Waltz concert and have his songs covered by the likes of Chris Isaak, UB40 and others.

But even this far along, there’s a steadfast refusal to rest on his laurels. Diamond has released four albums this decade — 2010’s “Dreams” and “Melody Road” in 2014 (which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200), along with a pair of Christmas albums. And he has no intention of stopping.

“I don’t want to get complacent,” he says. “There are songs to be written. You just have that thing that hurries me up and says, ‘Don’t sit around and don’t waste time, ’cause it’s fleeting, and if you have any songs that are still inside yourself you better get to work.’

“That whole concept has become part of me. It’s built into my genetic code at this point, and as I get to be older it’s a more insistent whisper in my ear — ‘Go to work. Do your work. Do not dawdle. Do not waste time. Write your songs. Do them as well as you possible can, and don’t waste any more time.’”

He’s bringing the same attitude to the stage this year. The 50 Year Anniversary Show spans his career, from the mid-’60s right up to “Melody Road” and kicking off, appropriately, with the title track from the 1996 compilation “In My Lifetime.” At this juncture Diamond has more songs that fans want to hear than he has time to play them, but even if something’s missing he’s confident that he’s sending the Diamond heads home satisfied.

“Where I am now is a very hopeful place and I very feel good about that and I hope that reflects itself in the show because that’s the story I want to tell — that life holds all kinds of wonderful, mysterious surprises,” Diamond explains. “And where I’m at now is a great surprise for me, and I want to reflect that in the shows.”

• If you go: Neil Diamond performs 8 p.m. Friday, June 2, at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $20-$150. Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.

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