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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Neil Diamond

Aired September 29, 2003 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, music legend Neil Diamond. He sang in the school choir with Barbra Streisand. He danced with Princess Diana at the White House. And he's touched millions for nearly 40 years. A rare, in-depth personal hour with the one and only Neil Diamond is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
What a way to kick off the week. Neil Diamond, award-winning composer and singer, has got a new boxed set titled "Stages" just out, five audio CDs and one DVD of his live performances. "Stages" arrives -- there you see its cover. It arrives in stores tomorrow. It also contains a great booklet of photographs beautifully put together by Columbia.

"Stages" meaning, obviously, stages of your career, right?

NEIL DIAMOND, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Yes (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KING: Was this tough to put together?

DIAMOND: Oh, it was hell. I mean, it was two years of digging out the archives and taking tapes out of the basement and finding photographs that had never been seen before. It was an enormous job. You know, I'm glad it's over.

KING: How many tunes are actually on it?

DIAMOND: There are 83 performances. I think 82 or 83 performances. And I tried to get as many fresh performances as I could.

KING: You recorded many more than 83, right?

DIAMOND: Yes. Yes. These are live performances and...

KING: All live performances.

DIAMOND: Yes. All of these are performances that have been done over the last 30 years in different -- you know, from tiny clubs to stadiums.

KING: Tonight's show features two little Jewish boys from Brooklyn having a conversation. He went to Erasmus (ph) Hall High School with Barbra Streisand. But your senior year, you went to Lincoln.

DIAMOND: Moved to Lincoln... KING: Coney Island.

DIAMOND: Coney Island. Actually, Brighton Beach. Well, Lincoln is in Coney Island, you're right. My parents moved. They had -- took a shop in Brighton, and I moved my senior year. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, moving to Lincoln, because Erasmus was a very tough school. It was an inner-city kind of a school. And Lincoln was like the movie "Grease," you know, with the kids all dancing and...

KING: Yes.

DIAMOND: That was what Lincoln High School was.

KING: Did know Streisand well?

DIAMOND: I didn't know Barbra at all when we went to Erasmus.

KING: You were in the glee club, though, right?

DIAMOND: We were in the same chorus together. There were 100 voices. We were in it together for about two years. We never met. I didn't know most of the kids there.

KING: What was it like recording "You Don't Send Me Flowers Anymore" with her?

DIAMOND: Oh, it was great. I mean, she's, you know, probably the greatest female singer of my generation, so, you know...

KING: What would the odds be that the two of the best would go to the same school, not know each other at school and then record a major hit together?

DIAMOND: I don't know. It's a pretty long shot, but...

KING: You're both so professional. Was that a long recording session?

DIAMOND: No.

KING: No?

DIAMOND: We just had fun. It was the two of us with a piano and we sang it, and they put the strings on it later. And just -- I think two or three takes. And you know, it was easy. I mean she's -- she's the greatest and...

KING: How important, do you think, to your whole career was Brooklyn?

DIAMOND: Well, I mean, Brooklyn shaped me. Brooklyn was -- you know, it was my home neighborhood. It was a very protected kind of environment. It wasn't the city. It wasn't Manhattan. It was very protected, you know...

KING: In fact, you'd say Manhattan was the city, right? Let's go into the city.

DIAMOND: That's right. Yes, you didn't go to Manhattan, you went, Let's go to the city.

KING: Yes.

DIAMOND: But Brooklyn was -- that's where my family was. That's where my friends were, all my cousins and my immediate family.

KING: And you were going to go -- or you went to medical school?

DIAMOND: I wanted to go -- I actually wanted to go to medical school. I actually wanted to be a laboratory biologist. I wanted to study. And I really wanted to find a cure for cancer. My grandmother had died of cancer. And I was always very good at the sciences. And I thought I would go and try and discover the cure for cancer.

KING: What happened?

DIAMOND: Well, you know, along the way, I met reality, which was organic chemistry and...

KING: Grades?

DIAMOND: Terrible. You know, I was fencing at NYU and...

KING: You had a fencing scholarship, right?

DIAMOND: I was there on a scholarship and...

KING: You were a fencer?

DIAMOND: I was a fencer. I was an athletic kid. And you know, my dad went to the same high school as I did, when -- we went to Lincoln High School and...

KING: So you fenced.

DIAMOND: I fenced.

KING: Did you fence at NYU, too?

DIAMOND: I fenced -- that's where I fenced. I fenced at Lincoln and...

KING: Did you sing...

DIAMOND: ... for my senior year.

KING: ... a lot? Were you singing while you were...

DIAMOND: Yes. I was playing guitar and singing. I had started singing and taking guitar lessons when I was about 16.

KING: So you left school?

DIAMOND: No, I never left NYU. Yes, finally, at the very end after four years, just...

KING: You graduated?

DIAMOND: Just shy of four years. No, I never graduated. But I got an offer I couldn't refuse.

KING: Which was?

DIAMOND: Music publishing company, a 16-week contract, 50 bucks a week. And I quit school.

KING: To do what for the music folks?

DIAMOND: To write songs. This was my dream. You know, I...

KING: Had you submitted songs to them and...

DIAMOND: To them, yes. I mean, I submitted some audition songs, a bunch of songs that I'd written. They were all beginner's songs. But rock-and-roll really was in its infancy then, and they didn't know -- it was mostly a Broadway show publisher. And this had some top Broadway writers, but they wanted to get into this new field called rock-and-roll. And here I was, a kid. I was stupid. You know, I would work for nothing. And so they signed me.

KING: What made it for you? What was your first -- how did the public get to know Neil Diamond?

DIAMOND: Well, I was lucky. I had been knocking around for seven or eight years, trying to make it as a songwriter. And I bumped into two very talented people in Jeff Berry (ph) and Ellie Greenwich (ph). They were among the top writers of the time, and they liked me. They heard some of my demos and they liked me. They got me signed to a music publishing house.

KING: And what was the hit record?

DIAMOND: Oh, I didn't have a hit with them. I was -- I was there for -- with that music publisher for a year, and they fired me, which was the usual thing. I mean, I got fired from -- just about every place I worked at that time. And so they fired me. And Jeff and Ellie said, You know, hey, he's too good. Let's see if we can get him a record deal. And that was the start of it. I...

KING: What was your first hit?

DIAMOND: "Solitary Man" was my first record and then...

KING: Did you write that, too?

DIAMOND: Yes.

KING: Well, did that take off?

DIAMOND: It did in a couple of cities. In Toronto and Los Angeles it was top 10. The rest of the country, no. But it was a chart record. It was -- it separated me from, you know, just being a guy knocking around and trying to get into the -- you know, the office.

KING: What took off for you, then?

DIAMOND: The next record, which was a thing called "Cherry Cherry (ph)," was my first big national hit. It was a top five record. And international, as well. And you know, that's what broke the dam.

KING: Was the family happy?

DIAMOND: I'm sure they were happy. You know, I was -- boom, as soon as that record hit, I was out on the road. And I've been out on the road for -- since then.

KING: You were a natural. You wanted to perform.

DIAMOND: I didn't realize it at first, but I did want to perform. I liked it. It was fun. You know, I went through all of the growth experiences that you go through in any field. But I did like it. And you know, I've been doing it since.

KING: Now, what about the Neil Diamond story that we've heard that you're -- that you tend to get down on yourself, you get moody? Is that true?

DIAMOND: I'm a moody kind of a guy, but...

KING: Are you self-examining a lot?

DIAMOND: I'm a perfectionist. I like to get it right. I like to get it good. And you know, writing songs is not -- it's not the kind of thing that you can count on every day. You never know what's going to come or if it's going to come. So you -- you know, it's an uncertain kind of a thing. Thank goodness, it's come for me for a long time and...

KING: When you have -- have you ever had it affect you? Did you ever get depression over...

DIAMOND: No. No. I've always felt it would come. You know, I...

KING: Because some writers get cold. I mean, you always get a little cold at times, right?

DIAMOND: I've never felt that because...

KING: No?

DIAMOND: No.

KING: Wow.

DIAMOND: I mean, there are times that I don't write, and I've been doing it long enough now so that I just let it go, you know? And the balance between the performing and the writing has been a good one for me. So when I'm not writing, I'm performing. And I don't write when I'm performing, and I don't perform when I'm writing. And...

KING: You separate the two.

DIAMOND: Yes. Yes.

KING: Neil Diamond is our guest. The new box CD goes on sale tomorrow. It's five audios and one DVD all of live performances. It's called "Stages," brilliantly packaged by Columbia. We'll go to your calls at the bottom of the hour. Neil Diamond's our special guest. And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, Neil Diamond is his real name. Diamond is a common Jewish name, isn't it? I knew a lot of Diamonds.

DIAMOND: In my family, it's very common, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You thought of taking a name like Noah Kaminsky (ph)?

DIAMOND: Well, you know, I grew up with Neil Diamond, so it was...

KING: You knew Neil Diamond.

DIAMOND: It was no big deal, you know? It was the name that, you know, the kids used to make fun of. Neil was an unusual name. You know, it was always, Neil, Neil, the garbage peel, your father's in jail...

(LAUGHTER)

DIAMOND: ... you know? And so I never liked it. And I thought -- you know, when I finally got this record contract, I thought I'd better get myself a real name, you know, so I made up a couple.

KING: Ice Cherry (ph) was...

DIAMOND: Ice Cherry, yes. That was...

(CROSSTALK)

DIAMOND: That and Noah Kaminsky were two -- those were my two choices, you know?

KING: Noah Kaminsky would have been a hit. You'd have been a hit. Ice Cherry wouldn't have done bad, either.

DIAMOND: I don't know. I don't know. You know, I'm glad I chickened out because I couldn't figure out a way how to explain to my grandmother. You know, she barely spoke English, and I'm trying to explain to her that, you know, it's not my name on the record but that's me singing.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Are you a writer who sings or a singer who writes?

DIAMOND: I'm a writer who performs. And I mean, I'm basically a writer. I've been doing it since I was 16.

KING: If you had to do only one, it would be hard?

DIAMOND: It would be very hard. For me, the balance between the two, the writing -- a year, two years, whatever it takes to do an album, and then you've had enough of writing and thinking and being introspective and all of that kind of stuff, and you want to get out on the road and you want to, you know, get into the physicality of performing.

KING: You're as much a performer as a singer, right? I mean, you...

DIAMOND: Yes.

KING: It's the whole shtick with you, right? It's an all- encompassing thing, it's not just the voice.

DIAMOND: Listen, I never think about the voice. You know, I never prepare myself and...

KING: Never took lessons?

DIAMOND: Never -- I took one lesson once in the '70s, and my voice was so constricted, I said, I can't do this. It's going to end my career here.

KING: How would you describe your voice? It's not everyday.

DIAMOND: Last time we talked, you asked me that. And I said, you know, It's Larry King with ears, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

DIAMOND: So it's still the same.

KING: We weren't together that time, though. You were...

DIAMOND: That's right.

KING: ... in one city, I was in another.

DIAMOND: That's right.

KING: This is only the first time we're really sitting together.

DIAMOND: That's right.

KING: Did success -- how did success affect you? DIAMOND: Well, I mean, it -- you know, it was great. But I mean, it's an adjustment, like any other change in your life. I was a kid knocking around, trying to get in to get my music heard, and suddenly, everybody was knocking on my door. And so you have to kind of put things in perspective.

KING: Was it hard? I mean, were there things...

DIAMOND: Yes. But I mean, given the alternative, it was -- you know, it was what I wanted. You know, I wanted to be accepted. And you know, every performer wants -- on a very basic level, they want to be accepted and...

KING: But all -- or many of them have self-doubt all the way, like it ain't going to be here tomorrow.

DIAMOND: Yes. I think most performers have that kind of self- doubt. I mean, there's always...

KING: Where does that come from? I mean, you would think Neil Diamond's got the world.

DIAMOND: Well, you know, I do have the world. But you know, you have to wonder late at night, Well, why do I have the world? You know, there's so many talented people out there. You know, Why am I the one, you know, and...

KING: Do you feel lucky?

DIAMOND: ... there's a certain amount of guilt. You feel lucky. You feel guilty. You feel like it's going to be over, you know? But I mean, it's gone on long enough for me to say, Hey, you know, it's been good. And even if it's over tomorrow, it's OK, you know?

KING: So when you're writing, you're writing, and when you're performing, you're performing, the two different "Stages" of your life, as the title of the...

DIAMOND: Two separate parts of the brain. You know, the writing's very introverted, very reflective, very solitary kind of work. And I love it. You know, it's very satisfying, too, when you go into a room and start with nothing and come out and...

KING: Yes.

DIAMOND: ... you know, have something beautiful. I mean, that's -- you know, that's a great feeling. And then the other side, the...

KING: Standing on the stage.

DIAMOND: -- the performing is -- you know, it's all about noise and being extroverted, which I'm not an extroverted kind of person, but that's evidently part of my personality and...

KING: You're basically shy, right? I presume -- you don't do a lot of interviews. DIAMOND: No. Very few.

KING: You don't like talking about yourself a lot, right?

DIAMOND: Don't like talking about myself. And you know, the music should say everything and the performance should say everything and...

KING: So let's say you're introverted. You're shy. What happens on stage?

DIAMOND: Well, that's...

KING: You're the last one to have a shy act.

DIAMOND: That's a different person. That's not me. That's that other guy up there.

KING: Really?

DIAMOND: Yes. It is a different person.

KING: Do you sometimes, like, look at yourself and say, That's -- like, you could see yourself singing?

DIAMOND: Well, I never -- I never watch myself.

KING: I mean, while you're singing.

DIAMOND: No.

KING: You know, some people...

DIAMOND: I mean, that's -- it's like I turn on a different person. You know, it's...

KING: That's fascinating.

DIAMOND: It is. But it's me. It's very natural and it's fun and I really have a good time. But you know, when I get off stage, then I go back to that other person, you know, who's...

KING: Back to the womb.

DIAMOND: ... who's quiet and, you know...

KING: Do you ever write for others?

DIAMOND: I've written for others. I never did very well at it. It's, you know...

KING: Did you ever have a hit for someone else?

DIAMOND: Yes. People have picked up on my songs, either through my...

KING: "I'm a Believer" you wrote, right, for the Monkees?

DIAMOND: "I'm a Believer." I actually didn't write it for them. I wrote it for me. It was on my -- one of the early albums and...

KING: But they had the big hit, right?

DIAMOND: They had the hit. It was never released as a single for me, and they came out with it and, you know, my record company went crazy.

KING: And you were telling me "Sweet Carolina" -- I know Frank Sinatra recorded "Sweet Carolina."

DIAMOND: Yes.

KING: You said Presley sang "Sweet Carolina."

DIAMOND: Presley did it and Waylon Jennings did it and...

KING: Was that your biggest hit?

DIAMOND: I think, in that sense, that the number of people who recorded it probably...

KING: What was the biggest in sales?

DIAMOND: I'd have to say "I'm a Believer." You know, the Monkees...

KING: What's your favorite?

DIAMOND: I think it was 5 million or 6 million.

KING: You have a favorite?

DIAMOND: My favorite of all of my songs?

KING: Yes. I mean, you sing your songs a lot. The public expects it.

DIAMOND: Yes.

KING: Right? You ever get tired of singing them?

DIAMOND: Well, when I do, I take them out of the show.

KING: Oh, you do.

DIAMOND: I'm lucky enough to have...

KING: A lot of hits.

DIAMOND: -- you know, a lot of hits. So you take it out and you don't do it for a year or two, and then say, Hey, you know, I'll do that one again.

KING: But you don't have a song where you say, "This is"...

DIAMOND: I'd have to say if it was one song, it'd be "I Am, I Said," a very personal kind of a song, very reflective and very -- probably the hardest song I've ever had to write. So if I had to say one song, it'd be that one.

KING: As we go to break, we'll be taking calls for Neil Diamond at the bottom of the hour. "Stages" comes out everywhere records and DVDs are sold tomorrow. We go to break with -- well, watch.

(VIDEO CLIP - "I'M A BELIEVER")

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: That's nice. Neil Diamond, one of the top grosses on the tour circuit, sells out at every venue. A reviewer wrote of the 1999 arena show, "Diamond is as good as any tent-meeting revivalist at working a crowd and making people feel they are part of a vast, joyous communal experience." Do you get caught up in your audience?

DIAMOND: Yes.

KING: Do you realize how -- they're standing and jumping and...

DIAMOND: Well, that's what keeps you going. I mean, the audience, when they put out energy, that's what gives you the energy. I mean, it's very hard to do it all by yourself. It's lonely up there.

KING: What was the Princess Di meeting like?

DIAMOND: Oh, she was a great person. She was just a fabulous person. She was a real human being.

KING: She was a big fan of yours.

DIAMOND: I mean, she was a person -- well, she was a fan. She told me she tried to get into one of my shows when she was a teenager, a show that I did in a place called Woburn (ph) Abbey in England, and her parents wouldn't let her go. But so finally, she came as, you know, Princess Diana, you know?

KING: What was that like?

DIAMOND: It was fantastic. I mean, she came backstage and said hello to all my people. And she just radiated this fantastic thing.

DIAMOND: How do you like being a grandfather?

DIAMOND: I love being a grandfather. I've got three grandsons, kids, just gorgeous. I mean, it's good because, I mean, I'm not their parents and this -- so I don't have to, you know, really take care of them. I can just be this guy that comes and spoils them. But they're gorgeous and I love that role.

KING: Do you miss marriage? DIAMOND: I don't think I was very good at marriage. You know, I tried it twice.

KING: Work came first?

DIAMOND: Work definitely came first. I mean, it was my chance to shine. My work is where it all happens for me. And I was married twice. And both these women were exceptional women, and they didn't want that. And you know, you can't blame them.

KING: Do you ever get tired of it? Do you ever think about hanging it up?

DIAMOND: Yes, I do. I mean, sure. I mean, it's -- it's...

KING: Like, the road. It can be rough, can't it?

DIAMOND: The road can be rough. But as I say, the balance between performing and all the physicality of the stage performance, and the quietness and the solitude of writing and recording, has been a very good balance for me. So when I don't want to do one, I go do the other.

KING: Well, when you go out, you might work how many nights? I mean, you'll do -- when you go tour, you tour -- you work...

DIAMOND: Oh, go for months. You know, this last tour was 90 cities. That's a lot of cities, you know?

KING: Do you ever forget what city you're in?

DIAMOND: That's one thing I don't do because before I go out, I have it written backstage because I don't want to say, Hi, Cleveland, and it's Detroit. You know, I -- it's one of my big fears, so I always know where I am.

KING: Do you ever think they won't show up?

DIAMOND: Well, you know...

KING: Or are you automatic?

DIAMOND: You know...

KING: You're automatic.

DIAMOND: No, I don't ever think it's automatic. But you know because the tickets are sold out, so you know people are going to show up. But I'm insecure enough never to have intermissions because I'm afraid people are going to leave.

(LAUGHTER)

DIAMOND: So I never give them the chance to leave.

KING: So you do two hours, no intermissions. DIAMOND: That's right, over two hours. I don't want anyone to go.

KING: And it's still as much of a kick...

DIAMOND: Oh, yes.

KING: ... when you're out there, the other you, the non-Neil Diamond you?

DIAMOND: It's -- I'm flying. I'm flying. It's the best.

KING: Did you ever get involved with drugs or drink or anything? Ever go to...

DIAMOND: Not really.

KING: Never tempted that route?

DIAMOND: No. No. I was lucky. I never drank. I never got into drugs. I was -- I was lucky because I see a lot of people who did get into that kind of stuff, and they...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... certainly around.

DIAMOND: Yes. They were destroyed by it. So it's a good lesson.

KING: Did you know Presley?

DIAMOND: I met him, actually, in Las Vegas, went to see his show and, you know, he was amazing. We -- he introduced me from the stage, and the audience started to call for me to get up and perform and...

KING: Did you?

DIAMOND: No. He said, You know, well, Neil's -- he's on vacation now and, you know, we'll let him rest. And we met afterward, and he was great.

KING: He also had a lot of hang-ups about his success, didn't he?

DIAMOND: I think he probably did. I don't think he could be Elvis Presley without wondering, Why me, at some point, you know? And I think he did. That's just my impression.

KING: Our guest is Neil Diamond. We're going to take a break, come back and -- oh, Johnny Cash. I want to ask you about that when we come back, and go to your phone calls for Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond "Stages," photographs as well, in a booklet. And it's one videotape DVD and five audios, all live performances. It's out tomorrow. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I notice you watch yourself with bemusement, right?

DIAMOND: I don't like to watch myself. I hate it. It's one of the things I like about performing live on a stage is that you don't really have to watch yourself. You do it, and do the best you can, and when the show's over, that's it. You don't have to look at it again.

KING: You're in the songwriter's hall of fame. Gotten a Grammy. Do you think you've been underappreciated by critics?

DIAMOND: I don't know. I really don't...

KING: They've often been tough on you.

DIAMOND: They have. But they've been great to me, too. And basically I don't really do this for critics. This is, you know, for the audience. It's for me. And...

KING: A good performer to perform for self, right? And then through self to the audience.

DIAMOND: Well, I do, you know? I don't know. I can't speak for anybody else. But the only thing that's relevant really is the feeling that I have about what I'm doing and the feeling that my audience has.

KING: Let's go to some calls. We do to Des Moines, Iowa, for Neil Diamond, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi, Larry. Hi, Neil.

KING: Hello?

CALLER: Thank you for taking my call.

KING: Are you there?

CALLER: It's an honor to talk to both of you.

Before I ask my question, I just want to thank you, Neil, for what you've given to the world musically. It's just been wonderful. I can't even describe what I think you've done for all of your fans.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: As a fan for over 35 -- 34 years, I have a feeling as to why you've been so successful in your career. But I guess I'd like to know from you why you feel that you've had so much success in your musical career?

KING: Self-evaluate.

DIAMOND: You know, honestly, the answer is that, I don't know. There are a lot of talented people out there and a lot of hard-working people. And that's basically, I think, what it takes. It takes some talent, and it takes the ability to work very hard at it and...

KING: You are an unusual singer. Wouldn't you say that, though?

DIAMOND: Well, I guess I'm unusual. My...

KING: I mean, no one sounds like you.

DIAMOND: This is true. I mean, people say that. And I -- you know, I accept that as a compliment. But I don't make a point -- I don't even think I'm singing when I'm singing. I think I'm just expressing an idea. So I don't warm up. I don't do exercises. You know, this is just me saying something.

KING: So you didn't sing today?

DIAMOND: No, I didn't sing today.

KING: San Antonio, hello.

CALLER: Hello?

KING: Hi.

CALLER: I'd like to ask Neil Diamond -- I watched the jazz. I'm not a moviegoer. But I did watch the...

KING: "The Jazz Singer." What's your question?

CALLER: And I would like to know if he's made any other movies.

KING: Did you make any other films?

DIAMOND: Did a cameo in a film a couple of years ago. But, no, I'm not -- I haven't really pursued movies. I don't have a feeling for it.

KING: Were you unhappy doing "Jazz Singer"?

DIAMOND: I wouldn't say I was unhappy, but I wasn't happy. I didn't really understand the process. It was a little scary to me. I had never done it before.

But I didn't have a sense of it. You know, when I first got onstage and performed in front of a live audience, I had a feeling about it. I -- you know, I liked it. It did something to me. And I never got that feeling making movies. It was very trying.

KING: You had to work with Olivier, too.

DIAMOND: I worked with Laurence Olivier and, you know...

KING: What was that like?

DIAMOND: That was, you know, like working -- you know, a new guy coming in and working with the best guy in the world. It was -- it was very scary. Fortunately a month or so before we started the film, I bumped into Dustin Hoffman in an airport, and I said to him, God, you know, I'm doing "The Jazz Singer" with Laurence Olivier, and I have no idea how to approach this. What -- you know, what do I do? And, you know, Dustin was very, very generous about it, he said, It sounds like you're scared of this guy here. And it sounds like the character is scared of him, too. So just play that. And, you know, it will be fine.

And that helped me. At least psychologically it helped me. But I never did get a real -- I didn't get the taste for it.

KING: They wanted you to play Lenny, didn't they?

DIAMOND: I -- I -- Yes.

KING: Lenny Bruce.

DIAMOND: The Lenny Bruce story. That was in the early '70s. And I -- I did a screen test for it. And his mom was there while we were doing the screen testing. And I was such a nervous wreck when I finished, I went back to my camper, and I wrote, "I am, I said." You know, or started it.

KING: That day? Really?

DIAMOND: That's -- that's where that song started. I was so...

KING: Wow!

DIAMOND: I just had to explode.

KING: And Dustin got it.

DIAMOND: Eventually Dustin Hoffman got it, thank God, because, you know, it was not cup of tea.

KING: let's see a scene from "The Jazz Singer" with Neil Diamond. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: It doesn't pay so good, Bob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

DIAMOND: This is a poor synagogue. They pay what they can. But I can't live on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doesn't pay so good?

DIAMOND: Ripk (ph) and I want our own place. We want to have babies.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) You can never repay. Never! Never!

DIAMOND: OK. Easy, pop. Just take it easy. I'm sorry I said it. I didn't mean it. Please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: San Francisco, hello.

CALLER: Hi.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Neil.

DIAMOND: Hi.

CALLER: Thanks for taking my call.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: I'm 25 years old, and as a younger fan of yours, I was turned on to your music by a band called Super Diamond. They're a bunch of young guys who basically play all Neil Diamond songs. And I was just wondering if you knew of them and, if so, what you thought about it?

KING: You have impersonators?

DIAMOND: I have impersonators out there. And I'm -- I'm happy to have them.

KING: Super Diamond, have you heard of them?

DIAMOND: Yes, I know these kids and I've seen them perform.

KING: What do they do? Do one of them sing like you?

DIAMOND: Yes, they -- I -- they sing a little bit like me, and they go out and perform my songs. And, you know, it's...

KING: How do you feel about them?

DIAMOND: It's fun. It's a little strange at first, I have to say. But it's nice, you know?

KING: Lansing, Michigan, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Hi, Neil.

DIAMOND: Hi.

CALLER: How are you?

KING: Fine.

CALLER: Neil, you look fantastic.

KING: Yes, he does.

CALLER: I love your music. And I was wondering, would you consider doing a duet with Celine Dion?

DIAMOND: Sure. She's a terrific singer. Bring her on. I mean, she's a...

KING: Have you done other duets, other than Barbra?

DIAMOND: Just with Barbra.

KING: Just Barbra?

DIAMOND: Actually, no, I did -- Kim Carnes and I did a couple of cuts together. Who else? Waylon Jennings. A couple of people that I...

KING: So you do -- you did the country, "Tennessee Moon," right? You did that.

DIAMOND: Yes, on the "Tennessee Moon" album, Waylon and I did a song.

KING: What did you think of Johnny Cash?

DIAMOND: I thought he was, you know, one of the great, great people. Not only wonderful performer, and recording artist, but...

KING: Person?

DIAMOND: Great person.

KING: Hyannisport, Massachusetts, hello.

CALLER: Hi, thank you for taking my call.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: Hi, Neil.

DIAMOND: Hi.

CALLER: The years have been a friend to you. You look great.

DIAMOND: Thank you. CALLER: But my question was -- well, first I have a statement. I went to see a concert in Boston right after 9/11. And I thought the sensitivity with which you approached the whole thing, you know, I kind of felt sacreligious going to have a good time anywhere at about that time...

DIAMOND: Yes.

CALLER: ... and then going into the Fleet Center, or wherever it was and, you know, having your bagged checked and everything so suspicious and kind of scary for the first time. You just -- you handled it, I thought, wonderfully. And you addressed it. And the flag unfurled. And it just...

KING: What's your question, dear?

CALLER: I can't think of a more perfect place to be because your music is really woven into the fabric of America right now.

KING: What's your question?

CALLER: My question is, if you had to put two of your tracks in a time capsule, only two, which would you pick?

KING: That's a good question. "I am, I said."

DIAMOND: "Say, I am, I said." And just the flip side of that, I'd say "Cherry, Cherry" for fun.

KING: Was it tough performing after 9/11?

DIAMOND: You know, I thought it would be. But it was exhilarating in a whole different sense. Everybody in this country was brought down, and was in a quandary after that.

KING: Where were you that morning?

DIAMOND: I was in my home. I mean, you know, it was a terrible, terrible shock.

KING: How soon after did you have to work?

DIAMOND: Two weeks. We started two weeks later on the tour. And I was -- you know, I didn't know what we would do, or how people in the audience would take it. Or whether they'd even show up. But as it worked out, they did show up. And it was a great experience for me because

KING: You had to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

DIAMOND: We had to refer to it. It was part of the evening, you know. But I think it was important. Because people needed to get out of their homes, to get away from the television sets with all the news. And to realize that they could go on living their lives. That they didn't have to be afraid.

KING: So they needed it?

DIAMOND: They needed it. And the tour, you know, grew exponentially after that.

KING: Neil Diamond's our guest. Back with more calls. The album -- not out -- they don't call them albums anymore.

DIAMOND: I call them albums. This is a box set.

KING: Box set, album, CD, it's a CD, it's a DVD, it's an AVD, UVD, LVD. The six little things you get, you play them, you listen to music's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're all live performances. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: (SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was 1976. Before we take the next call, I asked Neil if Barbra Streisand has got a new CD about Hollywood songs. You have a story about Barbra.

DIAMOND: Well, you know, she's a Brooklyn kid. So, we grew up under the same circumstances. You know, poor kids, and all of that stuff. But there are things from both of our childhood that we both remember. And we were talking at one point and she said, we got on the subject of favorite candies. And we found out that we both love this little candy that you only can get in Brooklyn called Goldenberg's Peanut Chews.

KING: I love that. Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, the dentist's candy.

DIAMOND: Oh, yes, dentist loved it, because it pulled your teeth out then.

KING: Yes. It was delicious.

DIAMOND: It was the best. So Barbara said, I loved it, and I said, that was my favorite. A couple of weeks later I went into New York, and I picked up a dozen big, you know, the kind you couldn't afford when you were a kid. Just big packages of Goldenbergs for her, brought them back on the plane. I had them on the plane. I'll just have one. Barbra didn't even know I was going to bring any back for her. So I had one. It was about 10 pieces. It was so good. Another half hour, 40 minutes, oh, Barbra doesn't know. I'll have another one. There's plenty for her. And she's going to love it, right. So anyway, I finished every package of Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. I was so sick. You know, six hours on the plane. And I never told her that -- if she ever hears this, she's going to give me such a shot.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that was a great candy. And I haven't heard it said in years.

Willoughby, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Hi, Neil, it's such a privilege to talk to you.

DIAMOND: Thank you.

CALLER: It's one of my dreams come true.

DIAMOND: All right. Well, you're easy.

CALLER: I used to be.

KING: OK. Funny. What's the question?

CALLER: My question is, how does it make you feel knowing that your music, the words to your songs, have influenced so many of your fans in their everyday lives.

KING: Do you think about that -- the effect you've had?

DIAMOND: It's nice. I mean, it's beautiful. I mean, it makes you feel as though you're doing something that's worthwhile. Because basically you're writing these things by yourself. You have no idea, first of all, if anybody will hear them, if anybody will like them, much less take them to heart, and you know, love them. So when I hear it, it's -- it gives some value to all of the time spent alone.

KING: Are you concerned about downloading?

DIAMOND: Yes. I mean, every artist is. Every songwriter is.

KING: It's stealing.

DIAMOND: It's more than stealing. It's looting. Because they're taking thousands of recordings. And it's a terrible problem that the record business has now. And I...

KING: Technically you can't overcome it, right, Apparently?

DIAMOND: I don't know how they're going to do it.

KING: Wolcott, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hi, this is. I'm not supposed to say my name, but hi Larry, hi Neil.

DIAMOND: Hi.

CALLER: First of all, I would like to mention that due to my sister Debbie (ph) who would have celebrated her 46th birthday yesterday, you have become a very integral part of all our lives through your music, all my family members and myself. And my question to you would be, out of all your life performances, I would like to know what would be your most memorable moment?

DIAMOND: My most memorable moment on stage?

Wow, that would be hard to say. Honestly, I couldn't say. You know, I've been doing it for 30 -- 35, 37 years.

KING: You performed for royalty.

DIAMOND: Performed for Lady Diana, Prince Charles. Performed at the White House.

KING: Which president.

DIAMOND: Reagan. And he...

KING: He and Nancy must have loved it.

DIAMOND: I guess.

KING: Your music is right up that alley.

DIAMOND: I guess so. You know, it was a big surprise to me. I couldn't. I honestly couldn't say what it was.

KING: Yes. Girard, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: It's a pleasure to talk to both of you.

KING: Thank you. What's your question?

CALLER: Neil, I have been an avid fan of yours, like so many others, for many, many years. My understanding is that you feel you have never written yet, as of yet, the ultimate song. Are you still in pursuit of achieving this in your musical career?

DIAMOND: That's an interesting question. I'm just trying to write beautiful music. I don't know if I'm capable of writing the ultimate song, or ever will.

KING: Are you good at picking your own hits?

DIAMOND: Probably not. You know, I've...

KING: What songs would you say have surprised you, that you didn't expect would be?

DIAMOND: I remember very specifically in the early '70s, I was at a recording session, and I had a song that I loved. It was a song called "Play Me," and I thought...

KING: Oh, I love that song.

DIAMOND: ... gee, this should be (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the head of the label, Russ Reagan (ph) came in and said, no, that other thing that you were doing, that's the one. It was a song called "Song Sung Blue." So, I mean, that was number one. And people loved it.

KING: "Play Me" was terrific.

DIAMOND: I thought "Play Me" was the one.

KING: But "Song Sung Blue" was the one?

DIAMOND: "Song Sung Blue" was the one. So you know.

KING: Everybody knows one.

DIAMOND: Yeah.

KING: Back to our remaining moments with Neil Diamond. "Stages" goes on sale tomorrow. Don't go away.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

KING: You like recording songs you didn't write?

DIAMOND: Oh, I love it. Because you don't have to worry about it. You don't have to think about it. I mean, it's just -- pick great songs.

KING: You were telling me when I asked you about the outfits you were wearing onstage, you're color-blind.

DIAMOND: Pretty much.

KING: So you don't know like red and orange?

DIAMOND: Not really, no.

KING: Does someone have to tell you what to wear?

DIAMOND: Yeah. I mean, I have my -- Bill Whitner (ph), who does all my clothing designs, makes clothes and I wear them. You know.

KING: You don't know the color?

DIAMOND: Not the subtle colors, no.

KING: Anchorage, Alaska, hello.

CALLER: Hello. KING: Hi.

CALLER: Larry, first of all, thank you so much for letting me be on the show. This is a dream come true. I feel honored and privileged getting to speak to you.

DIAMOND: Thank you.

CALLER: My question is, I am active duty Air Force, and I just recently returned from a deployment overseas. And just to let you know real quick, that your songs go with me everywhere I go. So wherever I go, everyone knows Neil Diamond. And your reputation is very, very well known. My -- I was curious to know if you would be interested, or have thought about possibly entertaining some of the troops overseas, and what your thoughts were on that.

DIAMOND: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think it's ...

KING: Have you been asked?

DIAMOND: Probably not recently.

KING: But you'd go and entertain them, would you?

DIAMOND: I would do that in a second.

KING: When do you go out concertizing again?

DIAMOND: Not for a while. I'm writing now. And I'll start recording soon. So maybe next year, maybe early the year after.

KING: And you set up the whole tour, someone sets up a tour for you?

DIAMOND: Yeah.

KING: You go overseas as well?

DIAMOND: Go overseas, and play the United States.

KING: Do you try to do places you haven't been?

DIAMOND: Not really. I mean, mostly, I play countries that I've played for the last 30 years.

KING: Do you ever do a date like two weeks in Vegas?

DIAMOND: I haven't done that, no.

KING: You're a concerter?

DIAMOND: One-night stands, a few nights. You know, I did 10 nights at Madison Square Garden once, or 10 nights here at the Forum. But no long stays.

KING: Thank you, Neil. DIAMOND: Thank you very much, Larry. My pleasure.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: "Stages," it's out tomorrow. I'll be back in a minute to tell you about tomorrow night here. Don't go away.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We thank Neil Diamond for tonight, hope you enjoyed the hour. Tomorrow night, we'll look at the royals, and some other surprises coming tomorrow night too, so tune in. Right now, a man always full of surprises because we never know what's going to come next, my man Aaron Brown in New York, the host of "NEWSNIGHT." He has recovered from Rosh Hashana, and he is ready to carry on.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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